TRAVERSE CITY, MI – Ford has the Toyota Prius plug-in hybrid electric vehicle in its sights with its upcoming C-Max PHEV cross/utility vehicle that launches this fall.

Following his presentation here at the Center for Automotive Research’s Management Briefing Seminars, Joe Bakaj, Ford vice president-powertrain engineering, rattles off the advantages the C-Max is expected to hold over the Prius PHEV.

Top electric-only speed for the Ford CUV will be 85 mph (136 km/h), besting the Prius PHEV by more than 20 mph (32 km/h).

Having a high EV-only speed is important to PHEV buyers, Bakaj tells WardsAuto.

“If you’re going to use the vehicle in your daily commute, you may want to go on the freeway and be doing 60-70 mph (96-112 km/h),” he says. “And you can do that (with the C-Max).”

The top speed was made possible by a new hybrid transmission Ford developed and is producing at its Van Dyke plant in Sterling Heights, MI.

The hybrid transmission, Bakaj says, is designed for high power and torque and will be used in all Ford electrified vehicles.

“It’s a modular (transmission), so we get the economies of scale,” he says. “And when we use it in the PHEV, we can offer a higher top speed than our competition.”

The C-Max also boasts an EV range of more than 20 miles (32 km), which betters the Prius PHEV’s 15 miles (24 km).

EV range is an important purchasing consideration for PHEV buyers, Bakaj says, noting the C-Max could be used purely in electric mode by most U.S. owners during their daily commutes.

The C-Max can be switched to one of three modes via a center-stack button: electric only; normal hybrid, where electric and gasoline engine power is combined as needed; and battery-saving, which reserves electricity for later use.

“We understand customers place a high value on the zero-emission, electrified driving experience,” Bakaj says. “This inspired our engineering team to equip the C-Max PHEV with a button that enables drivers to choose an electric-only driving mode.”

When using both the electric and gas motors, the C-Max has an overall range of 550 miles (885 km), 10 miles (16 km) more than the Prius.

The C-Max will base at $31,245 after a $2,500 federal incentive. That’s less than the $37,025 post-incentive price of the top-of-the-line Prius Plug-In Hybrid Advanced model, but above the Toyota’s base price of $29,500, minus incentives.

Justin Ward, advanced powertrain program manager for Toyota, says he doesn’t know enough about the C-Max to say how it will stack up against the Prius PHEV, which went on sale earlier this year.

However, he says Toyota welcomes the competition in a segment with few vehicles.

“The Prius lineup has been well received in the marketplace,” he tells WardsAuto. “We’re looking forward to seeing what happens as we have increased competition in the future. The market is the market, and we’ll see which one the market prefers.”

bpope@wardsauto.com