Nothing succeeds like success. A few years ago, Ford took a flyer on the Mustang Mach-E. I know an engineer who works for the Blue Oval team who told me in 2019 that car was more or less an afterthought, a “Let’s run it up the flagpole to see if anyone salutes” idea. Initially, Ford thought it might be able to sell 30,000 of them a year. But a funny thing happened on the way to the marketplace. Not only did plenty of people salute, they brought lots of others along with them to salute the EV flag as well. Pretty soon, Ford had a hit on its hands, one it wasn’t quite prepared for.
Now it seems the Mustang Mach-E that was going to be built in compliance car numbers has more customers waiting for it than the company ever thought possible. First it raised its production goal to around 70,000 a year, and now it says it is tripling that goal to 200,000 cars a year in 2023. That, in turn, is forcing the company to rethink its plans for other electric cars it has in the pipeline.
→ Related CleanTechnica exclusive from August: “Exclusive: Ford Mustang Mach-E Production Capacity Could Be 175,000 Vehicles A Year! (Maybe).”
Citing a report by Automotive News (subscription required), Electrive says Ford was planning to make a battery-electric version of the Ford Explorer and Lincoln Aviator at the Cuautitlan factory in Mexico where the Mustang Mach-E is built. (Mach-Es for Chinese customers are manufactured in China by Changan.) But the new production goal for the Mach-E means there is no room at the Mexican factory for those two new models, and so Ford is scrambling to find other locations to make them. The upshot is that those two cars, which were scheduled to go into production in the middle of 2023, will not appear until late 2024 at the earliest.
Lisa Drake, COO Ford North America, said in an interview recently, “We had previously contemplated building an additional electric vehicle down there in Cuautitlan but our first priority right now is to scale production of the Mach-E given that demand. Our production system is very flexible by design, and we’ll utilize multiple North American plants as we build out our future North American lineup.” She did not, however, give any indication about where the electric Explorer/Aviator twins would be manufactured.
Batteries Are The Issue
Tesla began construction of its first battery factory — Gigafactory 1 in Nevada — in 2015. The first battery cells emerged from that factory in 2016. Ford plans to construct two battery factories in America together with SK Innovation, but they aren’t expected to start producing battery cells until 2025 at the earliest. In the meantime, Ford is getting battery cells for the Mach-E from LGES in Poland. Apparently it has access to enough of them to meet the demand for the Mach-E, but not for the F-150 Lightning. Electrive says the battery scarcity is why Ford has stopped taking reservations for its electric pickup truck.
Recently Ford CEO Jim Farley told CNBC, “We’ll get the semiconductors, that’s a matter of prioritizing the (battery-electric vehicles) over the (internal combustion engine) vehicles. The issue is batteries. That’s what we have to solve.” He added that Ford will do “whatever it takes” to double production capacity for the electric F-150. Only later will it be able to supply batteries for other electric cars like the Explorer and Aviator.
Elon Musk saw the need for battery factories almost a decade before everyone else. If Tesla is leading the EV revolution today — which it most definitely is — it is only because it has the batteries it needs to meet demand. Everyone else is a lap or two behind and running hard to catch up. Some will succeed, but many will not.
The race does not always go to the swift. Toyota, among others, seems to think there are advantages to being a second mover — someone who can swoop in late in the game and capitalize on the latest battery technology and the existence of public charging networks that others created. That’s a strategy. Whether it is a good strategy remains to be seen.