Monthly Archives: September 2013

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Some tips and tricks for Focus Electric (and My Ford Touch) drivers

My Ford Touch

Here are a few of the tips and tricks that I’ve learned to use to make the most use out of My Ford Touch and the Focus Electric’s unique features:

My Ford Touch (MFT):

  1. The first tip is to use voice as much as possible. Most reviews of MFT say it is far too distracting–sure it is if you’re always looking at the screen to press buttons. Don’t do that use the voice commands; that is what they are there for.
  2. Go into “Settings -> Voice Control” and set all the voice prompt settings to “advanced”. This will reduce the amount of time that the car spends instructing you down to almost nothing (press the voice button and it will prompt with a single beep–much quicker than having to listen to: “Please say a command”)
  3. The command structure is supposed to be flat but it isn’t quite enough. What I mean by this is: You first have to tell the system what you want controlled before controlling it. This means instead of just saying: “Tune to 96.1” you have to first say: “Radio” then “Tune to 96.1”. This applies to everything: First say the device you want then say the command (“Phone”, “Radio”, “Satellite”, “Navigation”, “Climate”, etc.).
  4. The exception to #3 above is that some things you can always say: “Call Joe at home”, “Call dad at work”–assuming “Joe” and “dad” are contacts in your contact list.
  5. Since MFT is based on windows you can upload a custom wallpaper to it and set your background (the home screen only). Go to “Settings -> Display -> Edit wallpaper” and plug in a USB flash drive with your images on it–you’ll first need to rescale the images to 800 x 384 though.

Focus Electric specific tips:

  1. Charge using a Level 2 charger. You may be on the fence about getting a Level 2 installed at home–if you can manage it; do it. The faster charging time is worth it. You’ll find that quick 1/2 hour or 1 hour charges charge the car enough to make those extra trips you might have avoided.
  2. If you are using “Value Charging”: Don’t use the canned times given by your electricity supplier, use custom times instead and program the car to charge at some point past midnight. I’ve found that value charging before midnight really messes with the displayed charge times. Since I’ve been charging at 1am the car has charged quite regularly at that time without missing a beat.
  3. “Value Charging” tip #2: Program your weekend value charge times the same as the weekday. Sometimes MFT’s calendar is off by 1 day–by programming the weekend the same as weekday you won’t find it charging on Friday (or erroneously waiting to charge on Sunday). If you need to charge during the day on the weekends switch it over to charge now–just remember to switch it back before the week.
  4. You can send navigation waypoints to the car using either the My Ford Mobile website, or the smartphone application. Once you’ve sent them via either method: in the car press the voice button and say “services” it will dial up and say: “MapQuest has sent an address…” just answer yes and it will download the waypoint into the car.
  5. When using the nav system always tell the car you’ll be charging at the destination (even if you’re not). When the car thinks you’ll be charging the dash display switches to a range + extra display (detailed in this post). This display is really helpful with showing how much range you’ll have left over after you’ve made it to your destination.

I’ve been using these tips for a while now (in the MFT case for several years) while they don’t alleviate the most serious MFT bugs they do make using it much more satisfying.


Can you get it washed?

As I sit here writing this it is kind of a dreary day outside: temperatures in the 60s (F) a constant drizzle is falling down and my Focus Electric is sitting outside plugged in. In this state I’ve never been zapped or so much as felt the slightest tingle when unplugging the car.

Surprisingly I’m frequently asked the “can it get wet?” type of question; sometimes in jest but sometimes not. I suppose the fear is that the car will short out or that I will get electrocuted. Really? These are cars designed to be driven in a wide variety of weather conditions. Surely a puddle or even a slight fog won’t even faze the vehicle.

In the two short months that I’ve had the car its already been run through some pretty typical conditions: Its been through numerous car washes, many downpours, puddles as deep as the bottom of the car, and even down some pretty washboard-ed roads (to the extent that any lose connectors would be immediately apparent as well as any lose fillings in my teeth!).

Remember it is a car first; the mode of propulsion is just that: an engine choice. The frame or glider has already been designed and tested for worse weather than I will ever subject it to.

In addition, the J1772 connector used to charge the car has a sense line that is disconnected before the power lines. The electronics in the EVSE turn off power when it detects that the sense line has been disconnected (thus there is no power on the power lines before the plug is fully removed from the vehicle, and power is not applied until the plug is fully inserted into the vehicle).

So yes you can get it washed and I recommend you do: They look so much better clean!



National Plug in Day

National Plugin Day

I paid a short visit to my local National Plug in Day event. I wasn’t disappointed as I really  had no expectations to what the event would entail. Considering that the event’s only exposure was the main website (and postings in all the EV forums about when where all the stuff going on was) there was about as many people as you’d expect.

I counted about 5 Volts, 1 Leaf, 2 Teslas (S85, and P60), 1 Prius plugin, 2 Rangers!, a Fusion Energi, and some misc golf carts. Of course and me and my Focus Electric–since I didn’t really sign up to be an exhibitor and I didn’t have the time to sit there all day I just parked my car in the adjoining lot and walked over.

The P60 was simply a gorgeous car!
P60P60 2
Even the jump seats in the back looked pretty fun.
P60 Jump seats

I spent a little time speaking with the owner of the Fusion Energi (The Fusion has to be the best looking car Ford makes…period).
Fusion and Volt
Not knowing me from Adam, he started discussing his reason for purchasing the Fusion and how he deals with the limited range, etc. I had to stop him and told him: “You don’t have to convince me; I pulled up in the Focus Electric”. “That was you? I thought I saw one drive by” he responded. The entire tone of the conversation changed at that point.
EV Ranger
Here we have one of two EV Ranger’s at the show. These are not conversions they are production vehicles. In the late 90s Ford produced some EV Rangers. I was surprised at how well maintained they were given their age (Most of the 90s Rangers I see on the road are pretty beat up).
Volts and a Leaf
Can’t help but think of Sesame Street here: “One of these is not like the others…” Can you tell which one is the Leaf?

All in all it wasn’t bad. I think to it would have helped if there was some signage around Washtenaw Community college pointing you to the “National Plug in Day” event though.


Butterflies, Really? (What your dashboard can tell you)

The FFE’s dashboard can be traced all the way back to the 2006 Fusion Hybrid. The Fusion Hybrid was the first Ford vehicle with a configurable dashboard. This dash featured a center speedometer with LCD panels on either side that could be changed to different views. In 2010 when Ford introduced the 2011 Edge with My Ford Touch the configurable instrument panel came along. Today Ford has two dashboards for cars: A simple one with a speedo on one side, a tach on the other and a small display in the middle (featured on all the ICE Focus based cars: Focus, C-Max, Escape, etc.), and the dual LCD one (featured on the Edge, Explorer, Taurus, etc.). This configuration makes the FFE unique: It is a Focus based vehicle with the “high end” dashboard. Here are a few examples of the possible displays:

FFE DashboardThe above image was featured on many blogs when the FFE was first introduced. IMHO it doesn’t show any of the truly useful displays that the FFE has. Many a blogger also complained about the FFE wasting valuable dash real-estate with the goofy butterfly display (at top right). That complaint really doesn’t make sense for the FFE since the butterflies are just one available panel–you don’t have to look at them…ever if you don’t want to! (I don’t)

In my instance I find that leaving the Navigation panel up on the right is far more useful. It tells you what road you are on, compass direction, and even the road’s speed limit if it is in the Nav systems database. Other items that can be shown (and controlled) on the right are the phone, and entertainment systems. For the phone the panel doesn’t show much unless you are making a call, and for the entertainment panel you can see what station you are tuned to, and/or the song your listening to if that metadata is available.

The information density increases dramatically when you look over to the left panel. This side can be configured for almost a dizzying array of vehicle information: Power consumption, braking scores, battery level, status display, etc. For the first few weeks I had the FFE I would pick a panel for the day to see if I liked what information was displayed. Eventually I settled on two that I found most useful: The enhanced trip meter, and the maximum information display in “My View”.

The Enhanced Trip MeterHere we have the Enhanced Trip Meter. You have to go into settings to turn on the enhanced feature (when enhanced is off you just get miles driven). After every full charge I reset the trip meter–this way the information accurately describes how much of the battery I’ve used. The displayed values are:

  • Miles driven
  • Average watt hours/mile consumed
  • Total kilowatt hours consumed
  • Time driven

The two important values here are: Average watt hours/mile and total watt hours consumed. The average value gives you an idea of how efficiently you are driving: A lower value is more efficient, a higher value is less efficient. The total watt hours consumed value is very much like the “gallons used” on an ICE vehicle. Since you know the FFE has a 23kWh battery you can get a rough idea of how much is left in the battery (since the “fuel gauge” just to the right there doesn’t show a % consumed value, although you can get a % consumed value from the center MFT display).

Even more information can be gleaned by configuring the My View display:

FFE My View display(Sorry for the blurriness here) The My View display is setup as two columns; each of which can be independently configured to show different information (and the My View configuration is stored with each key so different drivers can have different My Views). What I have configured above is showing about the most information the FFE will give you:

  • The top two bar graphs show power consumed by the climate system and other items not related to driving (headlights, radio, etc.)
  • Below that is the Budget and Status indicators (discussed in a previous post).
  • The center bar graph shows: Instantaneous wH/mile, average wH/mile, and required budget wH/mile consumption

That last item requires a little bit more explanation: Inside that graph there is a short moving white line (in this picture shown at the top). This line indicates how much wH/mile is being consumed right now (instantaneous). The two tick marks extending from the sides at about 230 wH/mile is the average wH/mile consumed for this trip. Finally that white outline on the bottom is the required budget wH/mile “cup” (it appears white in this picture but on the dash it is blue colored). The idea is that if you can keep the average consumption tick marks inside the “budget cup” (the user manual calls it the “budget cup”) then you can make the budgeted range.

When you set a destination on the navigation system the budget cup changes slightly to show how much wH/mile you need to be under in order to make it to your destination. The interesting thing is as you get closer to your destination the budget cup will go up all the way to the point of covering the whole graph–this indicates that you don’t have to be that efficient to make it to the destination (when the cup covers the whole graph its basically telling you that “there is no way that you will not be able to make it to your destination; no matter how badly you drive” LOL).

All of this information provided to the driver is basically a way to ease range anxiety. To that end it is nice to have but once you’ve driven the car for a while it doesn’t really matter. Just like any other car, really, you get to know what it can and can’t do and tailor your driving patterns to what the car is capable of.





Hey! I got a new car! (Planning those long drives)

What is the first thing people do when they get a new car? Or the thing they like to do? At least its something I’ve always done–not sure about anyone else! LOL. Typically when I get a new car I want to drive it all over the place to show all my friends and family my fancy new ride.

This activity is curtailed just a little bit when you can only go ~80 miles or so on a “tank” and it takes almost 20 hours to refill that “tank” (when I first got the FFE I didn’t yet have a Level 2 charger–that would take about a month to work through the paperwork and installation process–detailed in this post). Fortunately, for me, I had a nephew graduating from High School this meant graduation party and that meant that most of the family would be there. The only issue to this plan was: The location of the party would be outside the round trip range of the FFE from our house. (About a week before the party my Level 2 EVSE was installed.)

Now how to accomplish such a trip? I figured that I would need two things: A charge station relatively close to the party, and the time required to leave the car at the charge station to fill up (in the event that the charge station isn’t immediately close to the party). So lets look at the map of charge stations in the area:

SE Michigan Stations


Fortunately there are quite a few stations around the greater Detroit area–including a couple that I thought may work out: The party was in one of the Northern communities where there are a few malls around with stations within walking distance.  I found that there were two charge stations at Magna, of all places, within walking distance of a popular mall and within about 10 miles of the party. (Magna was one of the main developers of the Focus Electric.) Within a few miles of those chargers were some other ones near a hotel, and a restaurant (in the event that the Magna ones were taken). So plan in hand, and with the wife and kid’s blessing (since they were going to the party as well), we set off.

The driving was uneventful, if a tad humorous since I was driving a bit slower on the freeway than normal traffic speed (which did get a few angry “rush arounds” even though I was in the right lane–occasionally we’d  come across someone driving slower than our 65 mph pace). We arrived at Magna, activated the ChargePoint station and walked to the mall. Using the time estimate from the MyFordMobile app we estimated the time we needed to start walking back to the car so we would arrive with it fully charged. Sure enough, when we were within about a block of the car I got the text message indicating a full charge.

At the party there were a few curious onlookers wanting to see and “hear” the car in action–I even took the host for a short errand. Many were impressed with the car and indicated that they had or were considering an electric vehicle of some sort. Almost as many also had indicated that they had reasons to prevent them from a BEV or PHEV–to each his own.

Needless to say the trip was a success, the drive home was uneventful, and we may have even shown some people that yes, indeed, you can happily live with driving an electric car around. Total miles traveled was about 110 miles with about 20 miles in range showing when we arrived at home. Keep in mind that we took this trip fairly early on in the EV ownership experience when we were not really comfortable with how far the car really could take us. Today, after a few months of ownership, we often use the car for trips with 70+ mile round trip distances without a concern for running out of charge. Our next real “range anxiety” check will come as the temperature outside gets colder reducing battery performance.

1k Regen and the Focus Electric’s mysterious “Status” indicator

This week I’ll roll over 1000 miles of regen according to the lifetime statistics reported by the car. With over 4000 miles on the odometer this means that I’ve recovered a good 1/4 of the miles driven. This seems odd to me since my commute in always seems to report out 3 miles of regen for my 15+ mile commute. I do notice, however, that my workplace is at a higher elevation than my home–thus my commute to work in the morning consumes more electricity than my trip home. In the Focus Electric this is borne out by the “status” number reading as much as -10 on the way in, but by the time I get home it reads +10.

Speaking of that Status value: If you don’t own, or haven’t driven a Focus Electric before you don’t know what I’m talking about. When you “start” a FFE the car keeps two numbers on the dash:

  1. The current estimated distance to empty (EDTE)
  2. The estimated distance to empty when you started the car (I’ll call this ODODTE)

The EDTE value will fluctuate (sometimes wildly) as you drive: The car constantly recomputes the EDTE based on your driving style (drive for 20 miles down a 25 mph street and watch as the EDTE increases giving the appearance that you are charging; likewise drive down the highway uphill and watch as the EDTE plummets).

The ODODTE value decreases with the odometer: for each mile you drive the ODODTE value will also drop by a mile.

The status display basically just shows the difference between these two numbers (when no destination is set on the nav system–more on this later). Thus if you start the car with a full battery and its showing the EDTE as 80 miles the ODODTE will also get set to 80. Now if you drive down that 25 mph road your status value will start increasing as your EDTE increases or if you dash down the highway the status value will go negative as the EDTE value drops below the ODODTE value.

Now if you program in a destination to the Nav system and tell it you will be charging there the numbers reported on the dash will change: ODODTE now becomes the distance to your destination which means that the status value becomes the amount of estimated range left in the battery once you get to your destination. This information is much more useful as the # of miles remaining after your destination gives you and indication if you’ll need to charge there or not–helpful when planning and driving on a trip that is longer than a single battery charge.

Note that there are a ton of goodies on the FFE’s dash more than just the values discussed here. Something I’ll have to address in a future post: The FFE’s customizable dash.

Stealth EV

Which one is the electric?

Which one is the electric?

In a prior post I discussed one of the big disadvantages of converting a production car to electric (instead of designing one from scratch). Here is an advantage of a conversion car: It looks pretty much identical to its ICE powered cousin.

For those people who wish to drive something different (for whatever reasons they have) and do not wish to be called out on it an ICE conversion car is perfect. You get to drive your vehicle of choice and not be approached about any sort of statement it makes. Look at the picture above: Which car is electric–if you were to give them just a passing glance you’d be hard pressed to figure it out. Granted the BEV Focus has all the “electric” badging and even has a different grill. Even so the average passer by doesn’t pay attention to those things; they just see another Focus.

So far on the market there are quite a few “stealth EVs”: Focus Electric, Chevy Spark, Fiat 500e, Toyota RAV4 EV, etc. Not to mention that more are coming (Kia Soul for instance). Pretty soon there won’t be a stigma attached to a certain power train choice as they will be all around us..

How fast to fill up?

Now this is an interesting article: Which Electric Cars Charge the Fastest?

They rightly state at the very beginning:

The problem with asking “which EVs charge the fastest” is while some may think it’s a simple inquiry, it really isn’t. In fact, if we had to put asterisks on the highly qualified answers for the 10 electric cars sold in America, we’d need asterisks for the asterisks.

Even with all the clarifications it really doesn’t matter: As long as the car is fully charged in the morning I’m a happy camper. Granted if your chores for the day will take you further than the range of a full battery then you will be figuring on how much you can charge during the day. For the vast majority of my daily driving, though, I’m well within the range of a charge on the battery.

The ultimate question really is “can it charge overnight” which generally means can it fully charge up from empty within about 8 hours or so. All of the electric cars today can answer yes to that–at least with a Level 2 or better charger.


Dude, where’s my trunk?

The "trunk" of the FFE

The “trunk” of the FFE

Here we have the biggest drawback of the Focus Electric: Inside the hatchback. On an ICE Focus instead of rising, the floor in the back is about 10″ lower (actually the rear ramp thing with the handle there is just a foam divider and is sitting on the load floor at the same level as the ICE Focus).

Apparently simply replacing the gas tank with a battery did not provide enough range for the car; they had to add another battery. Yes the Focus Electric has two battery packs: one where the gas tank is on an ICE Focus and another one right where you see it in that picture above: behind the passenger seats taking up a lot of the room in the hatchback.

If the two back seats are folded down you still get quite a bit of room back there–enough to put a bicycle in the back. I’ve been able to fit quite a lot back there even with the foam divider in place. There is enough room on top of everything to fit at least two folding chairs (like this one). Removing the divider has provided enough room for a wagon, two chairs, and various baseball gear–I’ve been surprised at how much I can pack in there.
Without the divider

Here we are without the divider (or “cargo organizer” as Ford calls it). You may notice a small cover or flap at the very bottom…I wonder what is in there:

Photo Sep 19, 8 06 17 AMThis is where the 120V Level 1 charge chord is stored along with the air compressor and fix-a-flat kit since the car doesn’t have a spare (space that is also used for the extra battery).

On the whole I find the space adequate and have been able to work with it. Would it have been nicer to have more space? Sure but I’ll take it since otherwise I’ve been very happy with the car–in fact, I’d gladly give up more space for another 50 or so miles of range (not that I really need it; it would just increase the radius of places I could go without needing a charge).


Charging Etiquette

Now for the Emily Post post! LOL

Once there started to be a few electric vehicles on the road we started seeing many people/companies/etc. posting articles about the etiquette of charging at public stations (e.g. some rules of thumb people should use when they see an occupied charge station that they wished to use). Ford also entered into the fray with a press release, and a video.

The rules of thumb were typically some variation of:

  • Don’t unplug other vehicles unless you know for sure they are done charging.
  • Only stay long enough at the charge station to charge up what you need (e.g. don’t stay there all day long)
  • When charging is complete move your vehicle to make the spot available for the next person who needs to charge

Ford’s etiquette list even included an item stating that BEVs should take precedence over PHEVs since PHEVs have a gas engine and don’t necessarily always need a charge–this statement is somewhat controversial. Also included in that article is a handy plaque to print out and leave on the dash to let others know how long you’ll be there (note that the smartphone app PlugShare also provides something similar–provided everyone else also uses PlugShare!).

I really don’t think you need to keep in mind a list of rules when you are going to charge; just use a little common courtesy. Try not to unplug anyone unless you know absolutely that their charge is complete (Chargepoint stations show this on the display–and if they have the texting setup they will know very quickly that you unplugged their vehicle if the charge isn’t finished). Other than that, be polite and not rude–there isn’t many of us on the road (at lease BEV drivers) compared to everyone else so you might was well make a good impression.