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Ford announces new push for “electrification”

Mark Fields, president and CEO, Ford Motor Company at Flat Rock Assembly Plant in Michigan. Source: Ford

Ford outlines plans for  new “electrified” vehicles, but its focus remains firmly on hybrids

With 2016 barely over, Ford wasted little time in unveiling its electrifying vision for the next three years. However, electric vehicle enthusiasts may have little to celebrate.

Its January 3 announcement trumpeted a major offensive as part of its US$4.5 billion investment in vehicle electrification, and confirmed seven of the thirteen “electrified” vehicles it intends to put into production over the next five years. However, only one model unveiled so far is a full battery-electric vehicle (BEV), leaving the remaining offerings in the more ambiguous hybrid and plug-in hybrid (PHEV) categories.

Instead, its efforts appear to be focused on the core Ford brands. While a hybrid Mustang and a hybrid F-150 truck are named and celebrated, its electric model is only outlined, and promises to match (rather than beat) the current competition. Ford envisions “a fully electric SUV with an expected range of at least 300 miles,” which will be released “by 2020.” This would join the automaker’s other EV model, the Focus Electric, which has been on the market since 2011.

Either the company isn’t yet sure of its strategy and components with regards to new BEVs, or it simply doesn’t hold them in the same regard as its other models.

There is room for cautious optimism in other business areas. Ford will also invest US$700 million in expansion at its Flat Rock Assembly Plant in Michigan, transforming it “into a factory that will build high-tech autonomous and electric vehicles along with the Mustang and Lincoln Continental.” According to the company, this plant will produce an autonomous vehicle designed for commercial ride hailing or ride sharing, debuting in 2021.

As with a number of other automakers, wireless charging also remains an area of interest. With pilots underway in the US and Europe, Ford wants to make recharging “as easy as pulling into a parking spot so drivers never forget to recharge.” This will also be enabled by increased digital connectivity through FordPass®, an app which it says will allow consumers to reserve charging times.

Yet the company’s overall outlook on EV technology is made clear by executive vice president for Product Development and chief technical officer, Raj Nair, who stated that: “Ford’s global EV strategy is to build on our strengths. While some others seem to be focused on marketing claims and numbers, we’re focused on providing customers even more of what they love about their Ford vehicles. This means more capability for trucks, more productivity for commercial vehicles and more performance for sports cars – plus improved fuel economy.”

So far, it’s clear that Ford’s strengths lie in the internal combustion engine, and barring a few interesting innovations, it looks likely to stay that way.


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