Until recently an also-ran in the battery-electric vehicle market, Ford Motor Co. is on the fast track to become the emerging segment’s second-largest player — though it will face a tough battle during the next couple years as competitors flood the market with new offerings.
In a surprise development, Ford’s first long-range BEV, the Mustang Mach-E SUV, nearly outsold the conventional, gas-powered Mustang coupe in November. And, even though it won’t launch production of its next all-electric model until next June, the F-150 Lightning appears off to a good start. Even after announcing it will double production capacity for the battery-powered pickup, it’s likely to take Ford until well into 2023 before it could meet the advance reservations it already has on hand.
While Tesla continues to dominate the battery-electric vehicle sales charts, primarily with its Models 3 and Y, the Mach-E has sharply cut into its market share this year and could gain even more momentum with the addition of two new variants, the GT and GT Performance Pack.
An unexpected hit
There was plenty of skepticism when Ford introduced the Mach-E in 2020 — especially inside the company where many members of the Mustang team questioned the wisdom of using the iconic pony badge on an SUV, never mind an electric one. And more than a few traditional buyers took to social media to air their grievances.
But such concerns quickly vanished as Mach-E started nabbing awards — among other things being named North American Utility Vehicle of the Year. And sales quickly took off. By mid-2021, demand was starting to outstrip the conventional pony car.
All told, buyers drove off with 6,797 Mustang-badged vehicles in November, including 3,008 of the BEVs. That was the second-best month Mach-E has had, and represents 2% of Ford’s total U.S. sales for the month, a significant showing for a single battery-powered car. Since January, motorists have purchased 24,794 of the electric SUVs.
Add in the automaker’s plug-in and conventional hybrids and, it reported, “Ford’s electrified vehicle sales in November grew at a rate more than three times faster than the overall electrified vehicle segment, taking Ford’s electrified vehicle share to 10% compared to 5.4% last year.This set up a record November on sales of 11,116 electrified vehicles — up 153.6 percent” compared to the prior year.
A grain of salt, perhaps?
The surge of the Mach-E should be viewed with caution, however. Like the rest of the industry, Ford had to idle most of its factories at one point or another this year due to the ongoing semiconductor shortages. But Ford “is putting its semiconductors where it thinks they can help the most,” said Stephanie Brinley, principal auto analyst with IHS Markit, and that has left production of the Mach-E continue virtually uninterrupted.
The story is quite different for Mach-E’s most direct rival. In November, the Ford BEV pushed past the Chevrolet Bolt EV on the sales charts — though that’s at least partially the result of the recalls the Chevy model has experienced. Production of the Bolt was put on hold last month so parent General Motors could address battery-fire problems. A modified battery pack has, for now, been redirected to serve as the replacement for faulty packs for Bolts already on the road. But the Bolt plant in Orion Township, Michigan won’t be back up and running until early next year.
It remains to be seen whether the Chevy model can regain traction in the face of the negative publicity generated by a series of battery fires.
Ford ups its EV aspirations
The strong demand for the Mach-E, as well as the 160,000 reservations confirmed for the F-150 Lightning, have buoyed Ford’s commitment to the battery-car market, CEO Jim Farley told TheDetroitBureau.com in September, following the announcement of a massive manufacturing site Memphis, as well as two new battery plants in nearby Kentucky.
All told, the automaker has bumped up spending plans for BEVs to $30 billion through 2030, about 250% more than it had committed to as recently as mid-2021.
“This is a really pivotal moment for us,” as Ford rapidly shifts its attention away from internal combustion technology, said Lisa Drake, Ford’s chief operating officer, North America, at an investor conference last week.
The automaker has confirmed it has a battery-powered Lincoln SUV, as well as an all-electric Transit van in the works. Beyond that, its specific production plans are still somewhat hazy. It has yet to offer the level of detail provided by key competitors like GM.
Plenty of challengers lining up
The largest of the Detroit automakers is just rolling out the new GMC Hummer EV. The pickup is the first GM model using the automaker’s new Ultium batteries and one of several new, skateboard-like architectures. The all-electric Cadillac Lyriq will follow next year with GM planning to have as many as 30 BEVs in production by mid-decade — though not all will be available in the U.S. market.
Then there’s Volkswagen which introduced its first long-range BEV for the American market, the ID.4. That electric SUV currently is being imported from Europe but production will launch next year after a major expansion at the VW plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
VW has, by far, announced the most aggressive commitment of any manufacturer to go electric, at more than $110 billion this decade. And its CEO Herbert Diess recently confirmed that more models will target the States due to growing demand.
Still more to come
And there are plenty of other competitors coming. Kia hopes to duplicate Ford’s success with the EV6 SUV that is also up for honors as this year’s North American Utility Vehicle of the Year. The Lucid Air, meanwhile, is vying for Car of the Year honors, while the Rivian R1T is one of three finalists in the Truck of the Year category.
Between autumn 2020 and December 2022, TheDetroitBureau.com forecast, the number of all-electric models sold in the U.S. alone will roughly quadruple, to at least 50.
So, there’ll be plenty of other new products looking to push past Ford’s Mustang Mach-E — and take a run at the BEV market’s real dominant force, Tesla.