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It was lucky for me that GM's recent media forum on its electrification efforts was in San Francisco, since I would already be there for the press launch for the Ford C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid. And GM promised a session with its new global product guru, Mary Barra, and a brief drive of a prototype 2014 Chevy Spark EV.

Ford C-Max Energi

The C-Max is Ford's answer to the Toyota Prius – especially the more cargo-capable Prius V – and the plug-in Energi version takes on the Prius plug-in and trumps it in a number of ways, including performance, dynamics, EV range and efficiency.

The plug-in C-Max Energi takes on the Prius plug-in and trumps it in a number of ways.

Billed as "America's most fuel-efficient plug-in hybrid," it offers 188 (gas/electric combined) horsepower vs. the plug-in Prius' 134 and 100 combined MPGe (equivalent) EPA economy vs. the Prius' 95. Ford also claims an electric-only range of "up to" 21 miles vs. the Toyota's 15, although both fall short of those numbers in real-life driving. The C-Max Energi typically starts its engine at 12 or 13 miles, the Prius plug-in at six or seven.

Ford says the C-Max Energi can deliver up to 620 miles total range on a fully-charged battery and a tank of gas, topping the Prius plug-in's claimed 540. It offers 15 class-exclusive features, including Ford's hands-free liftgate (swing your foot under it and up it goes) and Active Park Assist (it chooses a suitable parallel spot and steers you into it) and a choice of three EV modes: EV Now (electric only), EV Later (saves battery for when you prefer to use it) or EV Auto (blends).

It's a nice-looking, nice-driving compact crossover that effectively hides its hybridness while delivering impressive efficiency for its size. Aside from its hybrid price premium ($33,745, and it qualifies for a federal tax credit worth up to $3,750), its only real downside is a high rear load floor over its 7.6-kWh li-ion battery pack, which cuts cargo capacity to 19.2 cu. ft. from the regular C-Max's 24.5 and (when loaded) can obstruct rear visibility.

When I tested a Ford C-Max, it delivered 34.2 mpg – nearly 13 mpg fewer than its 47-mpg EPA rating.

When I tested a Ford C-Max for several days, it delivered 34.2 real-world mpg – not bad but nearly 13 mpg fewer than its 47-mpg EPA "combined" rating. My Fusion Hybrid experience gave a 35.6-mpg average vs. 47 combined, my week with a Toyota Camry Hybrid yielded 34.7 mpg vs. 40 combined, and my test of a Prius C logged 39.8 mpg vs. 50 combined. Hmmm.



GM Electrification

Mary Barra's media session turned out to be by satellite, not in person, and her Q&A yielded mostly company-line responses. Still, she laid out the basics of where GM is going.

She said that GM would pursue fewer vehicle electrification technologies vs. its former "cover all bases" approach. These will include a lot of eAssist "mild" hybrids on one end of the cost and complexity spectrum and more Voltec extended-range EV applications on the other. Coming in a year or so is the sexy Cadillac ELR, and – since this EREV technology is "scaleable" – we'll see more down the road in different vehicle sizes and types. I'm a big believer in this "pure EV first, gas generator later" approach, but it is expensive.

I'm a big believer in this "pure EV first, gas generator later" approach, but it is expensive.

In between will be the Spark EV arriving next summer, and further out may be hydrogen fuel cell EVs and gas/electric parallel hybrids, though the latter seem a lower priority than EREVs. GM has decided that if you're going to tote around both an electric traction motor and a gasoline engine, it's more energy efficient to use just the former until the battery runs low, then fire up the latter only if needed, rather than blend the two depending on conditions. The EREV downside is that it needs a much bigger, and therefore more expensive, battery.

Barra added that Voltec technology will be a core piece of GM's electrification strategy, that the team has accumulated a lot of expertise in batteries, motors, controls and other EV technologies, and that the Spark EV and other future vehicles will share many of them, including charging, battery-management and cooling systems, motor controls and high-voltage connections. That will drive down costs and lead to eventual EV profitability. GM will sell more than 50,000 vehicles with some form of electrification (Volts and eAssist Chevys and Buicks) in 2012, and she predicted up to 500,000 GM electrified vehicles on the global road by 2017.

"What started out as a technology proof point ... has turned into a real-world starting point to push EV technology further and faster than we thought possible five years ago," she said. "The unique propulsion technology pioneered in the Volt will be a core piece of our electrification strategy going forward."



Spark EV

In one session of the 1-1/2-day program, GM showed off its new state-of-the-art propulsion motor, which will power the Spark and future GM electric vehicles. "Electric motor development and manufacturing is another area of expertise we need as we grow our portfolio of electric vehicles to address the needs of our global customers," said GM vehicle electrification engineering executive director Larry Nitz.

Another session demonstrated a joint project with technology company ABB that will explore repackaging used Volt batteries to provide stand-by power to homes. Another showcased two new GM OnStar EV apps: The Spark EV Way Point tab will tell an EV driver whether he/she can reach a destination on a single charge or provide a "waypoint" route with recommended charge stations if needed; and a Park-Tap-Charge app will allow EV drivers to tap a smart-phone against a charging station to show payment options and start the flow of electricity.

Given its 400-lb-ft of right-now torque and sub-eight-second 0-60 mph quickness, it is definitely fun.

Then came the Spark EV drive. Chevy's Spark is a sporty four-door mini with a usable back seat and cool connectivity capabilities, and the EV version replaces its 1.25-liter gas four-banger with the 100-kW (130-hp) GM electric motor and a 20+ kWh lithium ion battery. "We knew we had to provide surprising fun-to-drive acceleration with maximum efficiency," said chief engineer Chuck Russell.

Given its 400-lb-ft of right-now torque and sub-eight-second 0-60 mph quickness, it is definitely fun. No range number yet, but it'll be competitive (100 miles or better), and Russell says it can be DC high-voltage charged repeatedly without harming its battery. It should appeal to urban dwellers without long-trip needs and some others with second vehicles in their fleets.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 30 Comments
      SVX pearlie
      • 2 Years Ago
      500k "electrified" GM by (Dec.) 2017 is NOT a stretch. GM is actually sandbagging here in a big way. Over the next 5 years, GM can be reasonably expected to sell 12.5 MIllion USDM vehicles, and 500k is only 4% of that total. GM has already sold 50k, leaving only 450k to be sold, so they need to average 3.6% "electrified". Recent months have seen GM move roughly 2.9% of their product with "electricification". To get to 500k, GM needs to increase their "electrified" mix by LESS THAN 1%. With increased Volt sales year-over-year, new Spark EV, new Caddy ELR, expanded eAssist, and continuously-dropping component costs, there is basically no way for GM to fail this goal. A more likely goal is 500k by 2016 and 1M by 2017, but GM got in so much trouble with Volt predictions, they've decided to play it safe.
        Spec
        • 2 Years Ago
        @SVX pearlie
        No one really knows how things will develop. EV sales are very dependent on a completely different industry . . . the oil industry. If oil prices go up, EV sales will improve. If oil prices are steady (or maybe even go down a little . . . which I doubt) then EV sales will be weak.
        Grendal
        • 2 Years Ago
        @SVX pearlie
        When it comes to GM information, you are always on top of the numbers, where they have been, and where they are going. Nice summary. I think the Caddy ELR is really going to boost Volt sales as well. I don't expect as much from the Spark but I'm glad it's there to give people another alternative to the Leaf.
          SVX pearlie
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Grendal
          Neither Spark nor ELR are likely to boost numbers in a significant way (tho GM sure wouldn's turn extra sales away). The Spark apparently is going to be sold, as it's technically like a Volt without the gas system. So the parts will be out there anyways. I count the Spark as a compliance-"plus" BEV meeting ZEV requirements. The ELR is GM's "halo" EREV, so it'll be very nice. But volume will certainly be down relative to the Volt. The real growth will come from eAssist, and the real profits (and platform growth) will come from Voltec GMC and Buick. Thing is, GM needs to lead with the ELR to ensure it gets the high-margin spotlight sales.
      BipDBo
      • 2 Years Ago
      GM especially has been wanting to build a successful electric car for a very long time.
        EVSUPERHERO
        • 2 Years Ago
        @BipDBo
        GM's EV will never be sold with Gasser's on the same lot, they contradict each other. The emps that work on the lots will never tell the average joe about the EV's. Most likely they won't make as fat as a commission either. That's why Musk won't allow his EV's to be sold by gas car sale people.
      Levine Levine
      • 2 Years Ago
      Korean DaeWoo builds the Chevy Spark EV for GM, Government Motors, which has a controlling interest in the Korean firm. GM hasn't built a pure EV since the old GM canned the EV-1 nearly two decades ago. As GM's domestic market share has been decimated to about 25%, auto prognosticators are having difficulty finding reasons to listen to GM's 'spiels.' As GM has lost leadership and market share as a result of its bankruptcy, today's Government Motor is a company pretending to be its former self when it ruled the automobile world. While GM wallows in its self-absorbed self delusion, neighbor Ford at least has made significant progress with its new hybrid and EV vehicles. GM is governed by a Board comprising of old farts from the diasterious past, a socialist UAW member, and US government approved nominees. It's only a matter of years before GM goes bankrupt, again, like Chrysler.
        SVX pearlie
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Levine Levine
        Are you Loser Laser's sock puppet?
        EZEE
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Levine Levine
        Levine... let me reword as your post has merit, but your approach... 'GM has outsourced the Spark production to DaeWoo - I would have hoped this could keep costs down, but what we still have is a car that, since being built first as an ICE car, will have some of the inherent short comings of converted vehicles (see, Ford Focus EV on cost and weight). Although GM made amazing progress with the volt, and the revolutionary drive train, they seem to have stalled in other areas. Ford Motor has made more of a balanced, effort, and although sales have not been great, the C-Max seems to be off to a good start. I hope GM can regain its leadership position in technology and sales! GM's leadership has shown signs that it may still have an old school mentality. Promoting alt fuel vehicles, taking the lead in quality and technology will be ways they can lead the industry into the future. I hope this is the case, as I would not want to see them go into bankruptcy again.' There, see? Hopeful, optimistic, while not ignoring some of GM's problems.
      LiteNRG1
      • 2 Years Ago
      You know there is factors that can effect fuel economy. Base on my experience with my vehicle (01 Altima) and close observation with my scangauge 2 device, here are the 2 greatest factors that can really effect fuel economy: Weather Driving style I've driven the C-Max on 3 times, first time was in the city (about 7.3 miles) with no power in the battery and the engine was warming up in the upper 70 which end up getting around 33.4 mpg with most gentle hypermiler like driving except for gunning it twice. Second time, was in the city (about a mile) with 1/2 level battery and the engine warmed up in the 60 degree range, end up getting around 44 mpg with similar driving style as for first drive. The third time with the same as above except I've driven like a advanced level hypermiler with got around 86 mpg because I've stayed in EV mode and coasted by lifting off the accelerator and really pushing the accelerator by a centimeter to get the car into "coasting mode" (which turns off the regen brake and cause the car to really coast, that is how you really increase your mpgs or range). The point it, I understand that automaker's "over estimate" mpg but in my opinion, its really the driver (other words, you) that has the greatest effect in the car's fuel economy than anything.
      • 2 Years Ago
      I have a 2012 Prius v3 and have recorded 9,823 miles on Fuelly. My average over the 9,823 miles is 41.1 and consisted of 62% highway / 38 city. The best I ever got was 47.5 and the least 30.6 (per fill up). But I've done a great deal of long distance driving at high speed and high altitude as well as against very strong headwinds. If I took the average of just the city driving, it would be consistently in the 42-44 range.
      • 2 Years Ago
      There are cmax energis (including mine) on indefinite delivery hold across the country. ford won't tell me what the problem is and told me that the hold could last two days or two months. some are still being delivered, suggesting there is a bad batch out there. owners have described similar experiences on the ford cmax energi forum. I would guess ford is desperately hoping to avoid yet another recall on a new car, but can only guess because ford refuses to tell buyers anything.
      Rob Mahrt
      • 2 Years Ago
      "When I tested a Ford C-Max for several days, it delivered 34.2 real-world mpg – not bad but nearly 13 mpg fewer than its 47-mpg EPA "combined" rating. My Fusion Hybrid experience gave a 35.6-mpg average vs. 47 combined, my week with a Toyota Camry Hybrid yielded 34.7 mpg vs. 40 combined, and my test of a Prius C logged 39.8 mpg vs. 50 combined. Hmmm." Dude must have an awfully heavy foot, or be driving in a lot of hilly areas. MY only hybrid experience was a full year of driving a CR-Z, about half highway half city, averaging 42-43mpg on a manual, EPA says 34 mpg combined. From that extremely small sample size personal experience I can never understand how people can under perform EPA estimates to greatly.
        Rob Mahrt
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Rob Mahrt
        http://www.fuelly.com/car/toyota/prius%20c Average for Prius C on fuelly.com looks to be 51 mpg, right in line with EPA estimates. The others are hard to pull out on the site because of the non-hybrid/hybrid mix but these results cited int he article seem low.
      Ford Future
      • 2 Years Ago
      It may be that the CMax is sharing too much from the Focus line. The Prius may be engineered to be lighter.
      Ford Future
      • 2 Years Ago
      Witzenburg's test drives don't mean anything, as he wasn't able to get ANY car's EPA numbers. The only way for us to know what the CMax really gets is to find a driver that gets Prius mpg, and get him to test the CMax. For all we know Witzen has a heavy foot and nothing else.
        EZEE
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Ford Future
        Good point. Or just charge both up, start driving at a set speed, see what happens, then do the same thing in a stop and go situation. I always beat the EPA, and don't really try (well, with the escape hybrid I tried, but only because hypermiling and seeing how far I could get it to go on electric was just too much fun).
        Rob Mahrt
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Ford Future
        I commented on this as well, his mpg numbers should be completely ignored, they either his driving style or environment are no where in the spectrum of normal as average drivers have reached 51 mpg in toyota prius c.
      Ford Future
      • 2 Years Ago
      Although the Spark is no EV1, at least it's a Honda Fit EV fighter. Something to consider.
        Spec
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Ford Future
        It is also an alternative to the Leaf. It is a little cheaper than the Leaf, it is a different design, it has the nice A123 batteries.
        SVX pearlie
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Ford Future
        It will be interesting to see how the Spark EV sells against the Focus EV and Fit EV. For how poorly the latter two have sold, one likes to think the Spark can't do any worse.
          Spec
          • 2 Years Ago
          @SVX pearlie
          Well then haven't "sold" any Fit EVs . . . they are not available for sale. Lease-only. :-/
          paulwesterberg
          • 2 Years Ago
          @SVX pearlie
          They haven't tried to sell them. I think the focus EV looks like a decent car, but I don't live in Cali so ford wont sell me one.
      Spec
      • 2 Years Ago
      GM needs a good standard hybrid system. The Volt is the current king of plug-ins. The Spark looks like a decent dipping the toes into the pure EV pool. But their eAssist stuff is lacking. I wonder if Ford is onto something smart with their spectrum approach . . . with the Fusion, you can buy a normal ICE fusion, a hybrid Fusion, or a Fusion hybrid Energi (plug-in). That allows the cars to easily share many parts, easily share assembly lines, and the amount of each type built can vary according to what the consumers want.
        EZEE
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Spec
        Spec I hope so, but people seem to want a vehicle that screams, "look at me - I got a hybrid!" Ford's sales have been miserable compared to Toyota's, althought he C-Max is off ot a good start. I like the approach of a full line of vehicles (and loved my Escape Hybrid), but unfortunately, all too few people agree with me (and you, for that matter). Hopefully that will change.
        Grendal
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Spec
        That sounds nice and convenient for Ford but there is something to be said for the consumer to "stand out" by their vehicle looks. You can buy a hybrid Camry but the official Prius blows its numbers away. The hybrid Camry still sells so it's not written in stone but different seems to speak to buyers more.
      Rotation
      • 2 Years Ago
      I'd love to see GM get the truck stealing down on their eAssist and raise the hybridizing a bit. Maybe just better transmissions would be help. The eAssists are typically on the hair edge of "is this enough improvement for me to put up with this" and both of these improvements would tip the scale a bit more toward getting the hybrid. Interesting about more Voltec from GM later. I'm getting tired of waiting though, maybe I have to break down and get a Volt. I don't think the 2-door Caddy is for me.
        SVX pearlie
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Rotation
        At some time, there will be trucklike Voltec CUV, and potentially a pickup, probably under GMC. Thing is, GM is *still* playing safe here, even after they've seen they can move 25k annually at a 35k rate. This is why we're only seeing the ELR. At some point, GMC and Buick will need product. I guess GM is holding off until Voltec 2.0 before those products come out.
        Rotation
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Rotation
        Sorry, "truck stealing" should be "trunk stealing". How much of your trunk you lose to a hybrid system is one of the things you consider when deciding to go with a hybrid or not.
          SVX pearlie
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Rotation
          Haha. I thought you meant "tru_C_k st_Y_ling".
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