DEARBORN – When owners of the Ford Focus Electric or C-MAX Energi plug-in hybrid charge up their cars, they’ll find a natural, instinctive fit. That’s not by chance – it’s by design, and it’s because Ford engineers did their homework in ensuring customers had the perfect place to “fuel” up.
“After benchmarking multiple competitive vehicles, we found there wasn’t much consistency in charge port location,” said Susan Curry, Ford Electrified Vehicle Technology Integration supervisor. “We wanted to give customers a location that made the most sense for them and would seem as simple as filling up at the gas station.”
Finding the best charge port location may seem inconsequential. However, an electric vehicle owner is likely to plug in or disconnect his or her car four times a day, or nearly 1,500 times a year. This is compared to the once a week or 52 times a year frequency of filling up a gas tank. The higher frequency of interaction the charge port entails played a role in Ford wanting to make sure the location was just right.
The team used market research to find out how customers expected to charge up. The research showed most customers would charge their vehicle at home, which was helpful in determining the best place for the port. Feedback also indicated the location should be kept out of areas with high risk of damage in the event of small crashes. This was a driving factor in the choice of the side of the vehicle rather than the front or rear.
To meet customer usage patterns, engineers considered the driver side, the passenger side and the front and rear of the vehicle. Placement in the front could have created problems with customers having to bend down to plug in or out, snow packing, dead insects or debris, and potential damage from car accidents. The rear of the vehicle would have invited the same issue, with damage from fender benders, as well as less accessibility when trying to connect to a charging station.
“The left front fender location keeps the charge port in sight, before the customer enters or exits the car, for an easy reminder to unplug or recharge,” said Mary Smith, Ford Electrified Vehicle Technology Integration supervisor. “It creates an intuitive placement for owners that also has aesthetic appeal.”
Style and function
Additional thought went into the port location from a style perspective to ensure it would provide that “wow” factor. Being positioned on the side of the vehicle delivers the best visibility, especially when lit to show the charge state, as opposed to being buried in the front with the grille and other style cues.
Other considerations included maximizing commonality with the entire Ford electrified vehicle portfolio, meeting the usage patterns of North American and European customers, and maximizing investment efficiency in terms of new tooled parts and magnitude of the investment.
The demonstration fleet of Ford Escape plug-in hybrid electric vehicles also uses the driver side of the vehicle for the charge port. Engineers received positive feedback from customers on that placement. And they would know best; the Ford Escape plug-in hybrid demo fleet has logged more than 400,000 miles.
The power of choice
Electrification is an important piece of Ford’s overall product sustainability strategy, which includes the launch of five electrified vehicles in North America by 2012 and in Europe by 2013. Ford launched the Transit Connect Electric small commercial van in 2010 and will launch the all-new Focus Electric later this year. In 2012, these models will be joined in North America by the new C-MAX Hybrid, a second next-generation lithium-ion battery hybrid and C-MAX Energi plug-in hybrid. This diverse range of electrified vehicles allows Ford to meet a variety of consumer driving needs.