Automotive giant Ford Motor Co. is adding 450 jobs to develop a pickup truck it says will serve as the centerpiece of the latest push to become a major player in the burgeoning electric vehicle industry.
The electric Ranger commercial truck is a notable step for a company that took a beating for failing to embrace electric technologies while being simultaneously criticized for relying on traditional combustion engines, a fact that led many to question its lack of vision.
Ford wants to be a leader in the commercial electric-vehicle market. It launched its first battery-powered delivery van in 2017, the eGolf, which is used by retailers such as Home Depot Inc. to haul bulky merchandise. But it has also been cautious about jumping on the electrification bandwagon, although it has said the new Ranger will use a similar array of technologies as an EV.
Rather than seek partnership with others or seek out the availability of cheaper batteries in an off-the-shelf vehicle, the new electric Ranger is being developed for the open market, said Alan Hall, who heads Ford’s commercial vehicle operations.
“We have the technology to be able to do this,” Hall said in an interview this week. “You can’t get it cheap.”
The new Ranger has been designed with a modular design, so that materials and internal components can be swapped between trucks to better adapt to changing conditions, a tool that allows for performance enhancements when batteries are replaced, Hall said. Ford doesn’t expect to charge the electric Ranger less than $1,000 more than the conventional version of the truck, he said.
The vehicle will have an estimated electric range of more than 250 miles, comparable to current light-duty pickup trucks, Hall said.
Construction of the electrified pickup is expected to start at Ford’s Michigan Assembly Plant near Detroit in September. The company will begin assembling trucks in 2020, with production ramping up through 2022.
While the electric Ranger may represent Ford’s first foray into commercial electric vehicles, the company has been developing more general-purpose battery-powered vehicles for some time, with design inspiration drawn from soccer jerseys.
Range anxiety is one of the biggest challenges facing anyone trying to promote EVs. Outfitting a car or truck with an array of batteries is expensive — and that carries over into the parking lot, where customers must make sure their electric-vehicle charging station doesn’t get too close to the tires of a regular car. And that remains a major impediment for EV drivers in an era when gasoline prices are low.
A lack of charging infrastructure, many believe, holds back the growth of the nascent EVs industry. A 2015 report by consulting firm McKinsey & Co. found that, while annual sales of cars and light trucks will average 2.9 million over the next several years, if only half of those vehicles were electric, total sales would soar to 31 million by 2025.
That could be possible, McKinsey said, if policymakers aggressively developed charging-station infrastructure and gradually phased out gasoline-powered vehicles. And in the case of commercial delivery vans, chargers are also critical for access to larger spaces and power areas.
Among electric vehicle manufacturers, Honda Motor Co. unveiled an electric delivery van and Mitsubishi Motors Corp. has indicated its intention to make a self-driving electric delivery vehicle. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV is preparing to launch an electric sports utility vehicle, while Daimler AG has signaled its intent to follow up on the Mercedes-Benz e-Golf.
Early results for electric vehicles are mixed. While charging infrastructure has developed and consumers have come to accept the technology, actual sales of electric cars in the U.S. have been uneven, partly because most incentives for consumers are targeted at buyers of light-duty pickup trucks.
Gains in market share of buyers who purchase EVs are strongest among those who have not owned a car before. Though car-buying age group seems fairly evenly split, people with a household income under $100,000 account for nearly half of all EV sales, according to data from the research firm Insure.com.