For all of its acknowledged leadership in the U.S. market these days – share gains, social-media marketing success, and industry-leading in-car connectivity to name just three areas – Ford has a potentially important weakness: all-electric vehicles.
At a North American International Auto Show that displays more electric vehicles than a golf-course cart shed, Ford has been at a bit of a disadvantage in touting its “electrification” plan, a strategy to develop a variety of EVs: hybrid electrics, plug-in electrics and all-electrics.
While Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf are carving out a brand new segment of ultra-electric cars at this very moment, the best that Ford brandmeisters could do at the Detroit Auto Show was announce that the company’s first BEV (“battery electric vehicle”) would be a version of the Ford Focus, slated for customers in North America and Europe in 2013.
Of course, Ford executives prefer to note their early leadership among U.S.-based automakers in bringing hybrids to market, such as the Ford Explorer. And they don’t say they’re behind in all-electric vehicles.
Their tack is to explain that Ford’s approach has been more deliberate because engineers have been developing a unified vehicle “platform” that can work for each of the three primary modes of vehicle electrification: regular hybrid, “plug-in” hybrid (such as Volt), and all-electric.
Besides this “commonality of components” as a primary aspect of Ford’s strategy, “Our approach to electrification is to give consumers vehicles that can be produced and sold in high volumes and to give them a choice” of product types, Derrick Kuzak, Ford’s group vice president of global product development, told automotive securities analysts at a presentation today.
Ford President and CEO Alan Mulally put Ford’s approach in an even broader context. “We’re going to have the most efficient plug-in hybrid in the market,” meaning “the most efficient vehicles, whether they’re petrol, diesel, hybrid, plug-in hybrid or electric," he said. "And we’ll use our scale to deliver."
While it's determined to innovate in the space, when it comes to taking the lead on this generation of electric vehicles, Ford is playing catch-up.