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Tina Casey headshot

Ford Brushes Off Doubts About Electric Vehicles With $11 Billion Pledge

By Tina Casey

A recent survey by KPMG indicates that the auto industry is still committed to electric vehicles, despite a fairly large population of doubters among executives and consumers alike. Well, it looks like The Ford Motor Company does not have any of those skeptics in its ranks. At this week's North American International Auto Show in Detroit, the company pledged an $11 billion investment in EVs by 2022.

Ford doubles down on electric vehicles

The new $11 billion pledge more than doubles a $4.5 billion electrification plan that Ford launched in 2015.

Highlights of the 2015 plan included the addition of 13 new electric vehicles to the Ford line  by 2020.

The company also pledged that globally, more than 40 percent of its nameplates would include electric vehicles by 2020.

Ford's new EV plan is even more ambitious. As reported in The Detroit Free Press, the company plans to introduce 16 all-electric vehicles by 2022, and 22 more electric vehicles that are plug-ins or hybrids.

That's a huge leap forward from the current roster, which includes just one all-electric vehicle.

What about fuel cell EVs?

All of the vehicles included in Ford's plan run on batteries. That may disappoint hydrogen fans, who are waiting for the company to join the emerging hydrogen fuel cell EV market.

That may take a while. Last year Business Insider took a long look at Ford's fuel cell EV dilemma. Back in 2013 Ford paired with Mercedes-Benz and Nissan on hydrogen fuel cell development, but the usual obstacles -- price and fuel station availability -- are still holding the company back.

On the positive side, Ford CTO Raj Nair sees some indication that fuel cells will gain traction in the heavy-duty vehicle market, where fuel cells offer lighter weight and quicker fueling times than battery packs.

That's in accord with recent moves by GM, which is working with the U.S. Army on hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. The startup Nikola is also moving forward with plans to market a long-haul fuel cell truck, in tandem with fueling stations that can produce renewable hydrogen on site.

Another approach is illustrated by UPS, which has customized a delivery van to run on electricity generated by a hydrogen fuel cell.

Ford is firming up its marketing plans for a hybrid version of the F-150 pickup, and those plans include pitching the battery pack as a source of portable power. If the electric version sells well, that could provide Ford with a window for accelerating its fuel cell activity.

Electric vehicles winning hearts and minds

Ford has its marketing work cut out for it. At the Detroit auto show, Executive Chairman Bill Ford Jr. emphasized that the company is committed to electric vehicles, even if consumers still have some doubts:

"We're going to electrify even our most iconic vehicles," he said at Cobo Center. "The only question is, will the customer be there with us?"

That's a good question, considering the results of the KPMG auto industry survey. Although overseas auto buyers are coming over to the electric side, the U.S. auto buyers in the survey are still more inclined to make their next new car purchase on the internal combustion side.

Ford's plans for winning hearts and minds include electrifying iconic models like the F-150, which are already deeply embedded in American culture.

The company is also taking advantage of the relatively strong interest in electric vehicles overseas. As described by the Free Press, the company is working on plans to expand in China's "rapidly growing" EV market.

Ford has put considerable muscle behind the electrification effort. Here's a snippet from the company's website:

The expanded engineering capabilities enabled by the Ford Engineering Laboratory will allow the team to control a network of world class facilities in China, England, Germany, and the U.S. Through this network, the EPE team will take advantage of globally connected technologies to develop light, durable EV batteries.

Evidently Ford sees the EV market evolving rapidly, with a speed beyond the capabilities of conventional product development.

The plans include new virtual battery testing technology that will help the company accelerate its R&D while cutting down costs related to fabricating prototypes.

Image: via Ford.


Tina Casey headshot

Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes.

Read more stories by Tina Casey