On The Road

Energi among Ford's last sedans before pulling the plug on plug-ins

courtesy of Ford
The new Ford Fusion Energi – a plug-in hybrid – only gets 17 miles per charge, but the vehicle recharges when braking.

We recently received a suggestion from a Town Crier reader that we write about differences between plug-in hybrid cars and full-electric vehicles driven completely by battery-powered electric motors.

With a 2018 Ford Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid in the garage a few weeks ago, and the Jaguar iPace EV on loan to us for a few days before Thanksgiving, this seemed like a good topic for this month’s article.

But wait – stop the presses! Just as we sat down to block out our Fusion report, Ford confirmed officially that it is discontinuing all versions of the Fusion as it exits the sedan business.

Furthermore, General Motors announced it was shuttering several U.S. plants, including the plant producing its plug-in hybrid, the Volt.

We haven’t heard anything yet from Honda, which is producing a plug-in hybrid version of its Clarity, but we wouldn’t be surprised if the car we reviewed just two months ago – which we deemed the best all-around EV available – isn’t continued beyond this model year.

The situation is simple: Plug-in hybrids were trying to have their wheels on both sides of the road with a gasoline engine supplementing, or being supplemented by, an electric battery/motor system. Unfortunately, this meant the car was twice as complex to build, more likely to have long-term problems and, simply, more expensive.

Addressing challenges

However, for a short five years or so, its design was superior to EVs, which offered limited ranges, expensive batteries and lack of a charging station infrastructure.

All three of those challenges are now being addressed. Lithium-ion batteries are now lighter and more efficient; a 250-mile range – generally as far as most drivers want to travel without stopping – is easily achievable. At the same time, costs for these batteries have come down 50 percent in the past four years. High-speed chargers that can bring a car back up to at least a 200-mile range in less than 90 minutes can be found along almost every well-traveled route and throughout most urban centers.

With a combination of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency-mandated fuel efficiency and emissions standards, and state and federal financial incentives (a classic example of carrot-and-stick public policy), more EVs are entering the marketplace – and at price points from $35,000 to $110,000, with a commensurate sphere of size, performance, mileage range and lists of luxury amenities.

It’s not surprising then that while progress has been slow overall – both types of electric systems still represent less than 2 percent of cars on the road nationally – full EVs outsold plug-in hybrids 3-to-1 in the third quarter of 2018. No wonder all the big companies are putting all their long-term eggs in the basket of battery-powered electric vehicles, and withdrawing from production of plug-in hybrids.

Fusion farewell

Oh, the Ford Fusion Energi: We liked it a lot. It handles well, is comfortable and in its Platinum-model level – priced at $41,100 with options and prep, but excluding any government incentives – would be a nice car to own. As a sedan, with its electric power pack on the back wheels taking up precious cargo space, it can only carry about four bags of groceries or luggage for two people, so it isn’t practical for big-box errands, but it’s a nice run-around car.

It only gets 17 miles on a charge but recharges when braking and when the gasoline engine is running, and is pleasant to drive. If your Ford dealer actually has one in stock, you might be able to get a good deal on a really nice car.

Longtime Los Altos residents Gary and Genie Anderson are co-owners of Enthusiast Publications LLC, which edits several car club magazines and contributes articles and columns to automotive magazines and online services.

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