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Ford Settles It: Electric Vehicle Gloom & Doom Was Premature – CleanTechnica

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When the Ford Motor Company announced a cutback in its electric vehicle plans last year, it added another drop of misery to the pall of anxiety settling over the zero emission mobility industry. Well, that was then. As the EV sales data for 2024 comes rolling in, Ford is among the automakers clapping back at the EV doubters. The company has adopted a cautionary approach that seems aimed at managing expectations for the near term. Still, the mysterious “skunkworks” low-cost electric vehicle project remains in play over the longer term, raising the possibility of a Model-T scale acceleration in EV adoption.

The Electric Vehicle Crash That Wasn’t

Ford and other automakers reported disappointing electric vehicle sales last year, though in hindsight it turned out to be more a case of misdirected expectations than an actual drop in demand for zero emission cars. “Ford Motor said on Friday it would reduce production of its F-150 Lightning pickup truck, as demand for electric vehicles (EVs) has been lower than expected,” Reuters reported on January 19.

Adjustments to the US tax code also had an impact on EV sales figures in January of this year. In addition, a poor first-quarter 2024 showing by Tesla contributed to the appearance of an industrywide slump. The company continues to dominate electric vehicle sales by volume, enabling it to wield an outsized influence on aggregated global automotive data. In contrast, CleanTechnica editor Zach Shahan points out that at least two comparable brands, Audi and BMW, saw their US sales of electric vehicles skyrocket year-over-year.

A more nuanced picture of the global electric vehicle market emerged after the January 2024 sales figures came in. In February, CleanTechnica received an email from the research firm Rho Motion, letting us know that their number-crunchers totaled up 660,000 electric vehicles sold globally in January of 2023. That set a new record, but January 2024 set an even more new record.

“This year’s January EV sales blew past that mark by 69% for a total of more than 1 million,” we observed.

The Electric Vehicle Name Game: What Works, What Doesn’t

Ford introduced the F-150 Lightning electric pickup truck in 2021 with great expectations in mind, based on the success of its hugely popular F-150 nameplate. That didn’t turn out as planned. In a similar vein, Ford also also introduced the Mach-E electric car under the Mustang nameplate, only to run into another wall of soft demand.

One electric vehicle venture that has panned out for Ford is the electric E-Transit van, which is an electric riff on the company’s top-selling Transit commercial van. Ford unveiled the E-Transit in 2021 without much notice, as much of the automotive press was distracted by the latest news about electric pickups, luxury cars and other areas of excitement.

CleanTechnica noticed the E-Transit, and we’ve been following the van ever since. In a recap a few weeks ago, we noted that the ICE version of the Transit has been “a fixture of commercial transport in Europe since the 1960s.”

“The Transit was a best-kept secret across the pond until Ford introduced it to the US in 2014,” we added. “Ford must have like what it saw, because not too long after that, in 2021, the company tapped the Transit nameplate to shoulder some responsibility for the transportation electrification movement.”

Ford issued a press release in March of this year to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the ICE Transit’s launch in the US. The release also underscored the latest enhancements to the E-Transit brand. Evidently Ford is anticipating that the ICE Transit’s reputation for reliability and longevity will rub off on the electric version.

We’ve assembled more than 1.2 million Transit vans in the last 10 years, and 99% of Transits are still on the road, working hard for customers today,” stated Tim Baughman, the general manager of the company’s Ford Pro Division.

“E-Transit has quickly become the electric van of choice in America, Canada, and Europe, thanks to its versatility,” Ford adds.

The US Postal Service is among those getting the message. USPS featured the E-Transit front and center in a publicity event earlier this year, aimed at highlighting its revamped plans for mail delivery van electrification and charging stations.

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The Future Is Electric, & Hybrid, & Gas (For Now)

Ford’s latest electrification plan indicates that the company is not depending on a torrent of prospective electric vehicle buyers to all of a sudden descend on its dealers. Earlier today the company announced that it will continue to offer ICE vehicles while expanding its hybrid offerings throughout its North American “Ford Blue” roster.

The focus on hybrids is somewhat surprising, but the numbers show that car buyers are still interested in the technology. “In the first quarter of 2024, Ford’s electric vehicle sales increased by 86% and hybrid sales rose 42% versus a year ago,” the company explained.

As a pure-play electric vehicle maker, Tesla still rules the roost in terms of sales volume. However, Ford is not shy about tooting its own horn against that benchmark. “As the No. 2 EV brand in the U.S. for the past two years, we are committed to scaling a profitable EV business, using capital wisely and bringing to market the right gas, hybrid and fully electric vehicles at the right time,” Jim Farley, Ford president and CEO, explained in a press statement.

The plans include a full makeover of Ford’s Oakville Assembly Plant in Ontario, from ICE to electric. The plant will turn out three-row EVs in 2027. Initial plans called for production to start in 2025, but Ford explains that the two-year rescheduling will take advantage of “emerging battery technology.” Back in 2021 we noticed that Ford was eyeballing solid-state EV batteries, so drop us a note in the comment thread if you have any thoughts about that.

At the BlueOval City campus in Tennessee, Ford is prepping its Tennessee Electric Vehicle Center assembly plant for another EV, which Ford describes as its “next all-new electric truck.” If you’re guessing that’s the secret/not-so-secret T3 electric truck project, that’s a pretty good guess. CleanTechnica’s Jennifer Sensiba reported on the T3 project last spring and cited Ford CEO Jim Farley, who described it as “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to revolutionize America’s truck.”

The secret will be out sometime before 2026, when Ford aims to begin delivering the truck to customers.

The Ohio Assembly Plant is also part of the plan. “Additionally, Ford continues its expansion of Ohio Assembly Plant in Avon Lake to produce an all-new electric commercial vehicle for Ford Pro customers beginning mid-decade,” Ford explains. Ford Pro is the company’s fleet vehicle services branch for electric, hybrid, and gas fleet vehicles. The emphasis seems to be on promoting the Lightning pickup and E-Transit van, judging from the up-front content on the Ford website.

Finally, somewhere out in California, the “skunkworks” affordable electric vehicle project is still under way. The automotive press went nuts earlier this year when Ford mentioned the project, though that announcement seemed to be a follow-through from the Ford+ plan, which Ford introduced previously as its blueprint for its transition to electric vehicles.

“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,’” CleanTechnica noted on February 6 of this year.

“Design work continues on Ford’s future-generation EVs. A skunkworks team in California is developing a smaller, low-cost, profitable, flexible EV platform capable of underpinning multiple vehicles at high volumes,” Ford explained in today’s press release.

The skunkworks team is led by Alan Clarke, formerly of Tesla. If some EV fans are disappointed by Ford’s reluctance to let go of its hybrid and gas business, perhaps they will cheer up once that low-cost EV hits the market.

Image (cropped): Ford masterminded the mass production of affordable ICE vehicles in the 20th century, and now it is aiming for a repeat with a forthcoming low-cost EV (courtesy of Ford Heritage archive).

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