Ford Motor Co. is launching an in-vehicle technology to let its customers recharge electric cars when energy rates are low.
The “smart” charging concept announced Tuesday is key for all auto makers that are pursuing electric vehicles in a variety of forms, from plug-in gas-electric hybrids to fully electric cars and trucks that use no gasoline. Most of those vehicles are still months, if not years, away from reaching showrooms.
But car companies say that in order for electrified cars to be accepted widely, the companies must steer customers away from sapping too much power from the electric grid during peak hours—which could be cost-prohibitive and threaten the grid’s stability. They also want consumers to be able to charge their cars quickly and at the most efficient times.
Developing an electric vehicle was relatively easy compared with working with “our partners at energy providers,” Bill Ford, the auto maker’s executive chairman, said during a question-and-answer session at the company’s Dearborn, Mich., test track. There are more than 3,000 utility companies, and just a handful of auto companies.
The touch-screen technology will allow the car owner to program how to recharge the vehicle, even delaying the recharge for the middle of the night or choosing to tap renewable energy generated by wind or sun. A similar system is expected to be used when General Motors Co.’s Chevy introduces its plug-in Volt car late next year, a company spokesman said.
Other car makers working on electric vehicles include Toyota Motor Co., Mitsubishi Motors Corp. and Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd., maker of Subarus. Nissan Motor Co. announced this year it will build 100,000 electric cars a year at its plant in Smyrna, Tenn., by 2013.
Ford plans to bring to market a pure battery electric Transit Connect commercial van next year, an all-electric Focus compact car in 2011, and a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle in 2012.
Those efforts are backed by financial support from the Obama administration through a new loan program to foster electrification.
Ford received $5.9 billion in Department of Energy loans this summer to help retool plants to produce 13 fuel-efficient models, including 5,000 to 10,000 electric ones a year beginning in 2011.
When plugged in, Ford’s battery systems in plug-in hybrids will be able to talk to the electrical grid through “smart” meters provided by utility companies via wireless networking. The owner uses an in-dash computer to choose when the vehicle should recharge, for how long and at what utility rate.
All 21 SUVs in Ford’s experimental fleet of plug-in hybrid Escapes eventually will be equipped with the vehicle-to-grid communications technology.
Tony Posawatz, vehicle line director for the Volt program, said that the kind of technology unveiled by Ford Tuesday was already demonstrated by GM in December.
Instead of relying on so-called “smart” utility meters, the Volt will be able to interact with utility companies remotely through GM’s OnStar technology. “The point is some of our competitors will rely on technology that requires smart meters, which is years away,” Mr. Posawatz said. “We do not.”