NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- I just finished driving more than 300 miles in Ford's ( F) first and only pure electric car, the Focus EV. Let me cut to the chase: This is a good car. The traditional, gasoline-powered version of the Focus is Ford's best-selling global small car. It's a regular 5-seat hatchback that competes with cars such as the Volkswagen Golf and the Cruze from General Motors' ( GM) Chevrolet unit. (Ford also makes two gasoline-electric hybrids and two other plug-in gasoline-electric hybrids.) The electric version of the Focus is pretty straightforward: The motor is up front, and there are two batteries -- one under the rear seat, and one immediately behind the rear seat, taking up basically half the gasoline version's trunk space.
What everyone wants to know about an electric car is: (1) How far does it go; and (2) How long does it take to charge? The Ford EV is rated at 76 miles, and my testing indicates that's a fair number in blended driving. I could get the range to less than 50 miles, however, by turning on the heat or driving aggressively. On the other side of the spectrum, careful hypermiling in the right temperature could yield more than 90 miles. Charging from zero to full takes at the most four hours on a 240-volt, 30-amp circuit, so you should get at least 19 miles per hour (76 divided by 4). On a regular 110-volt household circuit, it looked like it would take closer to 18 hours to charge from zero to full, or approximately four miles per hour. In terms of the volume sellers in the market, the electric Ford's main competitors are the Nissan ( NSANY) LEAF and the Chevrolet Volt. The LEAF just underwent a series of improvements for the 2013 model year, and Nissan started manufacturing LEAFs in Tennessee after making them only in Japan for two years. The Volt is of course a different animal, with its smaller battery and gasoline backup generator.
Nissan has sold more than 50,000 LEAFs worldwide, and GM has sold almost 50,000 of the various variants of the Volt worldwide. In the U.S., the Volt remains the sales leader by far. Ford's success in this market will be heavily dependent on pricing, as I will discuss in detail later. First, some background in terms of my perspective of comparison for this article. I have driven the Chevrolet Volt more than 23,000 miles, but it has been a while since I last drove a Nissan LEAF, and I certainly didn't drive it thousands of miles. So this comparison will mostly pit the Ford Focus EV against the Chevy Volt.