Aren’t alternative fuel vehicles meant to look like escapees from Buck Rogers?
They used to, but Ford has the right idea. The only difference between this and a conventional Focus is a tiny ‘FFV’ badge on its rump. That's if you strip away the OTT stickers from this promomtional test car, that is; ours wasn't for shrinking violets. It runs on E85 Bio-ethanol derived from sugar and wheat crops which produces less CO2 and makes the FFV more efficient than the 1.8-litre petrol varient on which the FFV is based.
So what’s new?
Very little. The technology to convert a 1.8-litre Focus into a car capable of running on bioethanol is actually quite simple. Ethanol burns hotter and is more corrosive than petrol, so the valve seats are replaced along with ancillory hoses to cope. Finally the engine management computer is reprogrammed to avoid an electronic meltdown when the new fuel (and higher engine temperatures) take effect.
Tell me future boy, what’s it like to drive?
Dissapointingly, it feels exactly like any other Focus. No flashing lights, whirring noises or black smoke belching from the exhaust. It’s quiet, refined, quick to rev – exactly what you’d expect from a Focus. The FFV cracks 62mph in 10.3sec (matching the petrol version) and returns a reasonable 40mpg – up only 0.6mpg over the standard car. Unlike the Lotus Exige Bio-Ethanol, the Focus can be filled up with any combination of conventional petrol or ethanol making it far more usable.
Ford hopes to sell around 200 Focus FFVs annually around Somerset where the wheat is refined into ethanol; if the fuel takes off in the UK, clearly that figure could blossom. In other markets around the world, Ford is selling vast numbers of FFV models. But in the UK today, the cost of ethanol is roughly the same as petrol which, along with limited supply of fuel, harms its appeal to the mainstream market. In Sweden however, where ethanol costs 40 percent less than petrol, the FFV accounts for 80 percent of all Focii sold.
This is the immediate future of alternative fuel cars. By making them blend in, they become far more acceptable to buyers – no one wants to drive a car that looks like a Flymo. If the infrastructure in place in Sweden (where ethanol sits alongside conventional petrol and diesel at the pumps) can be replicated here, then Bio-Ethanol becomes a realistic alternative. As ever, we're waiting for the Government to create the fiscal conditions to encourage proper take-up of this emerging technology.