The future of the electric car is a matter of much conjecture. Last week at the SAE World Convention in Detroit, Kevin Layden, director of electrification programs and engineering for Ford, told the press his company has no plans to join the electric car range race. Instead, it will introduce a new Focus Electric with 100 miles of range this fall. The Focus Electric currently has 76 miles of range.
“I think right now with the launch of the Focus Electric at 100 miles, it is going to satisfy a big chunk of the population,” said Layden. “It’s going to be really affordable and a step up from where we are now.” Less range means the car can use a battery pack that is smaller, lighter, and less costly.
Last week, a survey by National Renewable Energy Laboratory was released that says most people thinking about the purchase of an electric car consider range and price the two most important factors. Most said they would like a car with 300 miles of range that costs less than $30,000. No such car exists at present, of course. More range costs more money. A lower purchase price means less range. There is no way to reconcile those two competing factors.
This is a remarkable statement coming just a few weeks after the stupendously successful launch of the Tesla Model 3. Tesla now has more than 400,000 reservations for its new car and that number continues to rise. Chevrolet says its Bolt will have “at least” 200 miles of range and will be in showrooms before the end of this year.
During the SAE conference, several speakers said a range of at least 200 miles is needed to alleviate consumers’ range anxiety about battery-powered cars. From a driver’s perspective, maximum possible range is not the issue. What matters is how far they can go and still have a comfortable reserve so they don’t have to worry about being stopped on the side of the road with a depleted battery.
In general, drivers only plan to make use of a about 2/3 of a battery’s maximum capacity, whatever it may be. If a car has 100 miles range, the driver starts worrying about range at about 65 miles or so. If a car has 300 miles if range, anxiety levels rise at around the 200 mile mark. It’s just human nature. There are lots of people driving conventional cars who start thinking about getting gas when the gas gauge gets below half. Very few drive around with less than a quarter of a tank of gas.
Last December, Ford said it would spend $4.5 billion to rejuvenate its electrified vehicle lineup. If its plans for the Focus Electric are an indication of how it looks at the market for electric cars, it will be content to be the bargain basement brand. That may be good for moving a lot of product but not necessarily good for generating a lot of revenue.
Ford, like FiatChrysler, does not seem to be all in on the electric car future the way Tesla Motors is. Which strategy makes the best business case won’t be known for 5 to 10 years. But Ford seems to be positioning itself to get left behind as the market transitions to the electric car era.
Source: Automotive News