Ford Introduces Electric Plug for Coming Focus Electric Car
When Ford Motor Company debuts its all-new Focus Electric in late 2011, customers will learn a new way of “refueling” – plugging in instead of gassing up.
While most owners are expected to recharge the zero-emissions, gas-free Focus Electric at home with an optional wall-mounted 240V charging station, they also will have the ability to recharge at remote locations with a standard 120V convenience cord. Both types of connectors will use an industry-standard five-point plug fitted with an ergonomic Ford-branded handle specially designed for comfort and durable daily use.
“Focus Electric owners can look forward to having a ‘refueling’ device they can call their own,” said Sherif Marakby, Ford director, Electrification Program and Engineering. “Since Focus Electric owners are likely to handle one of the charge cords two or more times everyday, we’re providing a distinctive and durable device for their plugging-in experience.”
The EV experience
Owners of Focus Electric will recharge the car’s onboard lithium-ion battery pack by plugging the convenience plug or charge station plug into the vehicle’s charge port.
When plugged in, the vehicle’s onboard charger converts the AC power from the electric grid to DC power to charge the liquid-cooled battery pack. A full recharge is expected to take six to eight hours with a 240V charge station or more than 12 hours with a 120V convenience cord set. When fully charged, Focus Electric is expected to deliver up to 100 miles of gas-free driving – more than enough for most U.S. commuters, who average 40 miles per day.
Like most household electrical plugs, Focus Electric’s cord set connector has three pins at the end that plug into a standard outlet. But the similarities stop there. The end that connects with the car has five pins, including one that communicates with the vehicle about the type of electrical current (120V or 240V) it is requesting and another pin that deactivates the current when the user disconnects the plug from the charge port.
Focus Electric’s convenience cord will be 25 feet long, making it long enough to reach the nearest outlet, eliminating the need for an extension cord. When not in use, the user can spool the cord around a special oval-shaped holder that also accommodates the cord’s control box. The spooled cord will have a designated spot in the vehicle’s trunk.
Finding the right fit
Between plugging in and unplugging at home, work or other places, Focus Electric owners are likely to recharge their vehicles two to four times each day (nearly 1,500 times a year) compared to once a week for gassing up (52 times a year). With a Focus Electric owner in contact with the connector so many times, Ford conducted an ergonomic study to help determine plug handle design, as well as charge port height and insertion angle. Study participants – who ranged from petite adult females to larger adult males, ages 21 to 61 – tested a variety of plug handle prototypes.
“We tried handles inspired by hockey sticks and curling irons, but found that a grip diameter similar to a tennis racket handle worked best for the widest range of users,” said Cary Diehl, Ford human factors engineer. “More than most automotive devices, Focus Electric’s cord set connector has given us an opportunity to think outside the box and find inspiration from non-automotive consumer goods.”
In seeking a blend of tactile toughness, high-tech polish and ergonomic comfort, the team benchmarked Craftsman® tools and considered the attributes of such disparate products as Apple® mobile electronics and OXO Good Grips® kitchen utensils.
The plug handle uses a matte-finished blue rubber that allows for a comfortable, non-slip grip and the plug head is shielded with a glossy white hard plastic to protect the electronics. The Ford Blue Oval trademark helps make the device immediately recognizable.
“Fueling a car with electricity will be a new experience for most Focus Electric customers,” said Jennifer Atanasovski, Ford designer. “So it’s important for the look and feel of the plug to accentuate how special it is and to help instill a sense of confidence in the technology.”
Dropped, dunked and driven over
Ford’s supplier partner Yazaki conducted extensive and durability tests on Focus Electric’s cord set connector, including an insertion/extraction study of 10,000 cycles to assess the durability of the interaction between the handle and plug. For every thousand insertions, testers dunked the plug into a sandy salt water solution to add grit to the connectors and they repeatedly dropped the handle and rolled over it with a car tire to test its durability. Testers also subjected the cord set connector to ambient extreme temperature increases.
“We put the cord set connector through more abuse than it’s ever likely to endure in the hands of Focus Electric owners,” said Katie Pecoraro, project engineer. “We want our customers to have peace of mind knowing that their means of recharging the vehicle will be well designed and durable – just like the vehicle itself.”
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