On a newly-launched Medium publication, Ford Motors announces a new effort at electrified vehicles, and teases us with a “Mustang-inspired fully electric performance utility” vehicle with a 300 mile electric range. That’s a lot to swallow at once, so lets break it apart. Ford has launched a new Medium publication, Live Electric, that will no doubt try to portray Ford as being serious about electric vehicles. Ford has a new global product development director, Darren Palmer, in charge of Team Edison, the team that is to be focusing on this goal. And Ford has teased us with a sketchy photo of a 300-mile range “performance utility” electric vehicle that is somehow inspired by the Mustang.
As a Mustang enthusiast – I’ve owned a couple different Mustangs from the 1964-1967 era, and the 1967 model year was my favorite Mustang model (it’s been downhill for Mustangs since then) – let me say that I am aghast at the thought of a “Performance Utility” vehicle (meaning SUV with high performance figures) claiming to be a Mustang. That’s just plainly wrong. Mustangs are sports cars, not SUV’s. I don’t care if this car has the distinctive Mustang tail lights (three vertical stripes on each side), or a galloping horse in the front grill, if it is an SUV then it’s not a Mustang.
With that out of my system …
The initial post on Live Electric is geared to make us believe that this time Ford is serious. But, they’re still maintaining the word electrified and for Ford electrified was a sort of greenwashing. Under the electrified label, Ford shipped a so-so all-electric car, some plug-in hybrids, and some full hybrids. All of these had electric elements in the drive train and therefore Ford used the word electrified.
After several years of watching Ford, and others, use this word it seems likely the word electrified is a calculated sham. It implies an electric drive train, when in reality every company using this word is focusing on hybrid drive trains.
The person who supposedly write the post, Darren Palmer, says at the outset we would be surprised someone like him would take the role of leading electrified vehicle development. He just took delivery of a Shelby GT350R, Ford’s current best attempt to implement the ideal Mustang. He goes on to say:
But as my team and I have quickly found out, the new generation of electric vehicles is just as exciting — only different. Different can be good. Very good.
And that Team Edison has been tasked with setting the future trajectory of Ford Motors.
The thing is that the symbology here is not so good. Over 100 years ago Thomas Edison and Henry Ford famously had their respective companies collaborate on electric vehicle development. Edison’s company was to supply batteries and maybe the drive train components, as well as home charging equipment, while Ford’s company was to build the cars. This original Edison/Ford joint venture ended in a spectacular failure, though.
The key statement may be this:
My team and I are both proud of and energized by the company’s $11 billion investment to bring 16 fully electric vehicles within a global portfolio of 40 electrified vehicles through 2022. All of us here have unknowingly prepared for this our entire careers.
If this pans out it can be a significant move by Ford into the space of electric (and electrified) vehicles. However … I’ve heard interesting things from Ford before, without it resulting in concrete results.
I think it was in 2011 or 2012 that Ford invited me to a couple meetings in San Francisco with Ford executives, one of which was a predecessor to this guy. That head of electrified vehicle product development had worked on Engines for his whole career. The product roadmap at that time focused on vehicle lightening (making the vehicles lighter, such as the aluminum chassis Ford F-150), using turbo-charged engines to implement higher fuel efficiency, and utilizing hybrid drive trains. The roadmap was primarily about better engines, and lighter weight, to implement better fuel economy, and therefore reduce negative air quality impacts. Their development of full-on electric vehicles was to be done later.
Then in 2014 or 2015, Ford held a big scale meeting in San Francisco with a full days agenda of speakers discussing the conjoined problems of global energy supplies, energy security, and climate change, and what Ford might do in response. It was an interesting meeting full of interesting things said by folks. But there wasn’t much of practical concrete results in Ford’s products. The most interesting thing was that Ford had invited Pedego, the electric bicycle company, to show some Ford-branded electric bicycles. Don DiConstanza (Pedego’s CEO) did not tell me much about what this meant for plans. Today there is a Ford-branded bicycle-sharing service, but not using Pedego bicycles.
Another time in 2013 or 2014, Ford invited me to a “pop-up store” thingy in San Francisco where they explained Ford’s use of bio-materials in cars. Rather than continuing to use plastics made from fossil fuels, Ford was beginning to use materials made from biodegradable non-fossil-fuel materials. And to drive the point home, they had a Chef present cooking snacks made from the same sort of bio-stuff that went into making the bio-materials in the cars. That’s all nice, reduction of plastics is a very good thing, but it is not an electrically driven car or truck.
My final point is from this paragraph:
This way of thinking is all part of our new, fast-moving team mantra. In fact, as a reminder of this, I’ve kept one of our first prototypes of the infotainment system for one of our new electric vehicles. It’s literally cardboard, with a piece of a plastic cup stuck to it with tape. What I’m trying to demonstrate is that innovation does not have to be expensive. It has to be smart. And I’m surrounded by some of the smartest people I’ve ever worked with.
He’s talking of a cardboard mockup as an example of a fast moving team? In this day and age when 3D printers are cheap, and virtual reality design is a core part of product development at companies like Ford?
At that “big scale meeting” I mentioned earlier, one of the demo’s showed 3D virtual reality goggles as part of vehicle design. While wearing such goggles, one can take a virtual tour of a vehicle, sit in its virtual passenger cabin, and try in real time various alternative infotainment system designs. No need for a cardboard mockup.
By designing using 3D modeling one can try multiple designs without going through the hassle of building a physical things. And with data science techniques it is possible to try thousands of designs using software to determine the optimal design faster than a human can do.
It was Ford engineers demo’ing the potential of 3D design in virtual reality for fast prototyping. Why is this guy, working for Ford Motors, then proclaiming how a cardboard mockup is faster?
In other words, this announcement by Ford is full of promise. Woohoo an Electric Mustang (of sorts), and 16 fully electric vehicles by 2022 is another Woohoo. But given Ford’s past behavior, we have to parse the promise carefully. Does the phrase “fully electric” mean what we think and hope it means? We won’t know the answer until 2022 or so. It seems best to hold excitement in check until we see practical real proof.
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