Ford CEO Jim Farley on Future EVs, Electrified “Iconic Vehicles,” and More

Ford is doubling down on its  commitment to electric vehicles, spending $22 billion over five years on electric SUVs, trucks, and vans for retail and commercial customers. We talked to Jim Farley, who  became Ford CEO on October. 1, 2020, for an update on the Blue Oval’s efforts to become a dominant e-mobility player, including how it plans to electrify key models.

Ford is coming up with more aggressive electrification plans. How is it shaping up? 

Farley: We’re into the second inning of the e-mobility transformation. It’s early days. Allocating capital to some extent is the easiest thing. Our industry is littered with companies making announcements of nameplates they changed, added, or launched this year. And it didn’t really have material impact. The proof is in how the customer experience changes and how our brand comes to life in the battery electric space. There are things that aren’t changing. We will not be in the commodity transportation business with our second-inning vehicles.

We want to electrify our most iconic vehicles. Our [Mustang] Mach-E is on sale now. Our E-Transit will be on sale later this year, and the F-150 [Lightning!] gets electrified halfway through next year. We made these decisions a long time ago. The acceleration and spending from 2023 and beyond is where we’ll see a real acceleration in nameplates. We have to spend more as we secure our own battery supply and invest in key areas. The most powerful part is the digital experience, a different model of interacting with the customer. 

Curious about which “iconic vehicles” are due for electrification next? Farley recently engaged in this twitter interaction about an electric Bronco (a plug-in hybrid version was long ago confirmed)…

… answering with: “Why do you think we dont?”

Will truck customers embrace an electric F-150?

Farley: The revenue pool is enormous. Within that are customers with a duty cycle perfect for electrification. There are two extremes. [The first is] commercial customers with regular fixed routes, happy with depot charging, who need a vehicle with low cost of ownership and 100 percent uptime, as well as features. The second is retail customers with plenty of vehicles for long trips, and they want to drive a pickup that’s electrified with software functionality you can’t get in a non-electrified vehicle. It is a fully digital vehicle, built Ford tough. We’ve seen strange designs of fully electric pickup trucks. Soon as they get dirt in them, it’s not going to be good. 

Do you need more than one dedicated electric platform?

Farley: Yes. We have multiple platforms. The center point for our businesses is two- and three-row crossovers, pickup trucks, and vans. All have distinct requirements that require a different ground-up battery electric solution. Those vehicles are the next wave. The Mustang Mach-E is the first on our utility platform, but we have more coming, and the platform will continue to evolve.

Are we at a tipping point where EVs are no longer a niche offering?

Farley: The tipping point in China and Europe has been reached in terms of consideration. In the U.S., half the customers are interested in considering a battery electric vehicle, but when it comes down to intention to buy, we are not at the tipping point. The French, German, and Dutch governments got behind incentives, which made it easier for customers. It also depends on the segment. We have not reached a tipping point in authentic off-roaders because there’s really no supply yet. To be a tipping point for intention, the economics have to change.

Is that why Ford will stop selling vehicles with combustion engines after 2030 in Europe but has not set an expiration date in North America?

Farley: We have a lot more work to do in North America around battery supply. We have legacy issues like labor to resolve. So, allocate the capital to get the product and digital experience out there to make us competitive and attractive, especially on our most iconic vehicles. The rest will follow. We have work to do before we come out with some all-singing-and-dancing commitment in North America. And we don’t want it to be an aspiration. We want it to be part of our plan.

Infrastructure is another area that needs to be improved?

Farley: Yeah. It feels like it’s out of our control, but when we launched the Mach-E, we made sure we had the largest charging network. It wasn’t easy because we had to put a lot of pieces together—Charge America and other ecosystems. We did partnership deals and wrote our app so when you buy the Mach-E, it shows the 16,000 chargers. It is up to the brand to make it work because [infrastructure] isn’t sufficient, but it is on the other side of the invisible line of being just enough. We have to build up the commercial side.

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