DETROIT – Ford plans to offer its upcoming C-Max cross/utility vehicle in Europe in both hybrid and plug-in electric-vehicle models, but its electrification chief says it’s unlikely the hybrid version will be a popular choice among European consumers.

Nancy Gioia, Ford’s director-global electrification, says the heavy penetration of diesel-powered vehicles in most European countries makes hybrids a tough sell.

“Diesel engines are great at low-end torque, and the hybrid works great at the low-end torque in the beginning, so they actually overlap,” she tells WardsAuto on the sidelines of the North American International Auto Show here. “So you don’t get as much fuel benefit.”

Gioia says that includes diesel hybrids, which largely are cost prohibitive due to the extra costs associated with oil burners, as well as electrified vehicles. “The aftertreatment of diesel is getting more expensive. And when you add electrification, they don’t add together.”

A better solution for Europe is plug-ins. “Depending on the market and diesel penetration, we see PHEVs as (Europeans’) first choice,” Gioia says. “It’s a different equation with the cost of electricity vs. diesel or petrol.”

Gioia doesn’t rule out a warm reception of the C-Max hybrid by some Europeans. She notes the region as defined by Ford encompasses 29 countries, each with different needs and tax structures, some of which promote the purchase of diesel fuel. “Each market, we look at individually.”

Ford’s upcoming all-electric Focus is likely to resonate in some European markets, as well.

“We see midterm out to 2020 that full EVs will be rather niche in volume,” she says. “We do have customers, but it’s a huge behavioral change, and it’s going to tie in with the costs and affordability, accessibility of a charge infrastructure and the match of consumers’ drive profile.”

The C-Max hybrid and PHEV, as well as the Focus EV, will be built at Ford’s Wayne, MI, assembly plant, with some electrified Focus models also coming from the auto maker’s facility in Saarlouis, Germany.

Gioia says Ford expects each of the three models to sell between 5,000-10,000 units globally, with the majority of demand coming from North America.

bpope@wardsauto.com