January 9th, 2011
02:10 AM GMT
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New York (CNN) – Ford's new Focus Electric drove into the glare of the assembled media in a Manhattan showroom, approaching a mocked-up version of a domestic garage. Bill Ford - the great grandson of Henry - plugged the car into a charging station.

The display was part of a twin city ceremony in New York and Las Vegas to herald the auto giant's answer to the electric passenger cars released by General Motors and Nissan in 2010.

Ford is currently riding high, with record profits and strong consumer reviews. In recent years, the firm has refocused on its iconic brand and diversified its range of models. But it comes to the eco-party late: The car will not be released until late this year - nearly a year after its rivals.

"The biggest difference is we're electrifying our mainstream vehicle called the Focus," Executive Chairman Bill Ford tells CNN. "It's not a one-off vehicle. And of this platform, we're going to have a conventional gasoline engine, we're going to have a hybrid, a plug-in hybrid and we're going to have pure electric."

This portfolio of consumer options is key for Ford: Demand for electric cars remains an unknown quantity and the company is planning to let buyers drive manufacturing and supply.

With oil prices expected to rise throughout 2011, some analysts are predicting interest will jump. But others say progress for all electric cars will be hamstrung by the lack of public charging stations and an inability to travel long distances.

If Ford's gamble will pay off remains an open question.



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