Ford F-150 Lightning and Mustang Mach-E, image provided by Ford.

Putting Two Ford Announcements Together Shows Us How It Thinks About EV Range

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A few days before Ford announced it was going to use Tesla’s plug for future vehicles, the company had a range of other announcements. The big news stuffed those bits of news into the memory hole somewhat rapidly, before many of us had a chance to unpack them further. In this article, I want to circle back to some of that “old” Ford news and cover some important things we shouldn’t miss, especially in light of that Tesla/NACS announcement.

We All Want Tons Of Range

Range is a big selling point for EVs, especially in the United States. Sure, most of us only drive a few dozen miles a day at most, and 90% of our drives are within range of home, so an EV with even 100 miles of range would suffice for nearly all of our driving. But, for those occasional roadtrips, we need more range. An EV with 200 miles of range might only go 160 miles at highway speeds, and even less if you’re on stretches of western roads where going 80 MPH is perfectly legal and going 85 or even 90 probably won’t get you pulled over.

There are more range challenges, too. Not only are there many places in the United States without decent charging infrastructure, but electric trucks are increasingly capable of towing heavy loads that could cut range more than in half, and that’s before you start factoring in things like terrain (and steep hills often accompany rural areas where charging infrastructure is sparse).

So, an EV with even 400 miles of range would still have many places it couldn’t reach. No charging stations, steep mountain roads, and towing a trailer can best even the best of EVs with the largest battery packs for the job.

Once again, this is a rare challenge for most people, but nobody wants to buy 90% of a car. If a vehicle only provides enough range for 90% of anticipated driving tasks, it means that you’ll need a second vehicle (likely powered by gas or diesel) to accomplish the rest. So, getting EVs in driveways means providing lots of range because (even if only in our own minds), we’re all hardened road warriors.

Why Ford Isn’t Going To Build 600-Mile EVs

There are some important limits to consider when taking the “more is more” philosophy to EV range and battery size.

One of the biggest ones is efficiency. If you only achieve more range by adding in more and more battery cells, you can greatly increase the weight of the vehicle. You can easily get to the point where returns on range diminish, and each subsequent kilowatt-hour of energy storage delivers less range than the last did. The end result is arriving at absurd places, like the GMC Hummer EV (9,000 pounds with less than stellar range).

When you dedicate so much battery (hundreds of kWh) to a vehicle, you start to create problems for any company trying to ramp up EV production. If batteries are double the size, you can only build half as many EVs. If they’re 4x the size of a normal EV, you’ve lost 75% of your production ability and set the company back by years, if not decades (or, just straight into the dirt).

Ford’s CEO also pointed out that going for 600 miles of range starts to get to the point where it’s just not profitable. The cost it would take, even at projected future battery prices (which could be wrong), ends up being more than most customers would be willing to bear.

So, once again, we see Ford doing things the Tesla way, and in this case, it’s very much just the right way to do it. Ford is focusing on building efficient vehicles that can do more with less, which will help it keep costs low and profits higher. It will also enable the company to actually ramp up production and take a reasonably large chunk of the future EV market instead of continuing to build EVs in what Tesla would consider boutique numbers.

What The Rest Of The Industry Needs To Learn From This

One thing that’s absolutely key to the CEO’s comments was something we only found out later: Ford was just absolutely done with trying to rely on a messy and dysfunctional CCS charging network. The company didn’t announce it for a few more days, but obviously, this was already the course Ford had set itself on.

Trying to do things the Tesla way and focus on efficiency means that vehicles are going to need to rely on charging infrastructure more than they would with huge battery packs. When that infrastructure isn’t up to par, the vehicle ends up falling short of customer needs and expectations. When that happens, the problem of “I don’t want to buy 90% of a car” crops up again. Tesla hasn’t been taking chances on charging infrastructure, and now Ford isn’t going to play that game, either.

Ford iss still going to build a three-row crossover vehicle with 300 miles of range, and with good charging infrastructure, 300 miles is more than enough for nearly everybody’s needs.

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There Are Other Ways To Fulfill Customers’ Need For Towing Range

This philosophy still does leave one small group of customers out in the cold: people actually using electric pickup trucks to haul larger trailers. 600 miles of range sounds absurd until you’re towing 10,000 pounds of tall fifth-wheel trailer and you’re now only getting around 200 miles (at best).

The number of people actually doing that is low, so Ford shouldn’t build its whole truck strategy around it, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to serve that part of the customer base well during the EV transition.

One possibility I’ve floated and run a LOT of numbers on was the possibility of offering PHEV trucks. The difference in environmental impact is negligible for people who commute during the week on electric and take the boat to the lake or camper up to the mountains on some summer weekends. The same is also true for work trucks that mostly make local runs, but still need tons of range for the occasional highway tow.

The crowd this doesn’t cover would be “hotshot” truck drivers using a one-ton or medium-duty to constantly haul time-sensitive loads over long distances, but which are still too small to justify sending a semi-truck. But, the number of vehicles doing that kind of work is too low to worry about electrifying right now. Ford and other automakers need to focus on the rest of the industry first.

This may change with future EV battery supplies and better battery technology, but that’s the reality we’re faced with today.

Featured image provided by Ford.

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Jennifer Sensiba

Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to get off the beaten path in her "Bolt EAV" and any other EVs she can get behind the wheel or handlebars of with her wife and kids. You can find her on Twitter here, Facebook here, and YouTube here.

Jennifer Sensiba has 1996 posts and counting. See all posts by Jennifer Sensiba