Ford Is Slashing the Price of the 2014 Focus Electric, But It’s Still Pretty Pricey

Got $35,200 burning a hole in your pocket?

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We’ve really got two Ford stories this morning, one about Ford’s F-250 truck being pick of the auto-litter for thieves, the other about Ford slicing $4,000 off its upcoming 2014 Focus Electric compact’s price tag. I don’t know what to say about the F-250 story, because who knows what motivates car-rustlers, though I have several Iowa-based relatives who own F-series trucks and won’t be pleased to hear the news.

But let’s talk about that $4,000 price cut, because it’s not chump change. The 2014 Ford Focus Electric will launch at $35,200, or 10% below the $39,200 base price of the 2013 model, reports Reuters. (That bumps up to $35,995 once you factor in the $795 destination charge, notes the Detroit Free Press.) According to Ford spokesperson Amanda Zusman, the new price “keeps [Ford] competitive.” The new 2014 model is expected at dealerships in the coming weeks.

The Focus Electric runs exclusively off a 23 kWh liquid-cooled lithium-ion battery that the EPA rates 110 city MPGe, or “miles per gallon gasoline equivalent.” Of course Ford puts a little asterisk after that claim, which refers you down to fine print that reads “Actual mileage will vary. MPGe is the EPA equivalent measure of gasoline fuel efficiency for electric mode operation.” Most reports indicate Ford’s estimated range of 76 miles per full charge is accurate, so long as you’re not doing other things in the vehicle that sap electricity (don’t expect that sort of range in 100-degree weather while blasting the A/C, in other words). Like last year’s model, the 2014 Focus Electric takes about 20 hours to charge off a standard 120V port, though you can drop that down to just four hours if you purchase the optional Leviton 240V home charging station, which either costs in the upper three-figures range, or $1,500 (I’m seeing different prices at different sites, some doubtless out of date).

Where I live now on the east side of Ann Arbor, Michigan, you’d need an astronomical telescope to locate an EV charge port, but a new fitness center that just went up in the village down the road, population 4,000, to which I’m moving later this year, has electric charge ports in some of its parking stalls. I know, not what I expected either.

Ford’s not selling a lot of these things so far: of the 2,517 Ford Focus EVs the company built last year, it sold just 1,593, notes Reuters; for the first six months of 2013, it’s moved 900. If Ford doubles that figure by year’s end, it’ll be up roughly 200 vehicles year-on-year, a 13% increase in sales or somewhere north of $7 million (based on the base sale price). I can’t imagine a $4,000 price decrease on a vehicle that falls squarely in the “boutique eco-friendly” column — where, as the Free Press notes, you’re paying price premiums of “$10,000 to $15,000″ over gas-powered versions — is going to help the company much, plus they’ll now very likely be selling at a loss. Why the sudden change of heart?

Thrust and counter-thrust: Given Ford’s past reluctance to get into a price war with its electric auto-tech, this sounds more like competitive capitulation. In January, Nissan slashed the price of its 2013 Nissan Leaf S electric by $6,400 — from $35,200 base to $28,000, which Nissan claimed at the time made the Leaf the cheapest five-seat electric available in the U.S. And in June, General Motors lopped $4,000 off the price of the 2013 Chevy Volt to counter lackluster sales. Ford probably had no choice.

In any case, you have to take state and federal incentives into account when thinking about your actual cost: the federal government offers an income tax credit of up to $7,500 for EVs purchased in or after 2010 (the actual amount depends on the capacity of the battery in the vehicle). States offer their own incentives, though these are all over the place: In my state, Michigan, for instance, there appears to be no EV incentive, whereas California’s Clean Vehicle Rebate Program (CVRP) offers up to $2,500 in rebates, as well as exemption from paying tools when driving in High Occupancy toll lanes. This explains why companies like Ford are, pun half-intended, focused on selling the Focus EV to California buyers.

But why bother at all, given such a niche audience? You have to start somewhere (that, and you don’t want to miss the bus when it finally leaves the station). EV technology stands to improve by leaps and bounds rolling forward; as sales increase, the cost of manufacturing falls, infrastructure support for charging on-the-go builds out and so on and so forth. In the meantime, the Free Press notes that Ford’s able to sustain such low volume runs in part by building the Focus Electric on the same assembly line it uses to manufacture its gas-powered Focus and C-Max hybrids.