Auto Industry

Ford shifts strategies to focus on hybrids, SUVs

New faces include include Shelby GT500, Bronco, F-Series HD and Ranger

Ford Future Off-Road SUV

DEARBORN, Michigan – Ford Motor Co. is sharpening its focus on the hybrid electrics market and taking dead aim to overtake Toyota by 2021 as America’s top seller of hybrids and plug-in hybrid vehicles. It’s part of a leaner, aggressive corporate strategy the 115-year-old automaker announced in a media session at its Dearborn development centre.

In addition to the drive to build more hybrids, Ford brass also announced it’s revamping its product portfolio, replacing 75% of its existing models and adding four new nameplates to its lineup, including two new off-road SUVs. By 2020, it plans to have North America’s freshest showroom lineup among full-time automakers, cutting the average showroom age of its offerings from 5.7 years to 3.3. Ford intends, for example, to reduce the time it takes for a vehicle to move from the sketchpad to the showroom by 20%.

“Our passion for great vehicles is stronger than ever,” said Jim Hackett, Ford president and CEO. “This showroom transformation will thrill customers, drive profitable growth and further build toward our future of smart vehicles in a smart world.”

While it intends to muscle its way to the forefront in the hybrid-electric market, Ford also plans to parlay its current strength in the truck/SUV segment as a foundation for growth. Its redesigned F-150, introduced in 2014 with an industry-first aluminum body and box, has been well received, resulting in a 1.3% increase in market share and an increase of $6,700 US in the average transaction price (in the U.S.) Ford’s president of global markets, Jim Farley, said F-Series revenues ($41 billion US) alone last year exceeded such global business icons as Coca-Cola and Nike.

Farley said that success is expected to continue as Ford adds new models and powertrains, such as the F-150’s new 3.0-litre Power Stroke diesel coming this year; an updated version of the popular Raptor model; the 2019 debut of the new mid-size Ranger and F-Series Super Duty lineup; and in 2020, a new hybrid F-150 that will include a built-in mobile generator.

Commitment to SUVs

To demonstrate its commitment to the booming SUV segment, which Ford predicts could account for 50% of the U.S. retail market by 2020, the company is reallocating $7 billion from cars to SUV development. It intends to have a portfolio of eight SUVs by 2020, with five offering hybrid powertrains and one as a pure battery-electric vehicle.

After recently launching two all-new models – the subcompact EcoSport and full-size Expedition – Ford will be unveiling new versions of the Escape and Explorer next year. Those two models account for 70% of the company’s SUV volume.

The SUV portfolio will also include a pair of new entries – the much-anticipated Bronco, which makes its debut in 2020, and a small off-road utility model, currently unnamed, that will target Jeep buyers.

“Ford helped start the off-road phenomenon and has majored in off-road capability for decades – from the Bronco to the Raptor,” said Farley. “Now, we’re ready to reclaim our rightful place as the off-road vehicle leader.”

Farley added that these new vehicles are designed to attract a growing group of buyers “who want to simplify their life and get out there with their family and friends." However, Ford is taking a different approach in the way it will appeal to the segment. "For Jeep, that's rock-crawling in Moab. We want to give our people true off-road vehicles that are comfortable at higher speeds, on two-track trails and do well in deep sand on the beach. They don't want their SUVs to look like doomsday vehicles or have spartan, government-issued interiors."

Ford also plans to add a Mustang-inspired battery-electric SUV to its future lineup. The new model, tentatively dubbed the Mach 1, is designed to demonstrate that battery-electric vehicles can deliver exciting performance, as well as efficiency.

"That vehicle is going to be famous without having to shoot it up in space," Farley said, referring to Elon Musk's stunt last month when a Tesla Roadster was launched on a SpaceX rocket.

The emphasis on SUVs with a flair for performance will be expanded in Ford’s “conventional” models, as well. The performance-enhanced Edge ST will be in showrooms later this year, followed by an ST version of the Explorer. They will be part of Ford Performance’s plans to offer 12 new ST models by 2020.

Focus on hybrids

The company’s increased focus on hybrid powertrains won’t be limited to SUVs, although it now plans to offer a hybrid alternative on every SUV it launches in North America. Already the No. 2 seller of hybrids in the US, Farley said Ford aims to overtake Toyota for top spot by making hybrids mainstream with its highest-volume, most profitable vehicles, such as the F-150, Mustang, Explorer and Escape.

“Hybrids are so much more than fuel economy. For Mustang, it’s a performance play. Just imagine that V-8 acceleration from a hybrid. For F-150, the story is about helping owners do their jobs. They’ll get more low-end torque for pulling power – plus the benefit of a mobile generator. And for our SUVs, it’s about maximizing capability, plus serving as a hedge against higher fuel prices.”

Ford’s new hybrids will offer customers more space than today’s iterations, while the new powertrain system is designed to be more efficient and less expensive than previous generations. The lower costs have been achieved through supply base relationships, using common cell and component design and by manufacturing its own motors, transmissions and battery.

“Hybrids for years have been mostly niche products, but they’re now on the cusp of a mainstream breakout,” Farley said. “The valuable capability they offer – plus fuel efficiency – is why we’re going to offer hybrid variants of our most popular and high-volume vehicles, allowing our loyal, passionate customers to become advocates for the technology.

More than a science project

"We've moved past hybrids being a science project. Hybrids are accepted, reliable technology, the same as EcoBoost."

Ford’s new performance battery electric SUV is slated to debut in 2020. It will be the first of six pure EVs coming by 2022 as part of the company’s $11 billion global electric vehicle investment. In an effort to make EV ownership more attractive, Ford is looking at strategies to make recharging effortless at home and on the road, as well as offering full-vehicle over-the-air software updates to enhance capability and features.

“Throwing a charger in the trunk of a vehicle and sending customers on their way isn’t enough to help promote the viability of electric vehicles,” said Sherif Marakby, Ford’s vice president of autonomous and electric vehicles. “In addition to expanding our electric vehicle lineup, we are redesigning the ownership experience to ensure it addresses customer pain points that currently hold back broad adoption.”

Keeping people safe

The company will continue to develop features that keep people safe. A new suite of advanced driver-assistance technologies – Ford Co-Pilot360 – will be available on nearly every Ford product by 2020. The package includes safety and assist features that have been introduced in recent years but will now be rolled into a single package, much like Toyota did with its Safety Sense package. The standard Co-Pilot360 package includes emergency braking for vehicles and pedestrians, blind spot monitor, lane-keeping assist, backup camera, and auto high beams. The standard suite can be upgraded with additional packages of driver-assist features.

In addition to revamping its product portfolio and shifting its focus to hybrids and SUVs, Ford aims to make its vehicle-building process more efficient, with a target of improving engineering efficiencies and reduce costs by $4 billion over the next five years. For example, it plans to reduce its plant changeover time by 25%.

Also, to improve efficiency (and profitability), Ford is reducing the number of platforms its uses for its products globally to just five flexible, modular architectures: front-wheel unibody, rear-wheel-drive unibody; commercial unibody; body-on-frame, and battery electric. The number of combinations offered for ordering will also be reduced, simplifying vehicle ordering for dealers while improving quality and complexity – and significantly reducing costs. Joe Hinrichs, president of global operations, cited moonroofs as an example. Instead of the seven iterations now offered, he said the ordering process will be cut to just two or three. Daimler made similar cuts to improve efficiency when it merged with Chrysler several years ago.

To complete the media briefing with some typical Ford swagger, the wraps were taken off the new Mustang Shelby GT500, described as the baddest Mustang ever. While specific numbers weren’t revealed, expect this bad boy to have at least 700 horsepower under its hood.

Auto Industry | Green Cars | New Cars

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