Published on January 18th, 2014 | by Zachary Shahan


Ford’s Response To Big Auto Criticism From Tesla Co-Founder

January 18th, 2014 by  

At the end of my recent interview with Mike Tinskey, Ford’s global director of vehicle electrification and vehicle infrastructure, I brought up comments made by Tesla co-founder Marc Tarpenning regarding the internal barriers major car companies (like Ford) face in transitioning to EVs. A key source of those barriers is that these companies now outsource much of the manufacturing (including all of the main electrical stuff, according to Marc), but have kept the engine work in-house, leaving that as the real bread and butter or essence of their competitive advantage. Marc indicated that major auto companies have been getting more serious about electric vehicles within the past few years (for example, many have moved their EV budgets from their PR and advanced propulsion programs to their drive-train programs), but that they are still a long way off from embracing the shift. I asked Mike if he could say a bit about how Ford was approaching the EV transition at this point, about one year after introducing the C-Max Energi and Fusion Energi, plug-in hybrid electric cars that have seen pretty good sales results, together nearly surpassing sales of the Chevy Volt in November and far surpassing sales of the Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid. Unfortunately, we got cut off right as Mike started to answer the question (a problem on my end). The good news is that gave Mike more time to respond at length and in text. Here’s what Mike had to say in response to that super long lead-in:

Ford’s electrification strategy foresees a future that includes different types of electrified vehicles, depending on customers’ needs. ​Ford​ believe​s​ that offering a range of electrified vehicles is the best way to reduce CO2 emissions, deliver leading fuel economy across our lineup and meet different customers’ transportation needs. ​​To do this, we are electrifying global vehicle lines rather than creating a single, special electrified vehicle model. This allows our customers to choose from a variety of electrified vehicle powertrains in a range of vehicle segments, including sedans, utility vehicles, and luxury vehicles.

We are basing our electrified vehicle products on our highest-volume global platforms. This approach offers tremendous opportunities for production economies of scale. For example, the Focus Electric, C-MAX Energi, and C-MAX Hybrid are based on Ford’s next-generation compact, or “C-car” platform, and are being built alongside gas-powered Focus models at Ford’s Michigan Assembly Plant. This plant is the first in the world to build vehicles with five different fuel-efficient powertrain technologies on the same line.

2014 Ford Fusion Hybrid

A photo I took of the 2014 Ford Fusion Hybrid (Energi) after the test drive.
Image Credit: Nicholas Brown / CleanTechnica / Kompulsa

Globally, we expect to build as many as 2 million vehicles per year on the C-car platform. The new Fusion Hybrid and the Fusion Energi PHEV are based on our global mid-sized platform. This flexibility allows us to switch production between different vehicles as needed to meet changing consumer demand. We also share many of the electrified components between the different vehicles. These strategies are key to making electrified vehicles affordable.

​Though we can’t comment on future plans, we are optimistic that our Power of Choice strategy will allow us to provide our customers with the options they want, in an affordable way.


Zach writing again: whether or not a reactive EV strategy that doesn’t build EVs from the ground up is the best path forward is up for debate, but this approach is certainly the lower cost approach for the near future. As is well known, Nissan has taken a different approach, building the Nissan Leaf as an electric car from the ground up, as has Tesla of course. Vehicles better optimized for electric use are the result. However, there’s no denying that we’re at quite an early stage of electric vehicle growth and development. I will leave it up to the various auto companies (Ford and most others) to decide when they think it’s time to jump in more enthusiastically and build models that are only meant to run on electricity. Obviously, I think that the electric revolution is going to come about faster than many conventional auto bloggers and many in the auto industry think, and I think auto companies that delay rather than lead are going to be left in the dust. But we’ll see, and we’ll see how soon auto companies have to really jump into the EV development game in order to gain a strong reputation for their EVs….

Keep up to date with the hottest electric vehicle and other cleantech news and commentary here on CleanTechnica. Subscribe to our free EV newsletter or overall cleantech newsletter to never miss a beat.

Check out our new 93-page EV report, based on over 2,000 surveys collected from EV drivers in 49 of 50 US states, 26 European countries, and 9 Canadian provinces.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

About the Author

is tryin' to help society help itself (and other species) with the power of the typed word. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director and chief editor, but he's also the president of Important Media and the director/founder of EV Obsession, Solar Love, and Bikocity. Zach is recognized globally as a solar energy, electric car, and energy storage expert. Zach has long-term investments in TSLA, FSLR, SPWR, SEDG, & ABB — after years of covering solar and EVs, he simply has a lot of faith in these particular companies and feels like they are good cleantech companies to invest in.

  • Bubba Nicholson

    Happily, building an electric car from the ground up is no longer as daunting as it once was. Tesla has shown the way forward, and Ford need only copy what Tesla has done already, just as these other writers suggest. Or is all the designing really done?
    The best advance is the low positioning of the battery. That seems clear enough. The handling and drivability of a vehicle certainly benefit, although road hazards beneath the car could be improved upon, ever so slightly (as compared to flammable gas tanks).
    Remember Tesla’s difficulty procuring a 2 speed transmission? This follows from Musk’s analysis to optimize efficiency. Supposedly, had the S had a two speed transmission, its efficiency, acceleration, and top speed might have been better performing, perhaps. This problem lends itself well to computer simulation, something Ford can best appreciate and solve for each automotive category rapidly. Ford can continue to glue batteries into oil cars, diminishing risk, so long as they make preparations and investments appropriately.

  • Jim Jacobs

    At least in our case, Mike Tinskey is wrong. We wanted to buy one or two Ford C-Max Energi PHEVs, and even had them ordered, based on a demo ride we had in the C-Max Hybrid at a trade show. We were assured by the Ford representative (not the dealership, but someone actually from Ford), that the Energi PHEV would be exactly the same as the Hybrid. We were very disappointed, and so was our dealership, when the vehicles arrived. The C-Max Hybrid and C-Max Energi are not the same on the interior. The Ford engineers had obliterated the cargo area because they couldn’t think of anywhere else to put the batteries. We are a small, natural food store chain. We wanted to use the vehicles for delivery and as a replacement for our mini-vans which serve that function now, as well as a statement of our commitment to the lifestyle we are promoting. However, with no useable trunk space, we could not use the vehicles for our intended purpose. Had the Ford engineers taken the Tesla or Nissan approach and designed the C-Max Energi to house the batteries under the floor, we, and who knows how many others, would now be owners. As it is, we’re still waiting for a vehicle which meets our needs, but we are unable to communicate this to anyone at Ford. We hope you will forward this comment to Mike Tinskey. Perhaps Ford will design and offer a better C-Max PHEV in the future instead of trying to put us all into a one-size-fits-all vehicle because it’s convenient for their production line.

  • “We are basing our electrified vehicle products on our highest-volume global platforms. This approach offers tremendous opportunities for production economies of scale.”

    In his answer he painfully shows what is wrong with Big Auto thinking: inward looking. It’s not about the customer and creating a compelling product: it’s only about efficient production. And so they ended up putting the battery for the Focus Electric in the boot. Like a garage hobbyist would do 5 years ago. Sad.

    Oh, and by the way, the drive train for the Focus electric was developed by… No, not Ford. It was Magna.

    They simply don’t get it.

  • JamesWimberley

    The legacy manufacturers think they can manage the transition cheaply, for example by changing the balance between ICE and battery in their hybrids, The problem with this evolutionary strategy is that the pure EV makers will be offering superior performance (apart from range) and handling, on platforms that are simpler and cheaper to build (apart from the battery). At some point pure EVs will become clearly superior, depending only on battery price and capacity, Three years or six? I’d be surprised if the battle were not over by 2020.

    • Fully agree with you… as is often the case. 😀

    • Jonas

      I imagine these multiple platform offerings will be expensive. I predict well designed EVs, dominated only by Tesla currently, will clearly prove any competitor with a combustion engine is not good enough. I think that will happen in few years and I doubt companies like GM and Ford will see the return on investment on these hybrid platforms.

  • Steeple

    Nice insight, Zach. Standardization works for a commodity application like IPods. Transportation requires a variety of choices to meet various lifestyles.

Back to Top ↑