Ford: Now's the Right Time to Push Into EVs, Not Yesterday

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
ford nows the right time to push into evs not yesterday

Ford Motor Company wants the buying public to have no recollection of the slow-selling, painfully short-range Focus Electric. Thankfully, few already do.

The Focus Electric, born of government grants in the wake of President Barack Obama’s post-recession green push, joined the far more popular Nissan Leaf in offering buyers a driving distance of about 75 miles, give or take. Innovative, new, and green, sure, but certainly not desirable for most buyers.

Starting next year, the automaker plans to roll out a cautious crop of strategic electric vehicles. And this time, Ford aims to make money on them.

Speaking to Automotive News, Ford electrification chief Ted Cannis said the time is now right to offer EVs, but only EVs people might want to own. It’s still a tough sell — the EV take rate in the U.S. is less than 2 percent, a figure born of higher sticker prices and limited range that keeps most buyers away. Improvements are continuous. The EVs sold in 2019 are, for the most part, far more advanced and long-legged than the semi-experimental vehicles sold at the decade’s dawn.

“It is critical to think through the customer first,” Cannis said. “It has to be more than a compliance vehicle. It’s got to be better.”

A small EV hatchback isn’t going to cut it with consumers or company beancounters this time around. After dropping $11 billion on an electrification strategy, Ford isn’t about to market an EV that’ll never turn a profit. Pickups, like the upcoming F-150 EV, and crossovers like the so-called “Mustang inspired” Mach E and upcoming Ford/Lincoln midsizers, will apparently command prices that won’t make customers blanche. The popularity of those segments means scale — production volume lofty enough to make the vehicles’ development worthwhile.

“We’re coming in at the right time,” Cannis said. “We could do all sorts of different things, but we’re going to play to what we’re good at: commercial vehicles, vans, pickups, performance vehicles and SUVs. We have loyal customers, we know our base and the margins are better. It’s just the right business.”

There also has to be a tie-in to an existing internal combustion vehicle, at least at first. Hence the creation of an electric F-150 (expected to land in 2021) and not a standalone nameplate, or the Mach E’s connection to the Mustang (the crossover, due out in 2020, does not ride on a Mustang platform, though spy photos reveal a very familiar face).

Unlike Tesla, which promised an EV for the masses for years before quickly spiriting the Model 3 Standard Range back into the automotive ether, Ford acknowledges that segments with higher selling prices are a better fit for a profitable EV model. So that’s where Ford’s, ahem, focus will lie.

To generate interest in the vehicles, Ford plans to roll out a consumer education campaign showing what the technology can do for buyers. A video uploaded earlier this year showing an electric F-150 prototype pulling a train car stacked with gas-powered F-150s, generated a lot of interest in the idea of an EV truck. Gobs of instantaneous torque is a selling feature to truck buyers.

According to Cannis, 18 percent of respondents to an internal survey said they’d consider buying a vehicle like that, compared to 10 percent before the video aired. Electric propulsion will continue to have a large number of detractors, but if enough buyers take to the technology, Ford can earn a profit.

“Let’s say of the 800,000 F series that we sell a year, just 10 percent are interested. That’s still 80,000 vehicles. These are huge numbers,” Cannis said.

With lofty F-150 trims commanding steep prices that buyers appear all too ready to pay, an electric model, perhaps a less opulent one to lower the tech-born markup, could find a sustainable home in the lineup.

“They’ll target volume segments where they won’t have to subsidize them too much,” Sam Abuelsamid, principal research analyst at Navigant Research, said of Ford’s strategy. “They won’t go down the Chevy Bolt or Nissan Leaf path.”

[Images: Ford]

Join the conversation
2 of 56 comments
  • Ajla Ajla on Sep 05, 2019

    It would be an incredible achievement if Ford is able to make a profitable 50-state available F-150ev with an ~250 mile unladen usable range, an ~1000lb payload capacity, and ~8000lbs towing capacity for $10K over the price of a 2.7t version.

  • ToolGuy ToolGuy on Sep 08, 2019

    Good luck to Ford. I think they will come strong on these (tired of getting their butts kicked), and I imagine the take rate might surprise everyone (similar to the way V6/EcoBoost worked out).

  • Wjtinfwb Over the years I've owned 3, one LH (a Concorde) a Gen 1 300 and a Gen 2 300C "John Varvatos". The Concorde was a very nice car for the time with immense room inside and decent power from the DOHC 3.5L. But quality was awful, it spent more time in the shop than the driveway. It gave way to a Gen 1 300, OK but the V6 was underwhelming in this car compared to the Concorde but did it's job. The Gen 1's letdown was the awful interior with acres of plastic, leather that did it's best imitation of vinyl and a featureless dashboard that looked lifted from a cheaper car. My last one was a '14 300C John Varvatos with the Pentastar. Great car, sufficient power and exceptional highway mileage. The interior was much better than the original as well. It was felled by a defective instrument cluster that took over 90 days to fix and was ultimately lemon law' d back to FCA. I'd love one of the 392 powered final edition 300s but understand they're already sold out and if I had an extra 60k available, would likely choose a CPO BMW 540i for comparable money.
  • Dukeisduke Thanks Cary. Folks need to make sure they buy the correct antifreeze, since there are so many OEM-specific ones out there nowadays (Dex-Cool, Ford gold, Toyota red and pink, etc.).And sorry to hear about your family situation - my wife and I have been dealing with her 88-yo mom, moving her into independent senior living, selling her house, etc. It's a lot to deal with.
  • FreedMike Always lusted after that first-gen 300 - particularly the "Heritage Edition," which had special 300 badging and a translucent plastic steering wheel (ala the '50s and '60s "letter cars").
  • Dave M. Although the effective takeover by Daimler is pooped upon, this is one they got right. I wasn't a fan of the LHs, mostly due to reported mechanical, NVH and build quality issues, but I though Chrysler hit it out of the park with the LXs. The other hyped release that year was the Ford Five Hundred, which, while a well-built car with superior interior space, couldn't hold a candle to the 300.
  • Art Vandelay I always liked those last FWD 300's. Been ages since I've seen one on the road though. Lots of time in the RWD ones as rentals. No complaints whatsoever.