Ford's $4.5 billion electric bet

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The Ford Focus Electric

Less than a week after Porsche announced a cool €1 billion investment in order to turn its currently conceptual plug in electric sports car into a production reality, Ford has gone several billion better.

It is investing $4.5 billion in order to fast track its "electrified vehicle solutions" by 2020 and to be able to offer consumers a choice of 13 plug-in vehicles by decade's end.

"Batteries are the life force of any electric vehicle, and we have been committed to growing our leadership in battery research and development for more than 15 years," said Kevin Layden, director, Ford Electrification Programs.

Ford's initial target is a set-up capable of delivering more than 100 miles on a single charge and of being able to recharge a battery to 80% again in under 30 minutes.

However, rather than simply pumping further funds -- this $4.5 billion is on top of the company's already sizable investment in e-mobility -- into developing denser batteries or more efficient motors, Ford is also approaching the challenge of zero-emissions mobility from the other side. What do consumers need and how are those demands likely to evolve over time?

"We are considering the way customers interact with our vehicles as a unified experience, looking for ways to excite and delight customers and make their lives better," said Raj Nair, executive vice president, Product Development and chief technical officer, Ford Motor Company.

This innovative approach means combining market research and traditional tools like focus groups with trying to gain greater insight into the cognitive, cultural and technological aspects of car ownership and using this understanding to dictate design.

"The challenge going forward isn't who provides the most technology in a vehicle but who best organizes that technology in a way that most excites and delights people," said Nair. "By observing consumers, we can better understand which features and strengths users truly use and value and create even better experiences for them going forward."

Ford is by no means the only mass-market carmaker looking to delight consumers with its electrified offerings. This week, Citroen took the wraps off its suitably eccentric E-Mehari electric car.

Designed to evoke memories of the original no-nonsense, fun-focused off-roader, it was developed in partnership with the Bolloré Group -- the company behind the Autolib electric car-leasing service in the French capital. Citroen describes the car as "a cheery, all-electric 4-seater cabriolet with modern, fun styling" and there's little doubt that it will put a smile on the faces of people as it passes them on a busy city street.