• First 2012 Ford Focus Electric delivered on Long Island
  • Initially only available in select New York/New Jersey and California regions

When the Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt hit the market in late 2010, they were the first plug-in vehicles of the modern era to reach consumer hands. Both automakers rolled them out with fanfare and adulation. Perhaps it's a sign of the growing acceptance of electric cars as a normal part of life, as well as an indicator of different strategies by different automakers, but when the first Ford Focus Electrics reached consumer hands last week, there was barely a whisper.

In fact, the only indication that anything of the sort had happened was a post to a Ford Focus Electric owners' forum by a man who was ostensibly the world's first Focus Electric owner. Although Ford representatives have officially told us the company doesn't keep track of delivery order, it appears that Whit Gallman, a mechanical engineer from Charlotte, North Carolina, became the first private owner of a Focus Electric when he took delivery on May 26.

In a testament to how much Gallman wanted his new vehicle, he drove 650 miles from North Carolina to take delivery at Hassett Ford in Wantagh, New York. He then trailered his new car and towed it all the way back. Given that Ford is only selling the Focus Electric in the New York/New Jersey and California regions right now, Gallman didn't have any other choice if he wanted to be one of the first to buy the car. Ford does plan to expand sales to the rest of the country but hasn't released a rollout schedule.

"I really don't want to use any more petroleum products than needed in my daily life," said Gallman in an interview with AutoTrader.com when explaining why he decided to buy an electric car. "I also have a girlfriend [who] has a Prius, so of course I had to one-up her."

Gallman told us a fully electric car fits with his longtime interest in cars that are differently powered. Big motivators for him, he indicated, are national security and the desire to save some money on fuel. "I've been a fan of diesel for quite a while," he says, "but small, efficient diesel passenger cars just never caught on in the U.S. like they have in Europe, but now I feel like the oil companies are doing some shady business and they don't deserve for us to be paying into their racket."

As to why he chose the approximately $40,000 Focus Electric over a less expensive Nissan Leaf, Gallman said: "I did test drive a Leaf, but mainly I didn't like the styling of it. The Focus Electric looks much sharper. Also, Ford is an American company, and I like that I can support them."

Gallman also said his decision was shaped by the difference in batteries and charge time. As an engineer, Gallman was more comfortable with the longevity of the battery pack in the Focus, which has lithium-ion batteries that are liquid heated and cooled, as opposed to the Leaf's, which are air cooled. The Focus also has a faster charge time than the Leaf when plugged into an appropriate charging station, he noted. Gallman installed an SPX charging station, rated at 240 volts and 32 amps, at his house with the help of a few electrical engineer friends. The station plus installation cost him $1,069, Gallman said, which is about $400 less than what Ford quotes for the installation of its Ford branded station. Gallman said he wants his new car to last him at least eight to 10 years to "pay itself off."

His new Focus Electric has become his daily driver, taking him on a commute that lasts 25 miles each way. The commute used to cost $8 per day and is now down to $1.60. When Gallman wakes up every morning ,his car is fully charged with more than enough range for the trip to work. Although the Focus Electric's EPA certified range is 76 miles, Gallman said he believes it could do as many as 90 miles on a full charge given that he's an efficient driver. In any event, he has access to a 120-volt outlet at work and has the Focus fully charged by lunchtime each day, so he hasn't even worried about his range to this point.

Gallman referred to one minor problem-he has trouble getting the universal garage door opener on the car to work with his particular garage door-but other than that, he pronounced himself satisfied with the Focus and praised its driving and handling. Even though others have complained about severely limited cargo space because of the placement of the batteries in the trunk, Gallman said he doesn't worry about that. He drives to work alone, can use the rear seats for stowage, and won't be using the car for long trips.

What it means to you: The Focus Electric is finally reaching the first consumers.

author photo

Nick Chambers is a "next generation" car enthusiast, recognized for his green automotive coverage in Gas 2.0, The New York Times, Popular Mechanics, HybridCars.com and PluginCars.com. In addition, he's been syndicated in Matter Network, AP and Reuters.

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