Ford Motor Co. will knock $4,000 off the price of its 2014 Focus electric cars, slated to hit dealers' lots in a few weeks.
With destination charge included, the base model will now cost $35,995. In a statement Thursday, a company spokeswoman said the lowered price of the "fully-contented" cars "keeps us competitive in the marketplace and is an important part of our commitment to provide customers with a range of electrified vehicles to choose from."
The electric Focus has lagged far behind other battery-powered competitors, selling just 177 of the 2013 model cars in June. By comparison, Chevrolet sold 2,698 Chevy Volts and Nissan's delivered 2,225 Leaf EVs.
With the discount, Ford joins what's become an ongoing price war among mainstream manufacturers vying to make sure electric-curious customers come to their showrooms first.
In January, Nissan announced it would cut the entry-level price of its Leaf by $6,400. The markdown paid off. Once the carmaker overcame "tight supplies," which held sales around 650 for both January and February, Leaf deliveries shot up to 2,236 in March under the new price, starting at $29,650 with shipping included. In all, Nissan sold 9,839 of the electric cars in the first six months of 2013.
Nissan had offered a $199-a-month leasing option on the Leaf even before dropping its sale price. Other carmakers took note.
Chrysler Group said in April it would match the Leaf lease on its Fiat 500e, which goes on sale this summer at the sticker price of $32,500, before government incentives that can total $10,000.
On May 23, General Motors said it too would lease for $199 when its Spark EV was released in June. A week after that announcement, Honda Motor Co. dropped the lease payment on its Fit EV from $389 to $259. Two days later, GM cut its Chevy Volt lease from $299 a month to $269.
Honda saw a run on its dealers, who couldn't supply enough cars to meet demand for the Fit EV.
John O'Dell, a senior editor for Edmunds.com, said big drops carry another risk.
"It's casting a lot of questions about future value of these vehicles, and whether or not buyers would want to buy them instead of leasing them," O'Dell said.
Potential customers might think twice about paying the full sticker price of an EV if they suspect the next major discount is on the horizon. That being said, "Almost any time you drop $4,000 off the base price, it's going to have a positive impact on sales," O'Dell added.
Ford's move begs the question of how long carmakers will be able to keep up the intensity of EV hustling.
"I see pricing initiatives continuing," O'Dell said.
But taking electric cars full throttle into the mainstream means moving beyond the early adopter pool. "That's why automakers are lowering prices – to make that breakthrough, to get people who would do it if they could see an advantage. They need to show there's a financial advantage," he said. "Or at least, no financial detriment."