Ford Motor Co. today launches its C-Max Hybrid as well as the C-Max Energi, its first production plug-in hybrid to compete against the Chevrolet Volt.

They'll be built in Wayne for North America and will go on sale in 2012; European-built models will be shipped the following year.

The two vehicles are part of Ford's electric vehicle strategy, which is built literally and figuratively on the giant C-segment — the compact car family that will account for more than 10 versions of the Focus, C-Max and Escape, with the goal of 2 million sales annually around the world.

The compact platform was chosen as the cornerstone of Ford's electrification strategy because compacts are the largest segment in the world, said Derrick Kuzak, head of global product development. "We need to make electric vehicles affordable. One way is to drive volume."

The C-Max Energi plug-in is designed to drive more than 500 miles. Ford will not say how many miles it can run on electricity alone before the gasoline engine is needed to sustain the charge and help propel the car.

By comparison, the Chevrolet Volt can go 35 miles on electricity alone, and the gasoline engine extends the range to 379 miles.

Consumers will be able to recharge their plug-in hybrid at home overnight on a 120-volt outlet, said Kuzak. If the owner forgets to charge the Energi, the car continues to operate as a hybrid.

"They'll never have to think about the vehicle's electric range because the plug-in seamlessly shifts to fuel power when needed," said Sherif Marakby, director of electrification programs and engineering.

"The idea is you drive it as an electric car to commute and on the weekend drive it as a hybrid."

Analyst Dave Sullivan of AutoPacific in Troy said it "could be a popular alternative to the Volt, depending how it is priced." Ford hasn't announced pricing yet.

The C-Max Hybrid is not a plug-in, but it will use third-generation technology. The lithium-ion battery systems are 30 percent smaller and 50 percent lighter and easier to package than the nickel-hydride batteries in Ford's current hybrids.

Fuel economy will exceed the 41 miles per gallon that the current Ford Fusion Hybrid achieves and the C-Max Hybrid will operate in electric mode beyond the 47 miles per hour threshold on the Fusion.

The C-Max hybrids are based on the five-passenger C-Max sold in Europe — not the seven-passenger version with sliding doors to be sold in North America — in part to make the hybrids unique. The electrification strategy is true to the One Ford philosophy of global development of new vehicles for all markets and budgets.

"It's about bringing choice to consumers," said Mark Fields, Ford president of the Americas. "That's why we decided to electrify the platform and not just one vehicle."

And the plan is true to the company's legacy. "A lot of people are making kind of one-off vehicles, but we're really implementing Henry Ford's original vision: opening the highways to all mankind," said Ford CEO Alan Mulally, by spreading the technology across the product line.

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