Ford Motor Company made its modern electric debut today, unveiling an electric Ford Focus.
Ford introduced the new Focus, not at an auto show but at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, a symbolic break in tradition for a car company eager to supercharge a field crowded with plug-in competition.
For Ford, it's a back-to-the-future story. Henry Ford's wife drove an electric car back in 1914, and now their great grandson Bill Ford will drive an electric vehicle they couldn't have imagined.
Watch "World News with Diane Sawyer" for more on this story tonight on ABC.
Bill Ford, the executive chairman of the Ford Motor Company, told ABC News in an exclusive interview that electric cars are now critical for the auto giant.
"To me, these are very much about signaling where this company is headed and, frankly, where this country ought to be headed," Ford said.
ABC News was given a chance to test-drive the new model at Ford's Dearborn, Mich. headquarters. Nearly identical to Ford's gasoline Focus hatchback, the new electric car accelerates quickly and quietly, going from zero to sixty in less than 10 seconds.
Unlike GM's Chevy Volt, Ford's electric car has no gasoline engine for backup. It can drive from 80 to 100 miles on a full charge. The car even communicates with smart phones, so a driver can call his car remotely and order it to charge immediately, or wait for utility rates to drop at nighttime.
Ford joins GM, Nissan and Toyota in mass-producing plug-in cars.
In San Diego, Tom Hamilton just bought a Nissan Leaf, with big help from the government. He was granted a $7,500 federal tax break, and another $5,000 break from California for buying electric.
"I paid $35,000-ish, and I got $12,500 back," Hamilton said.
Electrics and hybrids are still a tiny sliver of the car market, making up just 2.39 percent of the market in 2010, according to J.D. Power & Associates. But electrics could account for over 8 percent by 2015 and 10 percent by 2020, the firm says.
Whether or not the cars succeed depends in large part on how many charging stations are built across the country, helping ease consumers' anxiety that battery power will only give them limited range.
Bill Ford says hundreds of thousands of such stations must be built, calling it "absolutely" necessary.
Nearly 100 years after Ford's first experiments with electric cars, the company says that this time they are here to stay.