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.
2. Heat: You can make the Focus EV's interior feel like a sauna in a matter of seconds. In the Volt, it takes minutes, and it never gets as warm -- except the seat heaters, where the Volt grills you immediately. This also translates into better defrost for the Ford. 3. Dashboard: This one is a somewhat mixed picture. The Ford has more data to show, but they are buried in so many menus, and displayed in such a small area, that it's not as useful overall. The mobile apps -- Android and iOS -- available on both cars have many relative strengths and weaknesses in both directions, but what stands out for me is it's easier to send a map/destination to the Volt than to the Focus EV.
The Big Question: The PriceLoaded, the Ford Focus EV sells for approximately $41,500 before tax adjustments. Is it worth it? Let's compare: Nissan LEAF: A loaded LEAF lists around $35,000. It has a bigger luggage space, but the interior is a bit weird in comparison, and the battery may not hold up as well over the next many years. Overall, these two cars should sell for approximately the same money -- although at that point my personal taste would tip the choice in favor of the Ford. Chevrolet Volt: A loaded Volt lists around $44,000. It's highly subjective, but I think it's easily worth at least $5,000-$8,000 more than the Focus EV. Toyota RAV4 EV: Available only in California, the Tesla-based Toyota RAV4 EV lists at $50,000. It is a superior car to the Focus EV in almost every aspect: better range, faster, better back seat, dramatically bigger luggage space. It is easily worth $10,000 or much more than the Focus EV.
In reality, after discounts, the Nissan LEAF may sell for less than its $35,000 list price. The Volt right now sells close to $4,000 less than its list price, and the Toyota RAV4 EV sells $10,000 less than its list price. What this all means is that the Ford needs to sell at least $6,000 less than its list price, and perhaps as much as $10,000 less, in order to be competitive. Anecdotally, I have heard of discounts approaching that range, but it's up to you to negotiate with Ford for a competitive price. Bottom line: The Ford Focus EV is a good electric car, if you can live with the 76-mile average range and the tiny luggage space. You just have to buy it at least $6,000 less than MSRP to get it into the competitive zone. ___________________ At the time of submitting this article to publication, the author was long AAPL, GOOG and TSLA. Follow @antonwahlman This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.