Jim Hackett, president and CEO, Ford Motor Company, and VW chief Herbert Diess. Source: Ford
Jim Hackett, president and CEO, Ford Motor Company, and VW chief Herbert Diess. Source: Ford

American carmaker Ford is turning its focus to a cleaner transport future, with plans for 16 all-electric models already underway, and a partnership with German carmaker Volkswagen now confirmed.

The first of Ford’s foray into electric cars could come as soon as 2020, according to comments made by the US auto giant’s chief, Jim Hackett, on Sunday in Detroit.

Talking ringside with CNBC’s Phil LeBeau about the future of the company, Hackett said,”We have 16 models that are in design and development.

“We’ve got a pretty big surprise coming next year.”

The news came as Ford presented its new Explorer SUV models at the Detroit Show, which include the Explorer ST ICE as well as a hybrid variant.

The hybrid is commendable, however the carmaker’s press release on the new Explorer models states merely that, “An EPA-estimated range of more than 500 miles between gas station fill-ups is targeted for the rear-wheel-drive model.”

No battery specs are mentioned in the technical specifications, and it would seem there is no ability to plug-in.

Hackett spoke at length about Ford’s gradual strategy to move towards electric, which differs greatly from GM’s recent announcement of a dramatic restructure – largely because Ford has remained “fit”, as Hackett puts it.

However against a backdrop of falling profits (27 per cent from the same period in 2017 to 2018), the CEO admitted that, “some of the pain in the margins additionally [is] because the vehicles are old.

“We have, on average, the oldest fleet in the industry and we are going to have, on average, the newest fleet. 75 per cent of the portfolio is being turned over.”

Hackett’s view on electric vehicles seems to be that the time has finally come where EVs have settled enough in the mainstream market for Ford to embrace them without being seen as abandoning its mainstay gas-lovin’ audience.

“Early generations of EVs were like science projects – they attacked a narrow segment of the market that had a good head about society and performance environmentally.

“These [new EV] products will appeal to car owners and car lovers and they meet both of those other objectives,” he said.

Hackett would not confirm rumours of a partnership between Ford and German carmaker Volkswagen on Sunday when questioned, although he did hint that the cost of developing new platforms and the risk of uptake might be considerations for Ford.

And the two carmakers have since confirmed that they will indeed join forces in a conference call to media on Tuesday.

Although the partnership will initially focus on commercial vans and pickups (utes), the alliance has also stated in a press release that, “Volkswagen and Ford also are committed to exploring potential collaboration on EVs, autonomous vehicles and mobility services“.

“It is no secret that our industry is undergoing fundamental change, resulting from widespread electrification, ever stricter emission regulation, digitization, the shift towards autonomous driving, and not least the changing customer preferences,” Volkswagen chief Herbert Diess told media during the call.

“Carmakers around the globe therefore are investing heavily to align their portfolios to future needs and accelerate their innovation cycles.

“In such an environment, it just makes sense to share investment,” he said.

Hackett agreed, saying “You can’t do this alone.”

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