If you follow the developments in electric vehicles, the news has revolved around Tesla Motors with a sprinkling of Chevrolet, Nissan, and BMW in the mix. Ford Motor Company, an innovator with the plug-in C-Max and Fusion hybrids along with the electric Focus, has been absent from the conversation for some time. That changed May 28, when Ford announced it would open up its EV patents for purchase and would add 200 engineers specializing in the technology to its Dearborn team, effectively supercharging the company’s electric vehicle program.
According to a statement by the automaker, Ford has 650 electric vehicles patents on the books and over 1,000 more pending. Competitors will be able to purchase them for a fee through the marketplace known as AutoHarvest. Ford said it made the move because “sharing its patented technologies will promote faster development of future inventions as all automakers look toward greater opportunities.” It follows similar moves by Tesla with its EV patents and Toyota with its fuel cell patents.
Listed in Ford’s press release were three examples of EV patents available for purchase under the new open licensing arrangement. Along with a patent for regenerative braking systems was one patent for balancing battery charging (the first of its kind) and a system that provides feedback from driving experiences.
In addition to the announcement regarding the patents, Ford said it would move ahead with research and development in the electric vehicle segment by hiring 200 engineers to work specifically on the technology. They will join the rest of the automaker’s EV team at Ford Engineering Laboratories in Dearborn, where Henry Ford went to work over a century ago. The move serves as a much-needed counteraction for the company in what has been an eventful year for competitors in the electric vehicle space.
Back in January, General Motors shocked the industry with the debut of its Chevrolet Bolt EV, the first long-range affordable concept in the segment. Rumors of a response from Ford circulated for several months but never materialized. GM also introduced the Malibu hybrid and revealed the impressive specs of the 2016 Chevy Volt this year while Ford remained silent.
Meanwhile, a flurry of activity from Kia, Mercedes, BMW, Audi, Volkswagen, and (of course) Tesla in the segment proves the future of the industry hinges on electric vehicle technology. Where once Ford was a strong player with fresh products, sales of cars like the C-Max hybrid and Fusion Energi models have plateaued in 2015 while the Focus Electric has been virtually unmovable.
Ford needed to put a major charge into its electric vehicle plans and, now that the F-150 has proven to be a success, the time appears right for the company to get to work. We’ll see what the patent-sharing and new team of EV engineers can do to jumpstart the process in 2015.