By on May 25, 2009

While its Detroit rivals unravel with publicly-funded gusto, Ford continues to enjoy nearly unanimous praise from the media and industry commentators. And why not? Free from the public funding, bankruptcy, dealer slashing and attendant bad publicity plaguing its competitors, Ford is clearly the healthiest of America’s automakers. But it’s impossible to forget that Ford’s buoyancy is but one of the final boons of the pre-collapse credit markets. Mortgaged to the hilt, Ford finds itself facing new CAFE and emissions standards without a certain deep-pocketed uncle standing by to pay its way into the new, green automotive paradigm. As a result, Ford seems to be trading long-term opportunities for short-term survival.

It’s no coincidence that, in the lead up to their bailout bonanza, Chrysler and GM embarked on ambitious (to put it kindly) alt-energy vehicle programs. The more we learn about newly-proposed CAFE/emissions standards, the more Chrysler’s ENVI vapor and GM’s Volt moonshot seem like winning propositions. Yes, really. Gaping loopholes in the proposed legislation point to a credit-trading scheme that seems to have been designed to create a Potemkin auto industry.

Bankable, tradable carbon/efficiency credits (and, especially, so-called “super credits”) create massive government incentives for Detroit’s automakers to build electric and alt-fuel vehicles regardless of their viability in the free market. Since these credits offset (and in the case of super credits, multiply) the efficiency ratings of an OEM’s fleet, tomorrow’s mass-market offerings must be subsidized by EVs with inflated mpg ratings.

Chrysler and GM are perfectly positioned to capitalize on the auto industry’s political New Deal. As the projects of an independent automaker, the ENVI and Volt projects amount to shocking hubris; as dependents of the state however, these “advanced technology” projects are the only incentive for ongoing government subsidies. With the public investment in GM and Chrysler expected to crest $100 billion and with nothing promising a short-term reversal of fortune for these firms, the government has no choice but to continue to invest in the politically-expedient in hopes that it someday becomes financially viable.

Assuming electric vehicles will someday become a workable business model, this puts Ford at a massive disadvantage. By carefully and strategically spending its $23 billion privately-funded do-over fund (acquired in early 2007), Ford has survived without resorting to a government bailout. And though this helps the media in glossing over the uncomfortable details on the way to crowning Ford the winner of “Survivor: Detroit,” it doesn’t change the underlying reality: Ford doesn’t have the capacity to position itself for the post-bailout market.

The curse-blessing of Ford’s survival is perfectly illustrated in the contrast between the media coverage and the reality of Ford’s Focus EV program. Ford has wisely kept its PR field day rolling by announcing that its Michigan Truck Plant will be the new home of the Focus, including future EV and hybrid versions. Dazzled by the vision of electric cars replacing reviled Explorers and Expeditions in a Michigan factory, the media has dutifully repeated and amplified Ford’s message of transformative change.

In reality though, the “Ford-ness” of the Focus EV is highly suspect. Rather than develop an electric car of its own, Ford is licensing a vehicle built by supplier giant Magna with a Focus shell on top. In fact, Magna showed up in Dearborn with a Focus EV prototype based on its modular EV platform, the mila ev.

Ford spins the cost-savings and “innovation” of the supplier-led development as a positive, but the move speaks only of desperation. Ford is mortgaging its future (again) by outsourcing its EV development because the project does nothing to improve Dearborn’s in-house capabilities. Furthermore, it’s outsourcing on the cheap. Ford did not insist on an exclusive contract for Magna’s technology in order to avoid paying for the platform’s entire development.

This means that not only has the Focus EV failed to prepare Ford for the electric future, it has also helped finance a platform that other OEMs can now use to compete with the Focus EV. By buying into Magna’s “any OEM, any car” platform, Ford dooms its Focus EV to competition with identical (save for the body shell) vehicles at even the hint of success. Think cross-OEM brand engineering.

Ultimately, Ford had no choice but to develop an EV on the cheap. Although it enjoys short-term sales prospects that its rivals can only dream of, it’s highly unlikely that Ford will see profits soon enough to spend any more on long-term development. Its limited (if honorably come-by) cash pile is already forcing Ford to punt on EV development, while its cross-town competitors are gearing up to spend billions of taxpayer dollars developing future vehicles with little apparent concern for their short-term oblivion. Recent automotive history (aka the Prius) proves the value of developing long-term capabilities. Ford could well be winning the battle but losing the war.

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44 Comments on “Editorial: Ford Death Watch 46: Fauxcus...”


  • avatar
    Richard Chen

    With no in-house EV experience, why not outsource the powertrain? it’s not as simple as just a battery and motor. The other manufacturers won’t have their EV’s in the US mass(?) market for at least 2 years – Mitsubishi i MiEV, Nissan/BetterPlace EV are still in gestation.

    I thought those glowing articles stated that the upcoming Focus EV was to be built on the same assembly line as the gas variant, with the electric motor and battery pack taking the space of the gas motor and fuel tank. Similarly, the Transit Connect EV isn’t engineered by Ford, but by Smith Electric. These vehicles are absolutely necessary if there’s going to be a EV credit multiplier under the upcoming fuel economy regs. A very small fleet of Ford EV’s will easily be offset the fuel economy, or lack thereof, of the rest of Ford’s lineup.

    Going by the Tesla Roadster’s EPA 245mpg equivalent, EV’s are going to get stratospheric fuel economy ratings, even better than the PHEV’s whose ratings are still up for actual calculations – how many miles under electric vs. gasoline recharging battery. They’ll likely be sold primarily to fleets – US gov’t ought to snap them up as they’re writing the rules. Then there are those intrepid few individuals willing to pay buttloads to be beta testers – such as the Tesla and Mini E. BMW is getting retroactive multiple credit for those to balance out the M3′s, right?

  • avatar
    sightline

    If “incentives [exist] for Detroit’s automakers to build electric and alt-fuel vehicles regardless of their viability in the free market” doesn’t it make sense for Ford to develop whatever is cheapest, bank the credits, and develop the next-gen EV once the technology has been sorted out? The “Ford-ness” of the model doesn’t really matter if all of the automakers are engaging in a cynical ploy to milk the government of the cap-and-trade boondoggle.

  • avatar
    car_czar

    Ford continues to enjoy nearly unanimous praise from the media and industry commentators.

    … and yet a near bankrupt GM has outsold Ford by nearly 1/3 so far this year.

  • avatar
    maniceightball

    I’d like to point out that the CAFE emissions ratings are not the same as the much stricter EPA ratings. CAFE uses an older metric — the same one, in fact, that rates the Prius at 60+ mpg. I don’t think CAFE is (a) going to change much in existing fleets, or (b) going to kill any company.

    That said, I think you’re right about Ford being in a not-so-ideal position. It makes sense to be to license and contract out the EV technology to a company that has already spent the money researching it. They’ve got an existing battery infrastructure through their hybrid program, so it’s not a lost cause.

    It would probably be wise for them to sign up with a Better Place area and provide Focus EVs as part of the program. I wouldn’t be surprised if they haven’t already, seeing as Mulally was just here in Central California at the ECO:nomics conference, likely schmoozing with potential business partners.

  • avatar
    maniceightball

    Going by the Tesla Roadster’s EPA 245mpg equivalent, EV’s are going to get stratospheric fuel economy ratings, even better than the PHEV’s whose ratings are still up for actual calculations

    Well, to be fair, they haven’t really agreed on how to rate EVs. We use semi-mpg equivalent, but we need a universal metric that accounts for the type of powerplant juicing the grid.

  • avatar
    folkdancer

    “Wired” June 2009 page 100 “Beyond Detroit”.

    Great article about how cars might be built in the future. Note: I did not say WILL BE. We don’t know if our Detroit 3 will survive long enough to build anything in the future but this short article is fun and mind opening as to a possible way cars might be built in the future.

    Here is a brief summary.

    1. Example of the past. Ford had a River Rouge plant that built everything in a car except the tires. All in house.

    2. Present: tightly controlled suppliers. The OEM specifies exactly what it wants a supplier to furnish.

    3. Possible future: The OEM says we are going to build a 4 passenger car that will weigh about 1200 kilograms – suppliers, please give us suspension ideas. The OEM will consider cost, weight of components, simplicity of design, and handling ability in choosing a winning supplier.

    (This process could be used for any part of the car.)

    Ford, by buying a ready made bottom and just adding the decorations on top may be moving to the future (perhaps out of desperation) faster than even “Wired” expected.

    I love articles like this that open our minds up to new ways to look at things. I love the surprise when my assumptions are deflated.

  • avatar
    Smegley

    Any EV technological developments that now come from GM or Chrysler should be public property and freely available to Ford (and anyone else) to use since the public was forced to pay for it. Any EV patents prior to about 3 months ago should remain the private property of GM or Chrysler

  • avatar
    jberger

    “The more we learn about newly-proposed CAFE/emissions standards, the more Chrysler’s ENVI vapor and GM’s Volt moonshot seem like winning propositions.”

    You have to actually produce AND sell enough of them to make a difference under the new regs. I seriously doubt they will be able to produce, much less sell, enough of them to make a dent.

    Ford doesn’t even need to worry about GM or Fiatsyler, the gov’t sugar daddy will bind them in enough red tape to ensure that every new model introduction is stillborn.

  • avatar
    dkulmacz

    You say ‘mortgaged to the hilt’, and I say ‘just retired $9Bil in debt and made a successful public stock offering to raise cash to pay into VEBA’.

    You say ‘desperation’, and I say ‘good job keeping an eye on precious cash until things turn around’.

    Ford has experience with various alt fuel technologies, and has no cash to burn right now. If you are implying that GM’s investment in the Volt is better than Ford’s ongoing product investment in Fusion, EU Focus, EU Fiesta, Transit Connect, Mustang, Flex . . . well, let’s just say I won’t risk the ‘no flaming’ policy by commenting further.

    Ford is making the right moves and positioning itself for the future.

    and folkdancer,

    Sounds good in theory, but the toughest problems in a design come from the integration of systems or subsystems, not in the design of the systems themselves. Integrating a bunch of systems that you yourself designed or specified is a big enough nightmare . . . trying to integrate a bunch of ‘black boxes’ would be hellish.

  • avatar
    Wunsch

    What about Ballard, who had been actively developing fuel cell technology, using the Focus platform as their test bed? I seem to recall something about Ford buying their entire fuel cell division. Has that gone anywhere? Could that be where Ford is concentrating its alternative fuel research?

  • avatar
    TomH

    Suppliers supplying significant powertrain technologies is nothing new. Cummins, CAT, Navistar, and Isuzu all supply other OEMs with diesel power; Bosch, Magneti-Marelli, Delphi and Siemens/Conti provide engine control systems (i.e. the brains); Korean giants Hyundai used to buy engine tech from Mazda, etc., etc, etc.

    These days, roughly 70% of many vehicles is “outsourced” to outside suppliers.

    The “news” is more dog bites man rather than man bites dog and remember that insofar as the topic is electronics, the battle is most often won by the later entrants. (Ask RCA, Compaq, Honeywell, Fairchild, Motorola, et al what that’s all about.)

  • avatar
    clive

    Perhaps the auto industry is moving in the same direction as PCs and Macs…there are several large companies that make the guts, and Apple, for example, contracts with various OEMs for their specific products…but those OEMs also supply other companies with PCs and laptops, not just Apple.

    However, Toyota is still 10-15 years ahead of everyone else, aren’t they? Although even Toyota doesn’t make their own hybrid batteries. Perhaps that’s why OEMs will win this war.

  • avatar

    I am willing to bet the EV programs from GM and Chrysler create products that they can’t afford to sell and that nobody wants to buy. Meanwhile Ford will be ready to learn from their mistakes and create a less buzzworthy, but more viable product and will be the quiet winner of the war.

    Jumping at the flavor-of-the-year tech to get noticed isn’t going to “save” anybody.

  • avatar
    King Bojack

    It’s probably the height of foolishness to think that Ford is either not planning ahead for EV crap or unable to do so quickly. EV is essentially electric motor and a good battery. Not much more. It’s also better to test the EV market cheap as hell before going whole hog into it.

    So Ford is quickly readying a viable EV to shove out the door probably on the cheap too and it’s supposed to be a bad thing? It’s supposed to be desperation? Desperation would be handing the Italians a car company for pocket change, desperation is hoping your new Volt will give you the needed technological chest thumping to win customers, desperation is canning half of your management staff when you go from industry leading profit to industry leading loss in less than a year.

    So they’re buying EV powertrains off of some one else. The customer will still see a Ford emblem on the car. Most will not care if Magna or even Geely or whoever made the damn thing. The customer will care about range, price, and charge time etc. If Ford and Magna can keep it together and stay on top of things how is this supposed to matter if they do it in house or not? Equinoxes still sell despite a Chinese powertrain.

    Also, why does TTAC consistently act like a government backed GM and Chrysler will doom Ford but is silent on such “unfair” advantages for other makes? This is not a flame but an honest question.

  • avatar
    MikeInCanada

    Re Wunsch :

    My company supplies bits and pieces to both Ballard and GM (surprise, who BTW are/were every bit as advanced as Ballard in fuel cells) and as a Tier 1 supplier to both companies we’re keeping close tabs on their progress.

    What our component design engineers are seeing and planning for – from both companies – is that this technology, while pretty cool, is at best years from being production-ized.

    Right now, every automobile sized fuel cell ever made was hand assembled by guys with PhD’s. Literally.

    When you see an announcement that fuel cells are going to be made in a factory by UAW members – then it’s time to think that this will be a viable technology.

  • avatar
    DweezilSFV

    Hyundai started out building Mitsubishi designs under license and wound up building the Precis, a badge engineered Hyundai Excel for Mitsubishi. Engine tech was closely aligned with Mitsubishi, not Mazda.

  • avatar
    mikeolan

    Look at it the other way: if Electric cars turn out to be a big dud when the fad ends, Ford is well positioned to sell excellent, fuel efficient cars running good old fashioned internal combustion engines where everyone else has squandered millions on pie-in-the-sky powertrains.

  • avatar
    toxicroach

    I guess I disagree— GM and Chrysler will not fulfill their prior industry function of setting the bottom even better now. Sure, they may get all kinds of credits for this and for that, but at the end of the day they are both essentially owned by the government. Whatever political advantage they have from that will most likely be offset by the fact that they are owned by the government, an entity that couldn’t make a profit selling cocaine to Rick James.

  • avatar
    P71_CrownVic

    This sounds a lot like those silly, over-hyped and under-promising Ecoboost engines.

    Ford paid Bosch a boat load of money for the technology and Bosch still owns the rights to it.

    … and yet a near bankrupt GM has outsold Ford by nearly 1/3 so far this year.

    Well yeah, you make a product that starts in the morning and is extremely efficient, it will sell.

  • avatar
    holydonut

    Re: dkulmacz … as of their March filing Ford has Liabilities that exceed its assets. Which means their owners equity is negative. This isn’t to say that they’re insolvent or their firm has no future value. For example, Maytag had negative owners equity and was bought out for a few billion by Whirlpool. but the condition does allow a simple conjecture that Ford owes others a lot of money.

    Re: King Bojack I really don’t understand why so many intelligent people hold the belief that well executed hybrids, EVs, and alternative fuel vehicles are just regular cars with fancy batteries and motors.

    I wonder if it has to do with past efforts out of Detroit where they just took a car that on the outside appeared plain and normal, and kept touting them as the future of automobile powertrain technology. I guess it’s easy to assume that if it looks pedestrian on the outside, then there must be very little fancy stuff going on the inside.

    Although based on prior comments from others, I am wrong in thinking this issue is complicated. Unfortunately all of the other major automobile manufactures and suppliers hold the same belief as myself.

    So please submit your resume to the nearest hybrid or alternative powertrain engineering firm that focuses on automobile technology. Assuming you know the secrets of implementing these new powertrain with minimal change to the underlying vehicle architectures, you hold some knowledge that would benefit humanity very greatly. I highly doubt these business will spend billions of dollars of R&D and investment just to prove some bloggers wrong.

    If you have the real answers, there’s a lot of money to be saved and made. Taking it one step further – based on this article you could go save Ford’s future.

  • avatar
    Patrickj

    Battery-electric vehicles without internal combustion engines as the primary cars in our driveways are still at least 25 years away, and may stay that way for a very long time.

    Given all the hatred of minor technical tweaks like CVTs and lesser changes like hybrid electrics, public acceptance of EVs is not a given even if they are technically practical and far cheaper to buy and operate.

    Electric motors with limited battery capacity (similar to today’s hybrids) with gasoline or diesel engines for charging batteries offers nearly all the performance benefits of electric drive without the disadvantages of limited range and excessive weight.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    Ford has been producing modest volumes of real live hybrid cars for years now including the Escape hybrid and now the Fusion hybrid. Both efforts are well ahead of anything GM or Chrysler are actually selling.

    Some of the earliest automatic transmission for passenger cars were developed by Borg-Warner and sold by Ford. Toyota gets most of its automatic transmissions to this day from Aisin-Warner, which in turn started as a licensee of Borg-Warner.

    Much of the modern engine and chassis management expertise in the world is developed by the likes of Bosch and other suppliers. An automaker sourcing direct-injection and turbocharging technology from expert third parties is not seen as a fatal strategic weakness.

    Ford faces many challenges, but there is no way GM and Chrysler are going to suddenly gain the upper hand in vehicle development thanks to their new sugar daddy.

    If for some reason Ford finds it just must have more in-house electric propulsion expertise they can buy it either by hiring the people or buying someone like Lotus. The talent is all readily available.

  • avatar
    Rday

    Ford is carrying too much long term debt. When interest rates start going back up, it will cost them dearly. Rates will go up as we spend out way into third world status financially speaking. It didn’t have to happen like this.

  • avatar
    carguy

    The only thing Ford is missing out on is the government funded battery/electric car boondoggle. In almost every other respect the end of decade Ford product lineup looks much better than either GM or Chrysler offerings. The last thing they should do now is to waste the borrowed money on a plug in electric that will produce nothing but red ink. They are much better server by real world small cars like the Fiesta and new Focus.

    As for the political realities of the carbon credit system – I’ll believe it when I see it. If congress will even vote on such a bill you can bet that it will be loaded with loopholes just like the bogus CAFE standards. The are very good reasons why asking Americans to either give something up or pay more for something in the name of the greater global good is generally not associated with political success.

    For just how pointless the proposed cap and trade legislation is check out the following Economist article:
    http://www.economist.com/world/unitedstates/displaystory.cfm?story_id=13702826

  • avatar
    Lee

    As a result, Ford seems to be trading long-term opportunities for short-term survival.

    There is no point in having long term opportunities if you don’t survive in the short term.

  • avatar
    P71_CrownVic

    They are much better server by real world small cars like the Fiesta and new Focus.

    Ah yes…the Fiesta. The car that has been overhyped as much as the Camaro.

    By the time Ford stops dragging their feet and the Fiesta actually gets here, it will be old, stale, and outclassed by just about everyone.

    And, judging by Ford’s latest pricing trends, outragesouly overpriced as well.

  • avatar
    dwford

    As GM and Chrysler work through their bankruptcies, integrate with other automakers and develop plans for their next generation of products (which neither have past a few models for 2011), Ford will be remaking their entire lineup over the next 3 model years 2010-2013. These cars are coming, the development $$ exists and is allocated, these cars ARE coming.

    So what if Ford is buying tech for a BEV from Magna. All automakers do the same thing. Not every part in a car was conceived and developed solely by the automaker selling it.

    By the time GM and Chrysler get the deck chairs rearranged, Ford will be busy designing the next next generation of their cars.

  • avatar
    MadHungarian

    The Magna Mila EV concept car is about eight different kinds of fugly.

    However, maybe the idea of Magna building the mechanicals and OEM’s designing the body isn’t such a bad idea. Magna’s full name is Magna Steyr. As in Steyr-Puch. As in the folks that gave us the Pinzgauer:

    http://www.staufferclassics.com/pinzgauer.html

    I kinda like the idea of letting them have another turn at building a car.

  • avatar
    folkdancer

    and folkdancer,

    Sounds good in theory, but the toughest problems in a design come from the integration of systems or subsystems, not in the design of the systems themselves. Integrating a bunch of systems that you yourself designed or specified is a big enough nightmare . . . trying to integrate a bunch of ‘black boxes’ would be hellish.

    Yes, it was hellish buying main frame and mini computers in the 70′s and 80′s. IBM, DEC, and Wang all wanted us to buy their computers, their accessories, their operating systems and even their software. But when the PC’s started to come out and Microsoft and then Linux was able to separate the hardware from the operating system the customers benefited tremendously.

    Now we can buy software and all kinds of video boards, sound cards, hard drives, and all kinds of communication add-ons and just just plug them in or on to our computers.

    The idea of the “Wired” article is the same thing might happen to car manufacturing.

    Change might be hellish for awhile but maybe in a few years I will be able to buy a Ford body and attach a Lotus suspension, a Toyota hybrid power system, controls from Red Hat Linux, and plug them all together or have the components sent to a local garage with the necessary lifts.

    The future could be a lot of fun.

  • avatar
    Robbie

    The free market thing would be: GM and Chrysler go bankrupt; Ford borrows heavily and buys the gems among the rubble; Ford becomes bigger and better than Toyota within five years…

  • avatar
    dkulmacz

    folkdancer,

    An automobile is orders of magnitude more complex than a PC. The day you speak of may come, but it’s a long way off.

    And anyway, I think most people would be very unhappy if their car had only the day-to-day reliability of a typical PC.

  • avatar
    pcsario

    Edward Niedermeyer,

    Cars like the Volt have more to do with progress made on Li-on batteries, than on some magical R&D done by GM, so they’re hardly “ahead” of anyone. Just look at Tesla and others. The Volt isn’t some Prius 2 in the making. It will be old news less than 2 years after launch, when mostly everyone will have an electric car on the road.

    Far more important in the short to mid term, will be the now affordable, traditional hybrid tech. While GM will be selling Volts at a loss, Ford will be putting their hybrid system into the Edge, Focus, etc. and more importantly, they will be doing it profitably.

    I would say it’s GM and Chrysler the ones who should worry about being behind Toyota, Ford, and Honda when it comes to affordable & profitable green tech.

  • avatar
    stephen newberg

    A poster above asked:

    “What about Ballard, who had been actively developing fuel cell technology, using the Focus platform as their test bed? I seem to recall something about Ford buying their entire fuel cell division. Has that gone anywhere? Could that be where Ford is concentrating its alternative fuel research?”

    Ballard basically has gone under, and what is left has exited the fuel cell research & design market entirely after burning through literally billions and not being able to make the concept work at a usable price point for other than government owned demonstration projects. Though I believe that Ford did have some money in Ballard, there is no indication that fuel cells have any reasonable distance future use for automobile sized personal transport.

    pax, smn

  • avatar
    tparkit

    The public’s best answer to GM and Chrysler is a boycott. Send them into ashes and dust. We won’t get our $100+ billion back like that, but we weren’t ever going to get that “investment” back anyway. Besides, it will be cheaper in the long run to close this pair of companies down, because the subsidies will end.

    This approach can also make Ford more viable, because Ford can take over Cadillac and scrap its own, stagnant Lincoln division. The Jeep brand can come over to Ford intact because there is no direct competing product line at Ford.

  • avatar
    Countryboy

    Boy, darned if you do and darned if you don’t.

    Yes, were it my business, and I know this feeling all too well for the last year or so, I darned sure would sacrifice the long term so called “opportunities” for my short term survival.
    And considering when Ford began that process, they should be hailed as far sighted geniuses, not myopic DIMWITS. Sounds pretty shrewd to me.

    Does any car manufacturer ever get the benefit of the doubt on this site?
    Or is automatically added to the current “Death Watch” column.

    One of the things that struck me in this column was the purported ability to see the future in crystal clear Focus, no pun intended.
    But I think there should have been a few “maybe’s” “if’s” and “possibly’s” sprinled in for journalistic integrty’s sake. But maybe it’s anothe form of PR? Maybe its like the nightly news where the headline “DEATHWATCH FORD” gets more page views that “FORD TAKES A CAUTIONARY PATH”

    The other thing that appears somewhat naive is the contention that any blogger, auto writer, OR “journalist” gets a unrestricted view behind the real curtain at these billion dollar corportaions, let alone a glimpse into the White House. Move along, there is nothing to see here.

    Perhaps, and only perhaps, the law of unintended consequence wil assert itself in helping GM and Fiat/Chryco become more successful that Ford. I personally am skeptical since these things generally have a way of balancing out.
    As I also beleive that there probably have been discussions at the highest levels, that the “good kid” shouldn’t be penalized just because the “bad kid”‘ has to have an intervention and be coddled for a while.

  • avatar
    King Bojack

    @ Holy Donut:

    Yes, essentially with an EV you have the electric motor (old ass tech) and a battery (also old ass tech) integrated into a car. A hybrid is far more technical than an EV. EVs by nature should be easy peasy in comparison to standard ICEs.

    If we had better battery and electric power grid to give better range/performance and fast recharge times we’d have bazillions of EVs out there. As it stands battery tech is not cheap/good enough.

    Yes I’m simplifying EV powertrains by a large margin. I understand it’s not ACTUALLY that simple but on paper they are easy as hell to make. There’s literature for sale at bookstores on how to build your own EV. EVs are not that complicated. Aside from the energy balancing act there’s not much to them. If we figure out how to fill them quickly then gasoline is over.

    Alt energy and hybrid drives (which got lumped in with EVs in response to my post for whatever reason) are NOT simple. Fuel cells are a hassle, bio fuels are largely a sham which leaves well, only the really exotic stuff.

    I still stand by my reasoning that who cares if Ford buys their EV powertrain from some one else. All makes by everything from some one else.

  • avatar
    mach1

    A good (older) friend told me about an EV he built back around 1935. It was stupid simple. His car was powered by some lead/acid car batteries wired in parallel to a truck starter motor hooked to the drive wheels. His accelerator control was a knife switch (“power on/ power off” with apologies to Pat Morita). He said it accelerated like a scalded cat.

    Jazz the basic idea up with better batteries and a better motor control and I give you the EV of 2912.

  • avatar
    holydonut

    King Bojack – I think we have differing views on whether or not a product must be “commercially effective” in order to be a successful product in the marketplace.

    A good-selling book informing people how to make an EV is in itself – a successful product. But the underling EV is not. The major automakers have all tried EVs over the past few decades with almost no marketable/pragmatic result.

    Yes, the infrastructure is a big hurdle; but EVs cannot even make sense in urban centers with a stable power grid and brief commutes. For the normal consumer, only GEM vehicles have any road worthiness as well as a reasonable business case behind it to motivate a firm to actually build the vehicles.

    If we blame the lack of infrastructure as a barrier of entry – we wouldn’t have an airline industry, cell phones, or the consumer-available Internet.

    The problem is that thus far no EV has been able to be designed where it could make money. So I will continue to contend that a proper EV is not a simple battery, motor, and a switch. A People’s EV is a bit more accessible than a flying car; but not by much. The alternative of my position would be the existence of many EVs being driven in developed urban centers to the delight of everyone.

    Let’s assume Magna were able to provide Ford with the EV of the future for sale in 2016. If EV becomes the technology that underpins transportation then Ford has effectively outsourced a significant core competency. If EV from Magna is just another foray that gets mothballed, then Ford probably comes out of this with less invested than a stand-alone effort. But nowhere along the path will EV be a simple solution that involves a cursory idea of a motor and a battery.

    Unfortunately EV’s generalizations will always be binned with alternative fuels and powertrains. The generalization is frequently made by the hybrid crowd where they assert that a hybrid is just a regular car with an extra motor and a battery. And you often hear people say that fuel cell cars are just regular cars with a fuel cell and motor in place of the regular engine and gas tank. And today you have people thinking that CNG cars are just regular cars with funky gas tanks.

    More often than not – when someone supports an alternative vehicle technology to the regular petrol ICE, the complexity necessary to execute that alternative is less than the requirements for the other ideas.

  • avatar
    PaulieWalnut

    As far as I can see there are three main obstacles to overcome to mass produce electric cars.

    1) Build a battery that can be quick charged (15-30 minutes while you do your shopping) or trickle charged overnight at home. Currently you can design a battery that likes to be charged one way or the other, but not both.
    2) Build a transmission that can handle the torque of an electric motor. I got a ride in a converted electric van last week. It used the stock transmission except it was locked out in second gear. Top speed was 65mph and the real world range was about 100 miles. A proper multi speed transmission should improve both those numbers dramatically (shouldn’t it???).
    3) Smart Grid needs to be fully rolled out which will take about 10 years in my country if everything goes to plan.

    Suppliers (1 & 2) and governments (3) are best placed to solve these problems.

    The Magna deal gives Ford a taste of what it takes to build an electric car without having to pay anything. It can wait until the above problems are close to being addressed and then develop their own electric powertrain quickly if necessary. They might not be the first to mass produce electric cars, but they’ll be close to the front of the pack. If electric cars are indeed the future, (rather than a niche, as hybrids currently are) then that’s good enough.

  • avatar
    Kurt.

    @King Bojack – I think the first hybrid was built around 1900…by Porsche. I think that’s pretty old tech! ;)

    Really, Ford buying components or tech shouldn’t surprise or worry anyone. There is no reason to inhouse develope anything new at this point. It is only a waste of resources at a time not to be wasting resources.

    The Euro-American buyer is not going to change his habits overnight. Even if the Tesla was $9,000 and came with a $300 a month charging credit, not enough people would jump on the band wagon. There is still enough business for pickups, SUV’s, sports cars, family wagons, and boring hide in the crowd cars.

    When the future of transportation is more assured, Ford is a large enough company to come in and take the industry by storm.

    The caveat (always a caveat) is China. China could easily focus on EV’s for it’s home market. Who ever is developing there stands to make (what’s bigger than trillions? – Gazillions?)

  • avatar
    geeber

    As Yogi Berra would say, it’s deja vu all over again.

    In the very early 1980s, Ford was going to be slaughtered by GM, because GM had so much more money, and was switching faster to front wheel drive, and already had diesel engines in production, and was preparing the new variable displacement V-8 for use in Cadillacs, and was spending money like a drunken sailor on automated factories…

    Well, it didn’t turn out that way. By 1987, Ford was outearning GM.

    I’ll believe that GM and Chrysler are beating Ford – even with government help – when I see it.

  • avatar
    guyincognito

    Ed,

    I disagree completely. You yourself said the Volt is a non-starter for profitability. Its only benefit will be the green credits it earns GM. Why waste all that money, money Ford doesn’t have anyway, to build such a vehicle when there is a cheap(er) way out?

    This is a brilliant strategy if you ask me. EV’s will be a niche product for at least the next 10 years. In that time, if the market improves and Ford survives, they can develop their own platform for an EV and still contract out the powertrain and software development. At this time they need to focus (sorry) on building profitable cars, not pie in the sky niche products like GM.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    This article assumes that there is a viable market for EVs that Ford is somehow missing the boat on.

    Last I checked, there has been no successful EV (and, no, Ed Begley and associated EV1 fans, that car wasn’t successful, and if it was, it would still be in production). Based on what I see coming out soon, and unless there’s some kind of wholesale seismic market shift, there probably won’t be a successful EV either.

    Ford is betting economy-wise on eco-boost (better known as direct fuel injection), and to me, this seems more sensible. Direct injection makes a four run like a six, a six like an eight, and so on. Anyone who’s driven the Cadillac CTS or the BMW 335 knows that this engine technology can do for a car, and the cost is a small fraction of that of other economy/performance enhancing technologies.

    Car and Driver recently tested the new Lincoln MKS and MKT vehicles equipped with the Ecoboost system, and they are impressive.

    The REAL payoff of direct injection techology will be in trucks and SUVs. While GM fiddles around with $55,000 hybrid Tahoes that still only get 20 mpg around town, Ford will be able to produce $40,000 SUVs that get marginally worse mileage. Which one will sell more?

    I like what I see from Ford in the near future.

  • avatar
    King Bojack

    @ Holy Donut

    A product has to be commerically to be successful in the market at one point or another or the business will lose cash on the venture. (assuming I understand what you’re getting at) I brought up the book to point out that making an EV is so not a huge undertaking a determined shade tree mechanic with a good toolset can slap one together.

    At any rate, all previous EVs have been a bust for a variety of reasons that are generally either cost or battery related. Electric motors are all over the world doing all kinds of shit reliably day in day out. The motor part is simple. To give the motor mobility it needs a battery (or some other form of mobile power) which is the details that kill the EV. Not an inherent complexity in the device which is why I call it a motor and a battery. This is why Ford is wise not to piss away tons of money on it. Especially if it takes a LOOOONG time (if ever) battery power and recharge time catches up to the convenience of a gas ICE.

    The lack of infrastructure is nowhere near the issue unless we can come up with safe low cost ways to cram assloads of power into a battery on the fly.

    The achilles heel of the EV is lagging battery tech. Battery tech is proving harder that people have thought. Otherwise you just figure out how to stuff the desired kW motor into whatever car you want to make and be done with it. If an upstart like Tesla can make an EV essentially outta nowhere like they did then clearly producing an EV ain’t no thang. Finding a good enough battery and quality recharge places right now is. Bringing infrastructure up to speed would be the easier part of the EV equation. Creating a long range affordable battery with low recharge times is what the EVs need right now. Until this occurs everything else is bupkiss. Right now if Ford can’t fix the other 95% of their business then they should spend as little on EVs as possible. The real sucker punch to Chrysler and GM is that Ford could upstage them on EV tech as little more than a Ford side project.

    Besides, ask yourself this, would you rather have an Aveo with GM derived EV powertrain or a Fiesta or even a Fusion with Magna derived powertrains?

    Also, to wrap this up I know that I grossly simplify things but simple things are not always easy. Benching 650lbs, easy concept, hideous challenge to execute. This is most Alt fuel programs in a nutshell. Yes a hybrid is just a car with big batteries, electric motor and regen brakes. Is it an engineering hassle and marvel to get these simple things to work well in tandem? Yes indeed. Still simple concept though.


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