Will Ford's Electric Car Strategy Succeed?
Do People Really Want Dedicated EV Models?
It's interesting to note how different Ford's electrification strategy is from most of the other auto makers who are making electric cars and plug-in hybrids (PHEVs). The majority seems to have learned from Toyota's experience with the Prius and decided to make dedicated EV/PHEV models that don't have gas-only versions: GM has the Volt, Fisker the Karma, Tesla the Roadster and Model S, Nissan the LEAF, etc. Ford's is taking a different route.
Making dedicated models for hybrids, PHEVs, and full EVs has the benefit of attracting those who want everybody to know they are driving a greener vehicle (these people exist), as well as making it easier to brand the vehicles. Something like the Prius will always be more memorable (positively or negatively) than a Corolla hybrid or whatever else Toyota could have made instead.
Ford's strategy will allow it to easily switch between making conventional gas-powered cars and a range of other, different designs: diesel-powered cars, hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and electric vehicles. Rather than making a distinct plug-in hybrid electric vehicle model, as General Motors is doing with the Volt, which it will start selling at the end of this year, Ford plans to make a variety of electric propulsion options available on all of its top-selling cars worldwide.
"Going down the same assembly line, you can do battery electric, a plug-in hybrid, a hybrid, an efficient petrol, or an efficient diesel vehicle," says Nancy Gioia, Ford's director of global electrification. "That makes it very robust to what undoubtedly will be a volatile market for the next 10 years." (source)
This means that at first we'll see an electric Focus based on the 2012 mark III model shown here, but also hybrid and PHEV versions of the Focus as well as other top selling Ford products. This has the benefit of flexibility and cost saving because of share components. Since it's hard to precisely predict the demand for electric cars and plug-in hybrids over the next few years, other automakers might be caught with their pants down, having too much or not enough production capacity and assembly lines that were tooled to produce a single model.
If that happens, Ford could be in a better position, switching more of its plants to making EVs or PHEVs, or switching more of them back to regular gas-only vehicles (let's hope that it will be the former and not the latter, though the reality will probably a back and forth between both). This isn't to say that other auto makers would have no flexibility at all, but Ford's approach would probably make it easier for them to adapt to demand.
The main question that remains is: Will people want electric versions of cars that are also available as gas-only models, or will they still prefer something unique that can't be had any other way?