Have GM and Ford given up on EVs, as many would have us believe? Well, not this week. GM just hired a renowned battery expert as VP of Batteries, and Ford CEO Jim Farley announced that his company has been quietly working on a low-cost platform for smaller EVs for the last two years.
“We made a bet in silence two years ago,” Farley told investors during the company’s recent earnings call, Somewhere in the secret sanctums of Dearborn, a “super-talented skunkworks team” that includes “some of the best EV engineers in the world” has been operating “outside of the Ford mothership.”
“They’ve developed a flexible platform that will not only deploy to several types of vehicles but will be a large install base for software and services,” Farley said, adding that Ford plans to focus more on smaller EVs.
EVs have an affordability problem, as Farley knows as well as anyone. Automakers are selling EVs in the premium segments at premium prices—Ford’s Mustang Mach-E starts around $43,000, and a base F-150 Lightning pickup will cost you $55,000—and they still aren’t making any money. Ford’s EV-focused Model e division lost $4.7 billion in 2023.
A wave of cheaper EVs is on the way. Tesla’s announcement that it’s working on a $25,000 EV has gotten a lot of attention in the more credulous regions of the media sphere, but we’ll start covering that story when we see a prototype. The more imminent threat is coming from China, where automakers have gone beyond the talking stage, and are producing and exporting EVs with eye-catching price tags.
“All of our EV teams are ruthlessly focused on cost, and efficiency, in our EV products,” said Farley. “Because the ultimate competition is going to be the affordable Tesla and the Chinese OEMs.”
That’s what we want to hear, but Mr. Farley’s understanding of the challenge was never really in doubt. The real question is, will Ford and its colleagues muster the sustained commitment needed to produce compelling, low-cost EVs in volume, and sell them in volume? This week, they’re saying yes, but they have a long history of changing their minds from one quarterly earnings report to the next.