We’ve seen lots of beaters in this series, we’ve also seen cars that looked very well preserved, and we’ve seen cars that we’ve bemoaned the fact that they weren’t offered to us instead of going to their fate…what we have not seen though are brand new cars with the Monroney stickers still on the windows at a self-serve junkyard. Until today. And not just one, but around a dozen. And all with an interesting story and still, a mystery.
UPDATE 9/19/2022 10:43AM Pacific Time: Reader Andrew did some sleuthing and found/posted a video in the comments that explains clearly that the registrant of some/all of these vehicles as noted in the article is here in Colorado and did in fact purchase or lease them and then used them to harvest mainly the batteries as they found that to be the cheapest way to get ahold of what they needed for their own venture. The post here will remain with the original text but read through the comments and then check out the video linked in Andrew’s answer where it clearly shows and explains what was going on.
Back in 2012, the State of California began to enforce a decree that the six most popular automakers in the California new car market had to produce and sell a certain number of zero emissions vehicles in order to keep doing any business at all in the state. Five of those six makers came up with what are popularly and somewhat derisively labeled “compliance cars”, i.e. vehicles that were created simply to comply with the law. The makers (the top six in CA by volume) subject to the decree in order of most sales to least were Toyota, Honda, GM, Ford, Nissan, and Chrysler.
Nissan had the Leaf on hand so they were set and planning to sell far more than required anyway. Beyond Nissan, the only real EVs on sale at that time were the Coda (which failed miserably for various reasons), the Mitsubishi i-MIEV, and debuting late in the 2012 model year, the Tesla Model S, which obviously went on to show the world that the US could in fact design, build and most crucially, profitably sell very popular and capable electric vehicles. (Nissan of course started out similar but then somehow squandered an early lead and much goodwill but should get props for not just trying to brush off the EV mandate like the other makers subject to it did. One wonders what would the car market look like today if those other five makers had taken the task seriously and not arrogantly handed the lead to Nissan and Tesla while spending years lobbying against EV technology?)
But never mind that, back then there were plenty of doubters for various reasons, many of them found to be false, so the other five (besides Nissan) each produced their own “compliance car”. Toyota produced the RAV4EV (using Tesla hardware and software!), Honda an EV version of the Fit, Chevy created the Spark EV, Chrysler the Fiat 500E, and Ford the Focus Electric. These were often offered at lease terms well below market rates or sold to willing consumers, the point was to get them registered and fulfill the state’s requirement. Note that nobody actually forced anyone to do anything, every manufacturer did have the option to simply not sell any cars whatsoever in the state. Cali’s house, Cali’s rules.
The main hallmark of a “compliance car” is that they were all (except for the Nissan Leaf) developed from existing vehicle architectures with lots of inherent limitations, and usually the range was quite low, under 100 miles in most cases. Then again, the vast majority of drivers in the United States drive far fewer miles than that on the majority of days and most families have multiple vehicles in their driveway, so the cars were not completely useless, especially for those multi-car owners or ones with relatively fixed needs. (In fact, some other automakers started to produce similar vehicles as well, such as the VW e-Golf and others, likely due to realizing they risked being left behind.) However, these days the accepted minimum viable range for a EV to be seriously considered in this country is somewhere near the 300 mile mark, preferably over in order to leave a comfortable margin “just in case”.
In any case, let’s focus on Ford here for obvious reasons. The Ford Focus Electric debuted for 2012, it looked pretty much like any other new Ford Focus hatchback, but contained a battery in the cargo area, a charge port on the front left fender, and an electric motor powering the front wheels. Ford more or less bought out the engineering and EV componentry from Magna, the massive Canadian automotive parts and systems supplier but assembled the cars on the same assembly line as other Focuses in Michigan (and another in Europe). The batteries were apparently co-developed by Ford and an LG Chem subsidiary that produced the actual battery packs.
Ford assembly workers basically installed semi-finished modules the same as they would any other engine or fuel tank etc. The range of the new 2012 Focus Electric when it debuted through the 2016 model year was a paltry 76 miles, which was increased to 115 miles for the 2017 model year, which coincidentally is our focus today, but the plug was pulled on the program in the spring of 2018 when the Focus ended production in the United States.
In the meantime of course it has become plainly evident to anyone not willfully ignorant that EVs do have a market, good usable ones can be engineered, built, and find willing purchasers. As a minor aside, as of a month ago, the two most popular vehicles sold so far in 2022 in California are the Model Y with 42,000 registrations and the Model 3 with 39,000 registrations (that’s eight months of 2022 only, and in one state). Tesla isn’t the top seller by vehicle volume, that honor goes to Toyota with 17.9% market share, but Tesla now has 10.7% of the overall vehicle market in that state making it the #2 brand. That 10.7% means a brand that only sells four different models of electric vehicles is outselling EVERY other vehicle brand except for Toyota, even Chevy (6.2%) and Ford (8.7%), and outselling every one of their truck lines while not even having a truck themselves. The EV revolution isn’t coming. It’s here.
As far as the Focus Electric is concerned, reported sales totaled 9,226, presumably enough to satisfy the state that Ford was serious about complying during that time. Of those, 1,817 were 2017 models, presumably the increased range produced a bit of a sales bump over the prior year’s results.
So what did I find at the junkyard? Two rows containing around a dozen 2017 Ford Focus Electric vehicles, all in white, silver, and charcoal. Multiple cars still had Monroney labels (that’s the name of the “sticker” containing the price and other vehicle details including fuel economy and safety ratings, mandated by US law for new car sales and named after Mike Monroney, a senator from Oklahoma who authored the Automobile Information Disclosure Act of 1958.)
The cars were from various dealerships but all from the Southern California area according to the window stickers and license plate advertising including Galpin Ford, the largest Ford dealer in the country and coincidentally where my own mother purchased a first-generation Focus years ago.
Some of the cars had supplemental stickers required to be in place due to California’s sales laws. Many of the cars still had new car documentation, labels, and instructions for their new owners in place.
This is all stuff that virtually no car actually leaves the dealership with once sold, it’s either removed by the dealer and handed to the buyer (such as the Monroney and other labels) or removed by the happy buyer as their familiarize themselves with their new car; this might be stuff like danglers that advertise other features or the like.
Some of the cars still had the dealership advertising that is in place of the actual license plates which usually don’t arrive until several weeks to several months after purchase. Since 2019 California buyers are issued a temporary license plate that is installed before leaving the lot as in most states, but for decades you’d drive around like this for quite a while after purchasing a new car. Steve Jobs famously did so for months at a time and never had a license plate, trading his cars in before the time came to do so, the law apparently gave a six month grace period before a plate was legally required and he maintained a rolling six month or lower leases on his favored Mercedes-Benz AMG models exploiting that loophole.
Very interestingly though, were a few of the cars that had temporary registration paperwork attached to the inside of their windshields. Prior to 2019, when you purchased a new car in California, a temporary registration would be printed by the dealership. That would be folded up so only a portion of it was visible, and then adhered to the inside of the windshield with a sticker that enveloped it (this has all changed since then). Then the dealership would send the paperwork to the Department of Motor Vehicles, eventually the buyer would receive their actual registration and license plates in the mail, and could remove the temporary one with the sticker. In this case, the registrations were in place indicating a “sale” but everything else about the cars showed no indication of it, in several cases still having the window stickers as well as the other interior danglers and so forth in place.
I removed and unfolded a few of these and found that the registrant (buyer) in every case was a company named Lightning Hybrids LLC with a residential street address in Escondido, CA and a secondary address in Atlanta, GA. I won’t publish the street address here as it appears to be someone’s private residence (which does not mean that it can’t also contain a registered business). There’s nothing wrong with a company purchasing multiple cars from multiple dealerships, what is odd though is that those cars did not appear to have ever been used or driven. The temporary registration also features a space that requires an entry of the vehicle mileage at sale, even new ones always have some minor mileage, on these there was no entry in that area.
A couple of cars featured the California “Carpool Lane Access” stickers on the rear bumpers, yet those cars too were brand new and never used (Picture #5 above shows a car with the carpool sticker AND the Monroney sticker still in place.) I believe a registered owner would need to apply for the stickers with a registration but no owner would leave the Monroney attached to the window. Hmm.
They weren’t something like pre-production prototypes, those wouldn’t have a completely normal VIN plate and in any case there would be no need to produce them in mid 2017, close to the end of the program. Having tested a couple of pre-production vehicles, they do sometimes have Monroneys but with incomplete information, not like these did.
None of the cars had their batteries (this junkyard removes those from EVs and Hybrids and sells or recycles them on a wholesale basis although a different local large chain yard leaves them in as I realized a while back). They were installed back here in a box that took up a lot of trunk space and made the standard folding seats a little pointless. I believe the cabling went through the large rectangular hole towards the front of the car, perhaps part of the battery pack did too, especially on these later cars with their larger units.
I didn’t see their hoods and front bumpers and lights which is either due to the junkyard again or someone came in the few days that they had been on the lot and “harvested” them for their own purposes such as a body shop etc., but clearly there wasn’t some sort of crash damage as this bumper inner structure can attest to. It’s always possible that someone got tipped off early that these were going to be released to the public, this obviously happens in some cases with some cars and then there is an organized “crew” ready to strip it first in line when the yard opens.
Many of the cars had their subframes dropped and it is clear that while there is surface rust from apparently sitting for close to five years now, there is no apparent wear.
While it’s true that EVs are extremely easy on their brake componentry due to regenerative braking technology, this isn’t that, this was simply never in use.
Some cars had parts of their EV compenentry stripped off, likely from some savvy yard shoppers planning to either sell or use them on some sort of project(s).
All of them had their engine covers (like the plastic panels many of us have over our regular engines, but in this case made of a thick pliable and flexible foam) in their back seat area, obviously removed for access. Most EVs that are developed as EVs from the ground up are able to use the front “engine” compartment as a secondary trunk as the electric motor is usually able to be positioned lower in the body and and the other compenents don’t necessarily have to be in the “engine bay” either.
The rears of the cars were untouched as were the interiors, any damage or disassembly ot schmutz on the light colored seats is from yard shoppers harvesting parts for self-use or resale. That black thing in there is the battery cover that covers a large box that was in the middle of the trunk area filled with battery. Again, a purpose-built EV would have them designed in under the floor or under the seats or even used as a structural member, in almost all cases completely invisible or not affecting interior space.
If you have a 2012-2018 Focus and are in need of a pristine interior or suspension components or rear bodywork, book a flight to Denver…The office area of the yard had a few stacks of the alloy wheels stacked up for sale, none were left on the cars.
It’s obviously an odd occurrence, never mind that these obviously California market cars ended up in one salvage yard in Colorado, although this chain of yards (U-Pull-And-Pay) was acquired by Pull-A-Part very recently. UPAP was based in Ohio and I believe PAP is Georgia-based, and neither has any outlets in California so presumably wouldn’t be attending the auctions out there for inventory although there are auction companies that regularly bring California cars to the Colorado market.
So what happened? Did Ford set up a shill company to sell cars to in order the bump the number of “registrations” to comply? Were some of these (and perhaps many others, this may not be the only batch) just never sold and eventually someone decided scrapping them was the best option?
With a sticker price of around $30,000 apiece they were undoubtedly a money-loser from an engineering, production, and marketing standpoint for Ford, but still, to just junk the cars seems asinine, especially two years into a massive vehicle shortage and plenty of vehicles such as Nissan Leafs running around that realistically don’t have much more than the 115 miles of range that these final-spec Focuses had either.
I recall a few years ago considering used EVs and compliance cars in particular, they would often trickle into Colorado as used cars (and some were sold here new). Used Focus EVs would often be advertised for barely into the five figures with very low mileages, Fiat 500e’s for even less, same with Spark EVs, all those cost far more now than they did then (and have aged since along with more miles put on them as well of course). I’m one of the millions of people with multiple cars but no fixed daily need for hundreds of miles of driving and when I do, I can simply choose another car anyway, something like this (dirt cheap fuel cost, safe, enjoyable to drive, comfortable, new) at the right price would fill a use case.
These particular Focuses were not unattractive or poorly assembled, they all looked good, the materials were nice, fit and finish was excellent (at least on the bits not ripped apart by junkyarders) and likely could have been sold. Instead, here they sit and within the next two months will be crushed without anyone remembering them. No one, that is, except for us. What’s the deal?