AUTOSHOW-UPDATE 2-Ford plans small electric car in 2011
(Adds quotes from CEO, analyst's remarks, details and byline)
By David Bailey
DETROIT Jan 11 (Reuters) - Ford Motor Co (F.N) said on Sunday it planned to introduce a small electric car in North America in 2011 as part of a plan to introduce electric, hybrid and plug-in hybrid vehicles over the next four years.
By committing to offer a new line of rechargeable electric cars, Ford joins a growing number of automakers who have responded to calls to ramp up the introduction of battery-powered vehicles.
Ford, the No. 2 U.S.-based automaker, said it was working with auto parts supplier Magna International MGa.TO to bring a small battery-powered car to market in North America in 2011, using a lithium-ion battery, with a range of up to 100 miles per charge.
Ford's product development chief, Derrick Kuzak, said pure electric car sales would be focused on urban markets with initial sales targeted at the 5,000 to 10,000 range.
In a presentation at the North American International Auto Show, Ford said its next generation of hybrid vehicles would include a plug-in version by 2012. The automaker also plans a battery electric commercial van in 2010.
"We are moving to more hybrids, whether they are regular hybrids or plug-in hybrids," Ford Chief Executive Alan Mulally told reporters on the sidelines of the auto show.
Long term, Mulally said that "as we continue to improve the electrical grids around the world ... having a complete battery electric vehicle is going to be a really important part of our strategy."
Environmental advocates see pure electric and "plug-in" -- or rechargeable -- hybrids as the most promising way to cut greenhouse gas emissions and oil consumption.
General Motors Corp (GM.N) seized headlines in 2007 by promising to build its all-electric Chevy Volt by 2010.
Chrysler, eager to prove it can stay competitive, said in September it also expected to have its first battery-powered vehicle in showrooms by 2010.
Automakers have made several big hybrid and electric vehicle plans as they look for an edge over rivals, but with the world economy slipping and gas prices in the U.S. well off their earlier peak, the timing could be difficult.
Widespread demand for hybrids has cooled in the months since the U.S. national average price for gasoline peaked at more than $4 per gallon in mid 2008.
Still, Ford expects U.S. drivers to pay more for energy over the long term, justifying the capital investments.
"No question electric vehicle programs are moving forward, whether the market wants it or not is another question," industry analyst Erich Merkle said, adding that the political landscape requires all automakers to make the investments.
Ford was the first U.S. automaker to develop its own hybrid, but had pulled back from promises earlier this decade for a heavy commitment to hybrid technology at a time when truck sales remained strong.
The automaker said the new electrification plan was the next step in the sustainability plan unveiled in 2007. Ford has aimed its plans at mass market vehicles and lower costs for the consumer and has not placed a bet on any one technology.
Ford believes there has been enough development on critical technology to move forward with the electric vehicle plans it announced on Sunday. (Additional reporting by Kevin Krolicki; Editing by Maureen Bavdek, Phil Berlowitz)
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