Chasing Tesla: Ford's Working on a Long-Range, Affordable EV

Jim Motavalli

Jim Motavalli | Apr 29, 2016

Now Ford is on the hunt, too. Tesla threw down the gauntlet when it announced that it would introduce a 200-mile-range, $35,000 Model E. GM then said they’d do the same with the rhymes-with-Volt Bolt, but would beat Tesla by having it out this year.

By securing 400,000 advance reservations, Tesla's Model 3 is the bad boy everybody wants to beat. (Tesla Motors photo).
By securing 400,000 advance reservations, Tesla's Model 3 is the bad boy everybody wants to beat. (Tesla Motors photo).

Ford was quiet, as it mostly has been on pure EVs, but not anymore. It told Tesla it has ownership rights to the name Model E, spoiling the company’s plans to have a lineup that spelled S-E-X. Instead, the Model 3 was born—and is doing just fine, if 400,000 advance reservations are any evidence.

And now the other shoe has dropped—Ford, too, is building a long-range, relatively cheap EV, and maybe that will be the Model E.

CEO Mark Fields said in a conference call that it wants to be a leader in the segments it contests in, including electric cars. “Our EVs come down to making sure we’re the best or among the leaders in those areas,” he said. “When you look at some of the competition, clearly that’s something we’re developing for.”

This category is getting rarefied. Tesla keeps ramping up the pressure, and sources say that Model 3s will be available in premium versions with under-four-second zero to 60 times, and top 300 miles of range. That’s classic Tesla, because the Model S keeps adding more expensive performance editions.

What’s going on here, though? Isn’t everybody squawking that electric car sales are flat because of cheap gas? Why are automakers racing to develop cutting-edge cars with plugs? It’s simple enough—the public wants EVs with lots of range, and Tesla-like performance. If it can also be cheaper, like the Model 3, sometimes the result is all those advance reservations. Remember, the insane Model S often outsells the BMW 7-Series and the Mercedes S-Class.

Karl Brauer, a senior analyst at Kelley Blue Book, says, “It’s ironic that we’re seeing a new push to pure EVs with a realistic driving range, even as fuel prices in the U.S. are at record lows. It will be a true test of the technology, and the concept of 200 miles being a sufficient range, if consumers embrace these models in a world of sub-$3-a-gallon gasoline. Ford’s commitment to an all-new, pure EV will also spur competition in this area. I fully expect similar announcements from Honda, Hyundai, Toyota and VW in the coming months.”

Ford has six electrified cars branded either as Fords or Lincolns, but no impressive battery vehicle. The Ford Focus Electric is an under-the-radar project, designed to comply with federal regulations.

Chevrolet's Bolt is meeting Tesla spec-for-spec. But does it have the mojo? (Chevrolet photo)
Chevrolet's Bolt is meeting Tesla spec-for-spec. But does it have the mojo? (Chevrolet photo)

Let’s look at what’s selling. The Model S is the undisputed plug-in sales champ, with an estimated 3,990 sold in March. The Ford Focus Electric moved just 110 units in the same time period. People don’t even know it’s available.

It’s interesting to note that the plug-in hybrid category is getting crowded, and they’re doing OK—including two Ford entries—but the original, the Chevy Volt is still the undisputed sales champ, second only to the Tesla with 1,865 sales in March.

So game on for competitive battery electrics, Model 3 vs. Model E vs. Bolt. And, as Brauer says, probably more to come. It’s good news for consumers, who will be able to buy the performance EVs of their dreams for rock-bottom prices, even if the $7,500 federal subsidy goes away. And gas prices are rising, so that should help, too.

The prospect is for electric cars with more range, more performance and more convenience than their internal-combustion rivals. If that formula doesn’t move some product, people aren’t paying attention.

On video, here's the latest on Tesla's advance reservations for the Model 3, which seem to be leveling out at around 400,000:


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