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Ford Decides to Stick with 100-Mile EVs – for Now

Sam Abuelsamid — April 29, 2016

EV RefuelingDuring the recent SAE 2016 World Congress in Detroit, there was much discussion among attendees and speakers about the future of electric vehicles (EVs). For the most part, there was agreement that a 200-mile nominal range on a charge will be the minimum needed to get mainstream customers to start accepting EVs as a viable transportation alternative. One notable exception to that opinion, at least publicly, came from Kevin Layden, Ford director of electrification engineering, who told Automotive News that a 100-mile range provided a better balance of weight and cost while meeting the needs of most drivers.

Not coincidentally, this fall, Ford is slated to release an upgraded version of its sole battery electric vehicle (BEV), the Focus Electric, with that same 100-mile range. There is little reason to doubt that Ford has no immediate plans to directly challenge the Chevrolet Bolt (which is set to launch at nearly the same time as the refreshed Focus) or the upcoming Tesla Model 3.

Late BEV Addition

The current Focus debuted in 2011 and the BEV variant was a late addition to program. In fact, it wasn’t even originally conceived by Ford. Engineers at supplier Magna International built a pair of prototypes in 2008 to demonstrate their EV engineering capabilities and Ford adopted the program late in the year as part of its recovery plan following the financial meltdown. The next-generation Focus was already well in development by that time, but Ford worked with Magna to adapt the electric drive system and battery packaging to the new model. The packaging results were less than optimal, with severely compromised cargo space compared to the competitors such as the Nissan LEAF or the later Volkswagen e-Golf.

While advances in battery technology in the years since have enabled Ford to boost the original 76-mile range to 100 miles, packing in twice as much capacity into this generation of the Focus would simply be impossible. Given that like other large automakers, Ford still needs to sell a certain number of plug-in vehicles (PEVs) every year in order to meet the California Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) mandates, and it’s no surprise that the priority right now is to sell the upgraded Focus Electric as is. Given the new competition from the Bolt, Ford will likely emphasize the starting price before incentives of $29,170 for the Focus, some $10,000 less than its original price in 2012.

More Models on the Way

While Ford marketing tries to sell the current-generation Focus Electric for the next 2 to 3 years, the product development team is no doubt working overtime to match or beat the benchmarks set by Chevrolet and Tesla for the next-generation model. In December 2015, Ford announced a $4.5 billion investment to launch 13 new electrified models by 2020 and the chances are excellent that at least one of those will be a 200-mile BEV that can sell for $30,000. The next-generation Focus platform is expected to debut in 2018 and Ford will likely have made allowances in the design to package larger batteries to meet the market demand for EV capability. During the 1Q 2016 financial results call on April 28, Ford CEO Mark Fields commented that the company wants to be in a leadership position on EVs, implying that Ford intends to build longer-range models in the coming years.

Navigant Research’s Electric Vehicle Market Forecast report projects global light duty BEV sales of almost 1.6 million in 2024, with nearly 462,000 in the United States. If manufacturers are to meet their individual sales targets under the California EV mandates, they will have to create products that are meet increasing customer expectations. With multiple manufacturers openly committing to affordable BEVs with 200 miles or more of range, only very inexpensive vehicles are likely to be deemed acceptable with less.

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