Dearborn, Mich. — Whoa! Let’s get this straight: The car I’m driving on the Dearborn proving grounds is a battery-electric Ford Focus, and it’s way, way more fun to drive than it has any right to be. Electric motors have a major performance advantage: 100 percent torque at zero revolutions per minute, which means they take off like a bat out of hell.

Who knew EVs could be so much fun? The Ford test track (once an airport built by Henry Ford himself) is full of bumps and fast turns, and it’s vastly entertaining to negotiate it in this little pocket rocket. Was that a brutal GT-40 that just went past me in a cloud of exhaust fumes? You bet it was.

I grabbed the e-Focus — which Ford will put into production in 2011 — from an environmentally friendly row that included a matched pair of the company’s prototype plug-in hybrid (due on the road in 2012) and a Euro-sourced Transit Connect van (due in an all-electric version next year). On video here, Greg Frenette, manager of battery electric vehicle applications, talks about the plug-in hybrid and Ford’s plans for it:

All this electric firepower was on display because Ford was hosting a visit from its utility partners, which have been meeting since 2007 to try and envision the charging grid of the future.

Wag that I am, when offered a chance to ask a question of Executive Chairman Bill Ford, an icon in the car business, I asked about the elephant in the room. “What happens if everybody charges up at once?” Ford replied that it’s a question that has to be answered, but Ford (the company, not the guy) isn’t likely to answer that question on its own. Indeed, that’s where the utilities — including Southern California Edison, DTE Energy in Michigan and Progress Energy in the Southeast — come in.

Ford unveiled a very cool bit of technology that it developed with the utilities’ input: It’s an in-car display that allows the EV driver to interact with the grid and dial in charging times — so everybody isn’t plugging in at 6 p.m. The driver can also, in effect, say, “I don’t care when you charge me up as long as the car’s ready to go at 7:30 a.m.” The driver can choose price controls (which would probably mean using cheaper off-peak electricity) and even opt for green options — wind or solar — though that would present some challenges to our current grid, which blends all sources together.

It’s also wireless, so, for example, you’d get an alert on your cellphone that your car was fully charged, or send a message from your handheld telling the car to start sucking up electrons because you have a hot date and need to take it out earlier than planned. The display is slated to go on the utility fleet of 21 plug-in hybrids, but a version of it could make it into production on that hot 2011 Focus or next year’s Transit Connect.

The utilities seem eager to connect to EVs. Mike Ligett of Progress Energy says interfaces like Ford’s are a good start. “Utilities will need to provide a seamless customer experience for the sales and installation of the necessary hardware, including in-home charging,” Ligett said. “The technology is here today.” He predicted that adding EVs to the grid would be “a little bump” — not as big a deal as managing America’s sudden passion for central air conditioning.

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