Ford (NYSE: F) is showing the power of the big auto machine this week with the official rollout of the Focus Electric at the North American International Auto Show. The Focus will allegedly charge faster than competitors and be priced similar to the "average" electric vehicle.

Let's take a look and see how Ford's Focus stacks up against upstart Tesla's (Nasdaq: TSLA) Model S when it's released.

Ford's advantage

  • Ford is tooling up to make gasoline-only, hybrid and all-electric vehicles on the same assembly lines. This greatly reduces the risk of a product failure and gives Ford the chance to spread engineering resources across multiple platforms.
  • The Focus Electric is expected to launch in 2011, likely six months ahead of the Model S. Thanks to its Roadster, Tesla is already enjoying a first mover advantage, along with Nissan's Leaf and the uniquely powered Chevy Volt by General Motors (NYSE: GM). Will the Model S be old news by the time it launches or equivalent to bringing a BMW to a Chrysler showroom?
  • It's all about the Benjamins. Ford isn't releasing pricing details yet but did say it would be "competitive with other battery electric vehicles." The Nissan Leaf starts at $32,800 and the Volt at $41,000 so I'm assuming the Focus Electric will be in that range, lower than the $57,900 for a Model S.
  • It's Ford, silly. Tesla may have a big name among enthusiasts and investors, but the average Joe who will be buying electric vehicles has a longer history with Ford. Tesla may build some credibility between now and 2012, but a launch to the masses is still uncharted territory.

Tesla's advantage

  • Tesla has sold itself with sex appeal, and the Model S will be no different. The Focus Electric is taking a step in the right direction, looking less like a cheap compact, but the Model S definitely wins this battle.
  • The Model S is expected to get 160 miles per charge versus the 100 or so miles on the Focus Electric. Tesla will also offer upgrades for up to a 300-mile range, according to Peter Rawlinson, vice president of vehicle engineering at Tesla.
  • Ford is pushing its fast-charging car, but if the super-fast charger that Tesla has in development becomes a reality, that would give a big leg up to the Model S.

From a technical and design standpoint the Model S has the clear advantage in this Fool's opinion. With that said, that big blue oval is looming on the horizon. And if consumers are more comfortable going with an iconic American brand at a lower price, the advantage could swing back to Ford.

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