Ford Teases Not-So-Secret Affordable Electric Vehicle, Again
The Intertubes lit up on February 6 when word leaked out that the Ford Motor Company has assigned a secret task force to develop an affordable electric vehicle, aimed at competing with the low-cost lineup of Tesla and various Chinese auto makers. However, the secret is not so secret. Ford set the stage back in 2021, when it described the newly minted Ford+ plan as “the company’s biggest opportunity for growth and value creation since Henry Ford scaled production of the Model T.”
Ford’s Secret Affordable Electric Vehicle Task Force, Part One
CleanTechnica’s Jennifer Sensiba took note of the Ford+ plan in May of 2022, which she described as “Ford’s plan to make the transition to EVs.”
That’s the shorter version. The longer version is that Ford will continue to design, produce, and sell new gasmobiles through its newly designated Ford Blue division. If all goes according to plan, profits from Ford Blue will finance the growth of a separate division dedicated to electric vehicle development, called the Model e division.
There’s nothing secret about the Model e division. In a press release dated March 2, 2022, Ford described exactly how it fits into the Ford+ plan.
“Ford Model e and Ford Blue will be run as distinct businesses, but also support each other – as well as Ford Pro, which is dedicated to delivering a one-stop shop for commercial and government customers with a range of conventional and electric vehicles and a full suite of software, charging, financing,” Ford explained.
Ford also described the Model e as a sort of skunkworks within the company. The term refers to a small group of innovators working outside of a company’s normal R&D stream, as exemplified by the famed Lockheed Martin Skunk Works team.
“The creation of Ford Model e was informed by the success of small, mission-driven Ford teams that developed the Ford GT, Mustang Mach-E SUV and F-150 Lightning pickup as well as Ford’s dedicated EV division in China,” Ford explained.
“Ford Model e will be Ford’s center of innovation and growth, a team of the world’s best software, electrical and automotive talent turned loose to create truly incredible electric vehicles and digital experiences for new generations of Ford customers,” chipped in Ford CEO Jim Farley.
The Secret Affordable Electric Vehicle Task Force, Part Deux
The similarities to a skunkworks team may have contributed to rumors about a secret electric vehicle task force going rogue within the company. Last year, Ford seemed to encourage the talk with a series of somewhat mysterious announcements, beginning in February with the mention of a “strategically important” electric vehicle project in partnership with Red Bull.
Also in February, a camouflaged Ford electric compact crossover prototype was spotted driving on public roads. “This is the model Ford is developing on Volkswagen Group’s MEB modular platform designed for mainstream electric vehicles, made possible by a deal hammered out between the two automakers in 2019,” reported Motor Authority. The new EV will reportedly be sold in Europe, though, not in the US.
Another announcement occurred in March, when Ford introduced its T3 electric truck concept to much fanfare but little detail.
“There’s no word at this time on what Project T3 will look like, how much power it will have, or where it will slot into Ford’s lineup. Ford hasn’t shown as much as a sketch,” reported Road and Track (see CleanTechnica’s complete Ford archive here).
The Associated Press wrapped up the state of affairs in March, citing Ford Chief Financial Officer John Lawler. In AP’s words, Lawler said “Model e should be viewed as a startup company within Ford.”
Ford’s Not So Secret Electric Vehicle Plans, Part Infinity
A startup company buried deep within the halls of the Ford campus seems a little more mysterious than a C-suite crafted, holistic corporate strategy that interconnects Model e with Ford Blue and Ford Pro. CEO Jim Farley did nothing to dispel the mystery in the latest earnings call, which took place this Tuesday afternoon, February 6.
A representative sample of the reporting comes from American Cars and Racing, which stated that “Ford CEO Jim Farley revealed during the company’s 2023 earnings call that Ford has a secret low-cost electric vehicle project in the works.
“He called it a ‘skunkworks’ and said it was operating like a startup outside of the rest of Ford,” ACR continued.
Motor1 was somewhat more restrained, but only to the extent that it called the Model e division “previously-unknown” instead of “secret.”
“Ford CEO Jim Farley revealed today in an earnings call that a previously-unknown ‘skunkworks team’ has been working on development of a new EV platform,” Motor1 reported.
“This team — which Farley said operated as a ‘startup’ outside of the traditional company structure for the past two years — focused on developing a low-cost electric platform. This new flexible platform is going to be the basis for several upcoming vehicles,” Motor1 continued.
“Specifics of these new vehicles are vague,” Motor1 noted, but the “flexible platform” angle sounds similar to the mashup between Ford and Volkswagen in Europe. If that’s your guess, drop us a note in the comment thread.
Where Is The Affordable EV Of The Future?
CNBC had a somewhat different take on the earnings call, focusing on the profitability track record of the Model e division, which is apparently a dumpster fire. If the Ford+ plan called for Ford Blue to do the heavy lifting for now, that was a good call.
“The company’s EV business, known as Model e, lost $4.7 billion last year, including $1.57 billion during the fourth quarter of 2023,” CNBC noted.
That explains why Ford recently announced that it is pulling back and resetting its electric vehicle plans, though the Model e losses were offset by Ford Blue and Ford Pro, which each reported earnings of more than $7 billion in 2023.
We’re guessing that the electric vehicle re-calibration is aimed at stemming the Model e bleeding over the short term, until a fully built-out, reliable, and convenient DC fast-charging network is available for drivers who rely on public EV charging stations.
That could happen sooner rather than later. Federal funding through the NEVI (National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure) program is beginning to kick in, bringing DC fast charging stations to more gas stations and travel centers on key travel routes.
In an interesting twist, Waffle House is also in the mix. The Georgia-based EV charging specialist EnviroSpark has just won a contract from Tennessee to install fast charging stations at a Waffle House in Lakeland, Tennessee. The hookup makes Waffle House the only standalone restaurant to participate in Tennessee’s initial round of 10 NEVI contracts.
Envirospark has already hinted that the Lakeland site could be just the first in a series of EV charging partnerships with Waffle House, which enjoys a unique status in the culinary lore of American roadside dining.
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Image: Ford introduced the world to affordable automobiles more than 100 years ago (courtesy of Ford Motor Company via the Ford Heritage Vault).
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