Navigant Research Blog

Ford Goes All-In on Trucks, Utilities, and Hybrids

— March 16, 2018

At January’s North American International Auto Show, almost all of the significant product announcements were about new pickup trucks and SUVs from Ford, General Motors, and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA). Maintaining sales of those high margin vehicles will be crucial to funding the development and introduction of new and often pricey electrified propulsion and automation technologies. This week, Ford executives led a briefing at the company’s product development center where they provided more details on how they plan to handle that transition.

Core to Ford’s revamped product lineup is a range of new SUV nameplates as the company shifts away from passenger cars. The subcompact Fiesta will likely be discontinued from the North American lineup and Focus sales have dropped to a level where the next model for North America will imported from China. By 2020, Ford expects 86% of its sales in North America to come from trucks and utilities.

That doesn’t mean Ford is giving up on fuel efficiency. Quite the contrary. Ford intends to become the hybrid market leader in North America by 2021, overtaking Toyota. While Toyota is most associated with hybrid technology, Ford introduced the first hybrid SUV in 2004 and plans to leverage this position to offer hybrid or plug-in hybrid powertrain options on every utility model from the Ford and Lincoln brands. That’s in addition to the 300-mile range battery electric crossover it will launch in 2020.

Selling Performance and Power

FCA is branding its mild-hybrid system as eTorque on Jeeps and Ram pickups and marketing based on performance enhancement. Since most North American customers show little interest in green vehicles, Ford wants to appeal to them by using electrification to boost capability and speed. While most details aren’t yet available to the public, previous announcements give a clue as to where Ford is going. The automaker has talked repeatedly about its new F-150 hybrid having a power take-off capability that will enable contractors to get power for their tools without needing to carry a generator. Similarly, the upcoming Mustang hybrid will use electrification to enhance performance and efficiency.

Ford is not sharing many technical details of its next-generation hybrids yet, but most are expected to be high voltage systems that can also support plug-in capability. The automaker is already one of the top purveyors of plug-in hybrid systems; it has sold nearly 100,000 Fusions and C-Maxes with a plug since they were introduced in 2012.

Even the electric crossover will be targeting a more premium customer than something like today’s Escape or Edge. With hints of its 300-mile range and performance at the auto show, Ford President of Global Markets Jim Farley positioned this vehicle as a melding of the desire for crossovers with the passion the Mustang inspires in some customers.

So Why the Massive Shift from Cars to Trucks?

It’s all about the money. Farley explained that since the current-generation F-150 debuted in 2014, average transaction prices have jumped $6,700 while the new Expedition SUV that debuted last year is getting $11,000 more per sale. The F-150 alone generates $41 billion a year in revenue and a significant chunk of Ford’s profits.

In 2015, when Farley was still president of Ford of Europe, he discussed the burgeoning market there for crossover utilities, with many of the offerings being less truck-like. While details of the seven new Ford and Lincoln utilities are still under wraps, a similar segmentation is expected in North America, replacing many of the soon-to-be outgoing car models. It’s too early to tell if the automaker can overtake Toyota in total hybrid sales, but Ford is making a strong push.


Companies Aim to Fast Track Ultrafast EV Charging

— January 31, 2017

The fast charging of EVs at power levels surpassing 350 kW is quickly moving from concept to reality. In 2016, momentum accelerated for developing solutions that can charge a battery electric vehicle (BEV) to 80% capacity in 5 to 10 minutes, and 2017 will see the first solutions available. Many automakers are excited about the potential for closing the gap between electric and gasoline refueling, though there is currently no definitive standard or available light duty vehicle charging at 350 kW or higher.

At January’s Consumer Electronics Show, EV charging company ChargePoint unveiled the ChargePoint Express Plus, a modular charging system that can be upgraded to higher power levels over time, up to a maximum of 400 kW. Power to multiple charging stations are provided by ChargePoint-designed Power Cubes, which offer up to 500 kW of direct current (DC) output and can be coupled with other Cubes to accommodate more charging stations at a single location. According to the company, power can be distributed to up to four charging stations from a single Power Cube, and power output is dynamically distributed to the vehicles being charged.

ChargePoint Express charging stations will be constructed of multiple Power Modules that deliver up to 31.25 kW of power each, a unique approach for future-proofing charging stations. ChargePoint says the systems will be available in July 2017.

ChargePoint Express Plus

(Source: ChargePoint)

Last November, several automakers announced plans to co-develop a fast charging network in Europe that will provide 350 kW charging. Just a few weeks later, Energy company Enel joined with Verbund, Renault, Volkswagen, Nissan, and BMW in announcing EVA+, a fast charging network connecting Italy and Austria that will enable BEVs to be charged in 20 minutes. Never one to be upstaged, Elon Musk tweeted in December that Tesla Motors would be adding capabilities to the SuperCharger network to surpass 350 kW of power delivery for its proprietary network.

With the knowledge that BEVs are being developed with much faster charging capabilities, companies considering adding DC fast charging stations are now challenged on how to future-proof their investments. The tradeoff is between keeping the not inconsequential cost of offering DC fast charging under control today while preventing the sites from having to undergo costly increases in power delivery from the utility and having to replace the existing equipment in future years.

Companies investing in 350 kW fast charging stations today are hard pressed to get payback in electricity sales within 3-5 years, so to ask them to make ready a location with distribution equipment and capacity for up to 1 GW of EV charging is a tall order. Site hosts anticipating the ultrafast future of charging will also need to work with utilities to identify locations where they will not be disrupting the distribution grid.


Chevrolet Bolt Shows GM Is Serious About Making the EV Mainstream

— January 30, 2017

Electric Vehicle 2A decade ago, the documentary Who Killed the Electric Car? chronicled General Motors’ (GM’s) decision to repossess all of the existing EV1s from the small but loyal group of customers that had been leasing the pioneering battery electric vehicle (BEV). Ever since, skeptics have doubted the company’s true commitment to making BEVs—the Volt had an internal combustion engine, and the Spark EV was viewed by most as a compliance car. Wonder no more, because the 2018 Chevrolet Bolt demonstrates that GM is committed to making the BEV mainstream.

While Tesla has made big promises with the upcoming Model 3, GM has pulled ahead by now delivering Bolts to customers. Sales of plug-in EVs (PEVs) have fallen far short of the projections made when automakers revealed the first wave of modern BEVs at the beginning of the decade. Nonetheless, cumulative sales for Tesla, GM, and Nissan are beginning to approach the 200,000 level that will trigger a phaseout of federal tax credits. When that happens, the effective price for consumers will jump by $7,500, and PEVs will truly have to stand on their own merits in order to attract buyers.

Lessons Learned

As the first dedicated BEV developed by GM since the EV1 in the early 1990s, GM has applied lessons learned from its prior efforts and observations of what has happened with competitors. “The Bolt program was launched more than 4 years ago with a decree from then-CEO Dan Akerson to deliver an appealing car with a 200-mile electric range and $30,000 price point,” said Stuart Norris, managing director of the GM Korea Design Studio. Norris’ design team, along with the engineering teams in South Korea and Michigan, had a clean sheet of paper to work with.

Seeing the global market trends of increasing urbanization, the growth of ride-hailing services, and the rising consumer preference for higher-riding crossover vehicles all helped to define the general form factor of the Bolt. Advances in battery and electronics performance and cost enabled the team to meet their targets.

A comparatively small footprint in line with B-segment models like the Honda Fit means the Bolt occupies less space on the road. At the same time, its tall stance means there is ample room for at least four adults in its 95 cubic foot passenger volume. Smart packaging means it actually exceeds the 94 cubic feet of cabin volume in the much larger Tesla Model S, and it’s easy to get in and out for passengers of ride-hailing services like Lyft, in which GM is an investor.

Practical and Appealing

Performance is a big Tesla selling point, especially the oft-heralded “Ludicrous” acceleration. However, the much larger external dimensions and mass of the Model S mean that it’s not so nimble on twisty mountain roads or as maneuverable in tight urban areas like San Francisco. At half the price of the least expensive Model S, the Bolt doesn’t offer quite the same thrust, but with 200 horsepower and 266 lb.-ft. of instantly available torque, the Chevy still gets to 60 mph in under 6.5 seconds. More importantly, it handles both mountain passes and urban centers deftly, and based on a first drive, use of the low mode with its extra regenerative braking can boost the vehicle’s charge range well beyond the EPA-estimated 238 miles.

The launch of the Bolt and Model 3 has inspired other automakers to rethink their EV plans and boost the planned range to over 200 miles. If everyone can make their EVs as practical and appealing to drive as the Bolt, we may finally see a surge in sales that makes the emissions-free vehicle a mainstream reality.


Lucid Motors Is the Latest Silicon Valley EV Upstart

— November 28, 2016

Electric Vehicle 2Chances are you’ve never heard of Lucid Motors. The company has been around for nearly a decade but only recently rebranded itself from Atieva in mid-October. Despite (or perhaps because of) its lack of public awareness, several members of the Lucid team came to Los Angeles for some private briefings during AutoMobility LA. I had an opportunity to learn about what Lucid is planning, get a VR walk-around of the company’s finished vehicle design, and check out one of its prototypes.

The Lucid team includes former Tesla staff among its ranks, including CTO Peter Rawlinson and marketing director Zak Edson. The company’s as-yet-unnamed luxury sedan is scheduled to go into production in 2018 and will be built at a US factory, although no site has yet been announced. Atieva was launched in late 2007, focusing on producing batteries for commercial EVs. “Atieva-powered vehicles have accumulated more than 20 million miles of real-world use with a faultless safety record,” said Rawlinson.

Smaller Footprint, Larger Interior

Rawlinson joined Atieva in 2014 when the company decided to build cars from the ground up. Despite the achievements of Tesla, Rawlinson explained that he still saw a lot of untapped potential in repackaging everything to take advantage of the electric drive system. Tesla’s Model S has the footprint of a large luxury car, but only has the passenger volume of a midsize sedan at 94 cubic feet. However, it meets the US Environmental Protection Agency’s large car designation based on its 26 cubic feet of cargo space, bringing the total to the 120 cubic feet threshold to qualify as “large.”

Rawlinson and Derek Jenkins, Lucid’s vice president of design, sought to reverse that trend with a smaller footprint (akin to a midsize Mercedes-Benz E-class) and an interior volume of 112 cubic feet for occupants. The Lucid sedan uses a similar skateboard layout to other modern dedicated battery EVs (BEVs), with the battery pack under the floor and electric motors at each axle.

In mid-2016, Lucid published a video showing off the performance capabilities of an in-development powertrain prototype based on a Mercedes-Benz Metris cargo van. Using a 600 horsepower (hp) front motor and 400 hp rear motor, the van is capable of sub-3 second 0-60 mph acceleration.

Better Batteries

Lucid has been developing its own proprietary battery chemistry that Rawlinson claims will have 20% greater volumetric energy density and will be less vulnerable to deterioration from repeated fast charges. Assuming Lucid and its cell manufacturing partners can deliver, this will help enable the company to deliver a 100 kWh battery with an optional 130 kWh unit to deliver driving ranges of 300 and 400 miles, respectively. The company plans to equip its car with a sensor package capable of Level 4 autonomous driving. The package includes four solid-state lidar sensors, short- and long-range radar and cameras, and ultrasonic sensors.

The prototype that Lucid brought to Los Angeles had an incomplete interior, but based on the VR demo and looking at the test vehicle, it does appear to be more roomy than Tesla’s Model S. Pricing won’t be announced for some time but it will likely be comparable to the Tesla and in line with Lucid’s goal of delivering a zero-emissions executive jet for the road. Lucid plans to publicly reveal its car on December 14 at its engineering facility in Fremont, California.


Blog Articles

Most Recent

By Date


Clean Transportation, Digital Utility Strategies, Electric Vehicles, Energy Technologies, Policy & Regulation, Renewable Energy, Smart Energy Practice, Smart Energy Program, Transportation Efficiencies, Utility Transformations

By Author

{"userID":"","pageName":"Battery Electric Vehicles","path":"\/tag\/battery-electric-vehicles","date":"3\/23\/2018"}