2 years ago, my electric BMW ActiveE found its early demise with an ill performing battery. It was a feeling only enthusiasts can appreciate, losing something that was flawed on a number of levels, but still something I liked a lot. So, when junior took off to San Francisco for two weeks helping crank fancy new Teslas out of the factory door I took the opportunity to drive his 3 year old Ford Focus Electric for the time of his absence.
As a result, here is some consumer advice from someone whose enthusiasm never crossed over to changing his life around an electric car like many of the pioneers and early adopters I know did.
The Focus is a nicely appointed car featuring a pleasant interior and lots of amenities like a multi-functional touch screen system for entertainment, navigation and phone integration. It also has heated leather seats and many other “powered” things distinguishing it from the base model. Other than my ActiveE the car blends right in and gets near zero attention from other people, which is a turnoff for hardcore enthusiasts but a plus in my book.
A trunk, alas, is largely absent. The car has front wheel drive so I am guessing it’s the battery that is hogging space in the back. Anything more than 2 grocery bags will present a problem so I frequently resorted to putting stuff on the back seats. That’s ok for sports bags but bad for groceries. I strongly recommend looking at cargo space before leasing or buying an EV as this issue will haunt you for whatever time you own the car. We actually went to the BMW dealership for a “fitting” of our sports gear before committing to the ActiveE back in the days.
Running errands is, in fact, the primary use for this category of EV outside of commuting to work, which I don’t do. As with most cars from this generation, all the nice electric toys they give you will inadvertently consume power, and reduce range. Dramatically. Turning A/C and heating off completely, the Focus would offer me about 70 miles this time of the year (although it was quite warm during the first week). Switching the goodies on would leave me with about 50 miles which, although it’s usually sufficient to drive around within a certain radius, always leaves you looking at the battery gage. From past experience, this can be fun as driving and breaking style will influence the number shown, but it can be extremely annoying when you are in a situation where you REALLY depend on your car to get you home. Newer non-Tesla cars feature more range of 100 miles or more which is an improvement, and 200+ mile cars are on the horizon. I still sympathize with anyone opting for a gas-burning back-up engine as “plan B”.
Speaking of “plan B”, it is clear that a car like this cannot be your only car. Anything qualifying as “travel” needs to take place in a larger and gas burning car unless you are fortunate enough to be able to afford a Tesla.
Coming back to the fun part: if you have never driven an EV in your life I strongly recommend you test drive one. There is no experience like it, and the combination of agility and calming silence is very unique. That said, if you are planning to get an EV either get one with rear wheel drive or one with suitable traction control. The Focus doesn’t appear to have either and it took me some practice getting it off the line without spinning the wheels, especially in wet conditions. This, of all the downsides mentioned, would be my biggest complaint. I hope they fix it for the upcoming new version of the Focus Electric.
Bottom line: even for paranoid people like me who take issue with relying on charging stations further away that could be blocked, vandalized or otherwise rendered unusable, a sub-Tesla EV can still be useful. It’s a great and inexpensive alternative to a regular gas or diesel powered car to get around town emission free. I recommend looking at cars that offer more space like the BMW i3 (I still have a gag reflex just looking at it but that’s rather subjective, of course). I also recommend to lease, not buy, as the technology still progresses in large strides, and a three year old EV is not likely to fetch a good resale price.