By on September 5, 2019

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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).

Ford Mustang EV Mach E, Image: Ford

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]

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56 Comments on “Ford: Now’s the Right Time to Push Into EVs, Not Yesterday...”


  • avatar
    ToddAtlasF1

    Every high margin vehicle they replace with an EV will be one less high margin vehicle. Smart.

    • 0 avatar
      N8iveVA

      What high margin vehicles are being replaced with EVs? I’m not aware of any.

      • 0 avatar
        ToddAtlasF1

        “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.

        That would mean 80,000 huge margin vehicles being replaced with ones where any profit would be a balance-sheet juggling act.

        • 0 avatar
          N8iveVA

          Gotcha. I was thinking you meant like Porsche was doing with the Macan replacing them all with EV Macans and Ford wasn’t doing that with any models.

          • 0 avatar
            Lou_BC

            I doubt that pickup buyers would cross shop an electric vehicle as a replacement and/or alternative. Perhaps a supplement but not a replacement.

        • 0 avatar
          DenverMike

          But make no mistake. The F-150 EV is positioned to be the most profitable EV in the world. Plus EV credits Ford will buy off itself and never mind the CAFE fines Ford will avoid electrifying the trucks that impact the corporate economy average the most.

          • 0 avatar
            Scoutdude

            Yeah pretty much should go to the most profitable vehicle in total $$$/yr pretty much overnight and it should have a high profit per vehicle too.

          • 0 avatar
            mcs

            Remember, the F-150 EV will be in production during the middle of the next decade. Profitability might shift in favor of an EV during that time period. Not to produce an EV in the middle to end of the next decade is betting against the battery labs and the material science people. Plenty of companies have gone bankrupt betting against technology that at first was a joke but eventually would go on to dominate its industry.

  • avatar
    Scoutdude

    Certainly high sticker prices are keeping many away from an EV but the big reason they still make up such a small slice of the automotive pie is that until recently there were no EVs available in the high volume segments. The majority of them have been sub-compact or compact cars, all shrinking segments filled with cheapskate buyers.

    The place to be is right where Ford is aiming, the hottest segments around the full size pickup and the compact to midsize Utility vehicle. Not only are they high volume segments they are segments where people are willing to check high dollar option boxes, not something that can be said for the majority of sub-compact and compact car buyers.

    So yeah the EV-150 and Mustang inspired crossover are the right vehicles to focus on and have the potential for real long term profitability.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      This is why Tesla started with the Model S and X, working down to the Model 3, and they were criticized for it – but Ford is praised. Different CEOs, I guess.

      • 0 avatar
        Scoutdude

        Huh? Large Hatchback wasn’t even a segment before the Model S came to market, and Large Sedan has been dying for a couple decades. Plus that wasn’t what Tesla started with it was the Roadster that fit into a minuscule segment. The X was a step in the right direction but the stupid Gull-wing doors sealed its fate to never make into the mainstream.

        Meanwhile the Full-Size truck is a segment that has always been healthy (even during the depths of the recession or times of the highest gas prices the F-Series was always the best selling vehicle in the land) and is still growing.

      • 0 avatar
        JimZ

        No, they were criticized for:

        1) Claiming they were smarter than everyone else and were going to “show the industry how it’s done” with the Model 3, then went on to run around with their pants on their heads trying to launch the damn thing

        2) Generating loads of hype for the “$35,000 EV” which barely materialized

        3) Letting their CEO continually embarrass them in public.

    • 0 avatar
      Lou_BC

      An EV F150 with decent range would have a good market in the urban fleet market. I tend to see most of the pickups in my local municipal fleet idling on the side of the road while crews test the structural integrity of tools they are leaning on.

      • 0 avatar
        Scoutdude

        Yup as soon as Ford offers an XL version it will be the choice of 1/2 ton for many gov’t fleets and all electric companies.

        • 0 avatar
          highdesertcat

          Gov’t fleets are built to gov’t specifications provided in the RFB announcements.

          See The Commerce Business Daily for current awards and contracts.

          • 0 avatar
            Scoutdude

            It all depends on the gov’t agcency, federal, state, county or city/town. Some small towns buy off the lot.

            But my main point is that Ford has to first decided to offer a fleet grade version. You can bet the first ones off the line will be at the high end of the trim levels and you won’t be able to get a XLT for a while. However they may launch the XL from the get go if they have the capacity.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    “segments with higher selling prices are a better fit for a profitable EV model”

    “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”

    So which is it going to be?

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      It’s not either/or.

      • 0 avatar
        SCE to AUX

        What high selling price won’t make customers blanche?

        • 0 avatar
          JimZ

          *sigh*

          I’m pretty sure he meant “we’ll move into EVs in segments where we already have decent transaction prices so the products can still be profitable, instead of trying to make an entry-level car which loses a ton of money.”

          and they even listed off those segments. F-150 and Mustang.

          • 0 avatar
            SCE to AUX

            Sure, but let’s see what these prices really are.

            No way a 1/2-ton F-150 EV sells for under $50k with any usable ‘pickup’ range, particularly when hauling a load or in cold weather.

            The $80-130k Model X loses half its range when towing 5000 lbs, putting it under 150 miles.

            These press releases/interviews are suspiciously devoid of any working facts, so my speculation is based on the physics and pricing of existing EVs out there.

            People can rave about EV torque being perfect for workaday trucks, but actually putting that torque to work is very costly in terms of range. So people who want decent range in a working truck are going to pay dearly (“blanche”), because Ford is going to price them to make a profit.

            Ford’s pre-launch talk is cheap, but their EVs won’t be. Nobody can seriously believe the EV equivalents of these vehicles will sell for similar prices. If they do, they’ll be highly gimped vehicles requiring expensive drivetrain upgrades to make them meet market expectations.

        • 0 avatar
          HotPotato

          I don’t know. And don’t call me Blanche.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      If someone is buying a $50k pickup/CUV it isn’t as big of a stretch to buy a $60-$65k vehicle as it is for the person that would be buying a $20k car moving up to one that will cost $30-$35k.

  • avatar
    iNeon

    Was it President Obama alone that brought about the greening— or was it simply during his tenure as President?

    If it were simply stated: “The United States’ governmental push for green vehicles” I feel like it might be more dignifying and inclusive— as well as honest.

    Our nation is not red or blue. The United States are purple.

  • avatar
    N8iveVA

    With every major auto manufacturer coming out with EV’s in the next 2-5 years I don’t see any of them making money on them for quite some time. While the EV slice of the pie will slowly grow larger, with so many new EV models coming, each brands slice will grow smaller as more brands come on board. This may even kill Tesla.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    …The Focus Electric, born of government grants in the wake of President Barack Obama’s post-recession green push…

    I see we’re throwing red meat to the B&B to get some clicks, and rewriting history. You know, like how Dorian threatened Alabama?

    Here is the link to the EPA for the Energy Independence and Security Act.

    https://www.epa.gov/laws-regulations/summary-energy-independence-and-security-act

    Note the date it was signed, December 19, 2007.

    I had no idea Obama was President in 2007. Have you ever bothered to actually read the Act, not abstracts or what you were told to think, but read it?

    https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/BILLS-110hr6enr/pdf/BILLS-110hr6enr.pdf

    Let’s repeat some facts again.

    * Bush (43) bailed out the auto industry, not Obama. Obama executed the Bush plan deployed in December of 2008.

    https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2012-02-07/bush-tells-dealers-he-avoided-gamble-in-bailing-out-automakers

    * Obama executed the EI&S Act as mandated by the law signed on December 19, 2007, created by Cheney and Bush, with bipartisan support.

    You know, facts. Hell, even past editors of TTAC have called out that Bush (43) bailed out Detroit, oh, and I never voted for Obama.

    This site has gone a long, long, long, way down.

    • 0 avatar
      Lou_BC

      @APaGttH – I cringed at those comments as well. Nothing like a political fight to drive up the site’s click points.

    • 0 avatar
      thatoneguy247

      I’ve been on TTAC for years and it feels like it’s gone from solid reporting on cars and the auto industry as a whole to slapdash car “reviews” and shameless pandering to an audience whose one uniting feature seems to be a hatred for all things environmentally conscious.

      The thoughtful discourse is what always set this site apart from others, but that feels less prevalent now.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      “…even past editors of TTAC have called out that Bush (43) bailed out Detroit, oh, and I never voted for Obama.”

      Same here. These measures were defensible, even if one didn’t support them. But rewriting history shouldn’t be happening in these pages.

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      Came here to make a similar comment, but you beat me to it.

      At least when Jack Baruth threw in right-wing snark it was at least loosely based on some sort of fact.

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    What makes you think there’s a finite market for EVs? Or that EV buyers care little of what they’re buying, as long as it’s an EV? There has to be a much bigger attraction, and that’s what Testa is great at.

    Would EV shoppers consider a Mustang or F-150 EV? Probably. But would Mustang and F-150 shoppers consider an EV option or upgrade to? Without a doubt.

    What if some strictly buys pony cars and pickups? What are their current EV choices? Likely most consumers aren’t remotely interested in the EV now on the market, and it has little to do with price or propulsion.

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      That was @N8iveVA

    • 0 avatar
      N8iveVA

      Hey I hope the market proves me wrong. I just don’t think it will. EV market now is “less than 2 percent”. What will it be in say 2024 when the market has many more choices? 3%? 4%? 5%? Now divide that by how many manufacturers/models and it seems like slim pickins. I just feel like too many are jumping in too fast. Until some major battery technology breakthrough many people won’t consider one much less buy one. I’d actually like to have one if the price comes down much closer to an ICE vehicle. But I live in a garageless townhome with parking out front. As long as I live there I would never be able to charge the thing.

      • 0 avatar
        DenverMike

        The market can sort them out, except the choices suck currently,.

        Yeah I’ve got 240v access, but won’t be in the market for an EV any time soon. But I could be enjoying the choices later, probably in the secondary market, so it’s great news.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    Looking forward to seeing capable EVs hit more segments. I think the first maker to make a good long-range electric compact CUV will sell a whole lot of copies, and expand the EV space meaningfully.

    I see the best opportunities for EVs in the short term to be the following segments:

    – Two-row CUVs (all size classes from subcompact to midsize)
    – Compact to midsize sedans
    – Fleet vehicles of all sorts, where even at current prices they will often pencil out due to fuel and maintenance savings
    – Sports and performance-oriented luxury cars

    I think it will be a bit harder to break into three-row CUVs, SUVs, and personal-use pickups, since those are the segments that are dominant for people who would legitimately face inconvenience as a result of switching to electric power, and also the types of vehicles that multi-car households use for their long trips.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      Compact and midsize sedans are not good segments to make a profit on an EV in. That is a shrinking segment that doesn’t offer great margins.

      Pickups since they will appeal greatly to fleets are a natural to offer to the retail customer where they will be profitable due to the fleet volume taking a big dent out of the overhead.

      • 0 avatar
        dal20402

        I agree pricing makes sedans hard, but if a reasonable price can be achieved then sedan customers will like EVs. Relatively few of them are taking long trips, the only use case for which EVs are really weak anymore.

  • avatar
    TimK

    “What’s than damn racket, it’s 2 in the morning! Oh, it’s Greg, he’s just charging his F150EV with that noisy #@&! Harbor Freight generator he keeps chained in the bed.”

    Hillbilly hybrid.

  • avatar
    AKHusky

    “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.”

    by 2016 the Focus had a range of 120 miles. My wife bought one in 2017 for 25,500. With he tax credit it was an 18k car, with a nicer interior and better driving dynamics than the Leaf. ANd the interior is still better than what comes in the Bolt (at least standard.)

  • avatar
    Master Baiter

    An electric F150 drive train offering decent range and towing capacity is going to be much more expensive than a comparable ICE + gas tank, so unless they plan to sell a $150,000 truck, Ford will have to cheap out on creature comforts and the interior. That fact will limit the truck’s appeal to a small niche, IMHO.

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      EV pickups are the about only vehicles that can share a platform with normal ICE vehicles, vs EV requiring a dedicated chassis to be competitive.

      I could imagine $100K EV Platinum/Limited F-150s and $50K base.

      • 0 avatar
        SCE to AUX

        You may be right. But per my comments above, how popular will a $50k truck be with a 120 to 150-mile range while towing 5000 lbs?

        Push it up to $150k, and then maybe they can profitably sell an F-150 EV with decent specs. Maybe.

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      I think most of them will have cheap interiors because most of them will be fleet vehicles. If Ford can get the price to a $10k premium over equivalently equipped V8 or EcoBoost pickups, the business case will be dead simple for high-usage fleets.

  • avatar
    SoCalMikester

    should do just fine as a corporate lease, but the transit and connect would make more sense for local route jobbers or USPS. itll be interesting to see how the rivian tie-in factors in

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Where will Ford source batteries for 80k trucks @ 100 kWh each, minimum?

    I think their volume guess is a fantasy, and their mix of content, price, and profitability will not be this utopic blend they’re promising. VW is discovering the same thing.

  • avatar
    ajla

    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.

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    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).

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