The Blue Oval is starting to get more serious about cleaner transportation, with a commitment of investing billions to bring 13 new electrified vehicles to its portfolio by 2020.
Now, I'm not saying it's connected or anything (wink, wink), but it's interesting to see how many companies are making big announcements about their green initiatives right around the same time that the global climate summit is happening in Paris. However, even if there was some strategic timing to the news of calls for more fossil fuel divestment, coal phase-outs, and big corporate renewable energy purchases, there's no harm done if it's merely stating the facts. As they say, "It ain't bragging if you can do it."
In that vein, Ford announced that it would be investing some $4.5 billion over the next five years toward its goal of building better "electrified vehicle solutions" and bringing electrification to 40% of its vehicle lineup by 2020. Seeing as transportation is a key climate issue, it's only fitting to learn about Ford's sharpened focus on EVs as a solution. According to the company, it will be adding 13 new electrified vehicles to its portfolio by 2020, which could offer more options for the potential EV customers who aren't currently able to drive electric, either because of price or driving range or size.The most significant news in the near future of Ford's electric vehicle lineup is the rollout of the new Focus Electric next year, which will feature a 100-mile range and a DC fast-charging system that is claimed to give the vehicle an 80% charge in 30 minutes, a full two hours faster than the current model. No announcement was made about the price of the new Focus Electric, but based on last year's model prices, it would be somewhere in the neighborhood of $30,000. That's not exactly an entry-level car purchase, but it's a lot more affordable than a Tesla at the moment, and if a pure EV fits your driving habits, it could slash your fuel bills for years and be a cleaner transport option than a fuel-efficient gas car.
Ford is also doubling down on battery research and development by investing in a "world-class" battery R&D facility at the University of Michigan for advancing the development of batteries that are "smaller, lighter and less expensive to produce," as well as adding to the company's battery engineering and research capabilities in both Asia and Europe. Considering that battery tech is probably the most crucial piece of making EVs truly mainstream, both in terms of improving capacity (driving range), charging speeds, and pricing, it's kind of a no-brainer to put more resources toward this aspect of electrified transportation.
The company is also continuing to work on other mobility-related solutions that aren't cars, as it broadens its focus beyond just being a carmaker, and will be piloting an on-demand "Dynamic Shuttle" this month for its employees in Dearborn, Michigan. The insights gleaned from running this pilot program will help further the research and development efforts from the company's "Smart Mobility" experiments, and shuttle services such as Ford's (shown below) could eventually help lead to reduced traffic congestion and increased transit options for commuters.
There is no new news, so to speak, on the state of the company's other mobility concept, which pairs an electric bicycle with a car, allowing for a simple and clean last-mile solution that is integrated by design, not as an afterthought. This kind of multi-modal thinking really needs to be further embraced by more auto makers, even if they aren't the ones making the electric bikes or scooters themselves, in order to really reinvent transportation.
Having said that, I'm also going to go out on a limb here and suggest that if Ford were to integrate bike racks on every vehicle, it could have a much faster, and more efficient, method of greening its vehicles than if it were to just focus on EVs and electric bikes and other tech solutions. If there were a simple way to attach bikes directly to a vehicle, perhaps on a rack that folded out of the way in the undercarriage when not in use, then it would be easy to bring a bicycle or two for last-mile commuting. Similar to the way that trucks have a tow hitch connected to the vehicle's frame under the bumper, it seems feasible to design a "standard" bike rack hitch that would fit under the rear bumper (says the guy who is not an engineer), which would make it easy to haul a bike with you.
This recent news of Ford's commitment to further develop its electric vehicle and battery technology capabilities seems to me to be a strong sign of the coming EV age. After all, Ford already has the sales and marketing infrastructure in place, a ready audience, and dealers all over the place, so assuming these new EVs will be available in all domestic markets (as opposed to the current limited availability), the consumer clean transport market in 2020 may have a lot of offerings from the Blue Oval.
Now, if only those vehicles will come with an integrated bike rack...