About a decade ago, electric vehicle entries were farcical. Simply an inconvenience for car companies to make. Expensive and slow-selling, automakers held their tongue and built them anyway, largely due to regulatory pressure to offset the perceived carbon footprint of popular pickup trucks and SUVs. Fast forward ten years, and we’re seeing an unprecedented commitment from automakers to build next-generation electric vehicles in multiple segments, including full-size pickup trucks, utility vehicles, and even performance cars. Ford Motor Company is a standout example of this, going from the unsatisfactory, 115-mile Ford Focus EV, to the 300-plus mile Mustang Mach-E electric SUV, and upcoming F-150 Lightning full-size electric pickup truck.
What was the catalyst in this shift in priorities? If you ask Ford Motor Company executive Hau Thai-Tang, it was “Tesla.”
Hau Thai-Tang currently serves as chief product platform and operations officer for Ford Motor Company. He was formerly Ford’s chief product development & purchasing officer and was globally responsible for overseeing all aspects of the company’s product design, engineering, and development, as well as purchasing operations. He reports to Ford CEO Jim Farley.
How Ford Motor Company Will Fight Tesla
While Tesla may be the brand du jour for the nuevo riche and pseudo-technology cultists (stop calling a Level 2 ADAS system “Autopilot”), it’s abundantly clear that Elon Musk and the Tesla stans may have changed the automotive industry landscape forever. However, automakers like Ford Motor Company are onto it, and have since made serious inroads on the trail Tesla has crudely paved.
“We have the scale. We can re-use the motors, the battery cells, the inverters, the chargers, across the vehicles – we have a lot of scale,” explained Thai-Tang. “But the rest of a vehicle that’s propulsion agnostic: the chassis, interior, seats, IP, HVAC can be shared with our ICE (internal combustion engine) vehicles. We have five million vehicles built, Tesla is trying to get up to one million.”
The Ford Mustang Mach-E electric SUV is a current testament to how serious the automaker is about electric vehicles these days. Leveraging the Mustang branding, design language and rather impressive vehicle dynamics, the controversially named SUV has managed to spark enough interest and sales to erode the market share of the Tesla Model 3, which is its direct rival.
The next chapter in Ford’s EV story will be the Ford F-150 Lightning electric pickup truck, which currently holds over 120,000 reservations. Unlike the Tesla Cybertruck, the F-150 Lightning maintains a more approachable design language, and has all of the functionality that mass market fleet companies require of their trucks. It even has a proper steering wheel. The Lightning also leverages the heritage of the bygone F-150 Lightning sport truck, and honors the name with a 0-60 time of just 4.4 seconds. A metric which President Joe Biden leaked to the media.
Others Have Tried, Few Have Succeeded
Despite the commitment made by Ford Motor Company – $30 billion on electric vehicle development through the year 2030 – the argument still exists that people don’t actually want just any electric vehicle, but rather they simply want a Tesla. Look no further than the floundering sales of many European electric vehicle entries. All of which were in an attempt to dethrone Elon’s EV company from its perch – something many analysts though would happen. It so far has not gone as well as hoped, with total USA EV sales even dropping 11 percent in 2020 (although we have the pandemic to thank for that). Nevertheless, Hau Thai Tang thinks that Tesla would still be a highly aspirational product even if it weren’t producing electric vehicles.
Ironically, Hau Thai-Tang was once approached by Tesla in 2007 to be CEO of the company, according to Power Play: Tesla, Elon Musk and the Bet of the Century, a recently published book by Wall Street Journal reporter Tim Higgins. The company eventually named Ze’ev Drori as CEO in late 2007, who was replaced only a year later by Elon Musk.