After a year of General Motors and Tesla dominating electric vehicle news, people have rightly wondered what Ford was going to do about it. Would the Chevy Bolt EV and Model 3 make their debuts without a Blue Oval entry on the table? According to Ford CEO Mark Fields, the doubts can finally be laid to rest: A 200-mile EV is in the works in Dearborn. Such a product may even have an edge on the competition when EV incentives are tallied.
Fields, reporting record profits to investors during the company’s first-quarter conference call, addressed the electric elephant in the room when asked directly about the 200-mile benchmark. “Our electric vehicle will be … we want to make sure we are among the best or the leaders in those areas.” he said. “When you look at the competitors, what they’ve announced, clearly that’s something … we are developing for.”
While we see some dancing around a concrete answer there, Fields made it clear Ford wants “to make sure that we are either among the leaders or a leadership position in the product segments that we are in.” Such a position in 2017 and beyond is 200 miles of range in an electric car costing $37,500 or less before incentives.
So far, we have seen prototypes from GM and Tesla, while Nissan reportedly has a car in the works that would meet the same parameters. Prior to hinting at the future car to compete with announced models, Ford was content to inch forward with the second-generation Focus Electric, which will get an upgrade to 100 miles of range and fast-charging capabilities in 2016.
Though unremarkable compared to promised vehicles, only one car below $40,000 currently offers more than 100 miles: Nissan Leaf SV and SL. By next year, only the Chevy Bolt EV will be on the market, so Ford can at least stay relevant for the time being. Its biggest edge comes in the number of $7,500 tax credits it will have available — far more than Nissan, Tesla, or GM.
We estimate GM will have 80,000 tax credits left below the 200,000 limit when the Bolt EV launches; it will split them with the Volt until reaching the limit. Tesla may have as few as 60,000 credits left when the Model 3 arrives, and it has both the Model S and Model X to share them. Nissan’s future is less complicated: Leaf is the brand’s only electric model, and it would have about 70,000 credits left if it sold EVs at the same volume and debuted a 200-mile option in 2018.
Ford, which sold just over 59,000 eligible models through 2015, may only have 90,000 plug-in models sold by the start of 2018. In this scenario, Ford would be able to offer 110,000 next-gen EV buyers a product that could be guaranteed to be $7,500 less expensive, assuming another 31,000 sales by then, which would be a slight decline for the coming years. (Ford Fusion Energi and Ford C-Max Energi sold about 17,000 models combined in 2015.)
There are many variables to consider here as well. Tesla clearly has a massive edge in enthusiasm over anything coming from Detroit or Japanese manufacturers. Model 3 would be the EV most likely to top the pack in performance and cachet. But is it worth another $7,500? The mass market does not operate like the one where Tesla currently operates.
Given a choice between a quality Ford EV at $27,000 and a Tesla at $35,000 in late 2018, the Blue Oval could find a lot of takers.