Ford’s EV strategy shows how much can change in a decade

Ford has gotten serious about its electric car strategy and, subsequently, its future. A $40,000 Ford Focus electric car was never a viable business strategy. A $40,000 Ford F-150 Lightning electric pickup truck is, according to Ford’s crystal ball. 

“This is a key product to start our journey to transition our customers from gas engine to BEV,” Jasen Turnbull, marketing manager for the 2022 Ford F-150 Lighting, said in an interview with The Car Connection. “This is not a niche play. This is a mass market play.”

As the automotive industry commits to electrified vehicles, Ford sees clearly now that the way forward is to produce electric iterations of high-volume models instead of dallying with compliance cars or, on the other end of the spectrum, six-figure niche EVs. 

The strategy represents an evolution if not an about-face from a decade ago, when it launched the Ford Focus electric with a limited 76-mile range and sales limited to select urban areas and California. Other automakers were doing the same in the nascent segment, and the Focus outpunched the 73-mile 2011 Nissan Leaf. 

A lot has changed in a decade. Those initial powertrains, including the Energi line of plug-in hybrids on the C-Max and Fusion, are no longer supported because those vehicles are no longer produced by Ford in the U.S. Instead, Ford electrified its bestselling vehicles in three segments—car, truck, commercial van—to help usher consumers into a new automotive era. 

“What changed is senior leadership under Bill Ford (executive chair of Ford),” Darren Palmer, GM of Battery Electric Vehicles at Ford, said. “He said 3.5 years ago we have to get serious about electric cars.” 

2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E GT

2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E GT

2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E and 1967 Ford Mustang coupe

2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E GT

Palmer heads Team Edison, Ford’s internal team for the development of electric vehicles that grew out of the strategic change. For Team Edison and Ford, Autos 2.0 has been underwritten by an initial investment of $11.5 billion now bearing fruit in the 2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E electric crossover SUV, the 2022 Ford F-150 Lightning electric pickup truck, and the 2022 Ford E-Transit electric van

“We do not assume everyone wants an electric car,” Palmer explained. “We want to make electric cars that are so compelling that people have to pay attention and take notice.”  

Applying the legendary Mustang muscle car badge to a five-seat electric crossover made people take notice to mixed effect. The Mach-E rides on a rear-drive platform and has sequential rear turn signals like the Mustang, and employs much of the iconography of a model that defined a generation. Ford hopes the same of the Mach-E, and the GT Performance Edition’s 0-60 mph time of 3.5 seconds beats every Mustang except the Shelby GT500’s 3.3-second time. 

The Mustang Mach-E continues to win accolades, including The Car Connection’s Best Car To Buy 2021, but the market has been slower to react. Ford sold 12,975 Mach-E SUVs in the first half of 2021, compared to 31,950 Mustangs over the same time. The numbers suggest there’s room for both on the show floor, but in its first half-year of sales, the Mach-E trails EV rivals such as the Chevy Bolt EV (20,288 units) and Tesla Model Y (76,429 units, according to Car and Driver). 

2022 Ford F-150 Lightning Pro

2022 Ford F-150 Lightning Pro

2022 Ford F-150 Lightning Pro

2022 Ford F-150 Lightning Pro

A better litmus test for Ford’s electric success depends on its bestseller. More than 100,000 reservations were made in the first 10 days for the F-150 Lightning, due on dealer lots in spring 2022. Unlike with the Mach-E, however, Ford might be first in getting an electric pickup truck to market, pending ongoing delays from electric vehicle startup Rivian and its R1T electric truck.  

The no-compromise Ford truck sounds good on paper: The dual in-board motors generate up to 563-hp and 775 lb-ft of torque, the most ever for a F-150. It can tow up to 10,000 lb or hit 60 mph in 4.4 seconds, and the extended range model has an estimated 300-mile range. 

The most compelling part of the F-150 Lightning, however, and a point of pride for Ford, is a starting price of $39,974. That underscores a key pillar of Ford’s strategy. 

“They must be profitable,” Palmer said about Ford’s EVs. “The reason we’re able to sell the Lightning [at that price] is because we have scale.”

Palmer and Ford won’t disclose sales estimates for the Lightning, but initial demand prompted them to boost production plans late last year. As well as sharing parts with the E-Connect work van, the F-150 Lightning comes in a range of styles from work truck to near-luxury truck that can double as a back-up home generator. 

2022 GMC Hummer EV prototype testing in Moab

2022 Hummer EV Prototype

2022 Hummer EV Prototype

2022 Hummer EV Prototype

General Motors is planning a 400-mile Silverado EV, but only after it launches the $112,595 GMC Hummer EV SUT off-road truck. That price limits the appeal of the technology showcase, and it won’t move too far downstream, with an $80,000 base model not arriving until 2024. By that time, the Tesla Cybertruck might make it to market. The Silverado EV shares a platform and its Ultium battery system with the Hummer EV. Ultium will also power nearly all GM models by the next decade. That’s scale of a different kind. 

The F-150 Lightning might beat the Silverado EV to market but Ford is chasing other automakers when it comes to broad adaptability of electric vehicles. 

Automakers ranging from GM and VW to Hyundai and Kia have developed dedicated EV platforms. Ford modified its small crossover platform to serve the Mach-E on its own platform, but bolstered the high-strength steel frame of the F-150 for the heavier Lightning. 

Ford is developing two dedicated electric platforms for 2025, more proof of how quickly plans can change.

“These things take years to develop and our philosophy was we’re not ashamed to turn on a pin if we learned something, no pride lost, we move with the market and change,” Palmer said.

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