Ford Motor f says it will have plug-in hybrid electric vehicles in showrooms in 2012, promising 30 miles on battery power before the gasoline engine kicks in.
Ford plans to underscore that promise with an announcement here today that it has contracted for lithium-ion battery cells with Johnson Controls-Saft, a U.S.-French joint venture that manufactures the batteries in France.
Ford's buying enough cells for 5,000 plug-in vehicles a year and will assemble them into auto battery packs in North America, says Nancy Gioia, Ford's hybrid chief, but she wouldn't specify where. Nor would she say what the plug-in vehicle would be.
Ford is demonstrating the technology in a 2009 Escape SUV.
Ford becomes the latest automaker to set a public deadline for offering the fuel-saving vehicles, known as PHEVs.
General Motors gm says it will sell a PHEV version of the Saturn Vue compact SUV in late 2010 or early 2011. If the Saturn brand has been sold or discontinued, as GM has hinted, another GM brand would sell the PHEV.
Toyota Motor tm says it will sell a PHEV soon but hasn't been specific.
GM, Nissan and Chrysler have said they will sell battery-only vehicles in the U.S. in 2010; Ford in 2011. Those are not hybrids and must be recharged by plugging into a household outlet for hours.
GM's Chevrolet Volt battery car, promised for November 2010, is unusual. It has a four-cylinder gasoline engine to recharge the batteries or run a generator to power the car, but the gas engine never directly drives the car, as it would in a true hybrid. GM says Volt can go 40 miles on a full plug-in charge.
PHEVs have smaller, lighter, less-expensive batteries than pure electric vehicles. But they have bigger batteries than conventional gas-electric hybrids, so they can run longer on batteries only.
As a result they potentially can use no gasoline in shorter drives and hit 50 to 100 miles per gallon in longer drives.
Seattle-area tests of Toyota Prius hybrids converted to plug-in operation show an average 51 mpg in 17,636 miles of all types of driving, according to Scott Thomsen, spokesman for Seattle City Light, a utility company participating in the trials. That rises to an average 59 mpg in 8,886 miles of mainly city use, he says. The U.S. Department of Energy is overseeing the experiment.
Gasoline-electric hybrids already sell for $2,000 to $4,000 more than similar gasoline vehicles, and "there will be a premium for the plug-in capability" beyond that, Gioia says. Chevy Volt will be priced "under $40,000," according to Tony Posawatz, who has directed the Volt's development.