Ford Motor Co. plans to introduce a long-range electric vehicle to compete with battery-powered models coming from Tesla Motors Inc. and General Motors Co. that would go 200 miles or more on a charge.
“We want to make sure that we’re either among the leaders or in a leadership position,” Chief Executive Officer Mark Fields told analysts and reporters on a conference call Thursday. “When you look at some of the competitors and what they’ve announced, clearly, that’s something we’re developing for.” He didn’t say when Ford would start producing the vehicle.
Ford joins a growing field of automakers seeking to overcome consumer fears that electric cars will run out of juice and strand them. GM plans a debut this fall for the Chevrolet Bolt, a hatchback it says will have a range of at least 200 miles (322 kilometers). Reports indicate Nissan Motor Co.’s next-generation Leaf car will match that distance. Tesla CEO Elon Musk has said the $35,000 Model 3 slated for late 2017 will go 215 miles or more between plug-ins.
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News of Ford’s electric-vehicle plans helped drive up its shares on a day when the Dearborn, Michigan-based automaker posted record first-quarter net income of $2.5 billion, surpassing analysts’ expectations. The stock rose 3.5 percent to $14.14 at 12:22 p.m. New York time.
Ford, which recently paid almost $212,000 to buy one of the first Tesla Model X electric sport utility vehicles, is clearly paying attention to the Palo Alto, California-based maker of electric vehicles. Tesla was deluged with $1,000 reservations for the Model 3 after Musk revealed it March 31 at the company’s design studio in Hawthorne, California.
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“I’m glad Mark Fields is saying Ford will be a leader and match whatever EV range is out there,” said David Whiston, an analyst at Morningstar Inc. in Chicago, who rates Ford the equivalent of a buy. “You can’t just ignore Tesla getting 400,000 reservations on a vehicle in a little more than a week’s time.”
Research shows that more consumers will be willing to buy an electric vehicle as driving range grows to 200 miles and the price falls below $30,000. Automakers are under pressure to improve the fuel economy of their entire lineups to meet U.S. regulations that mandate a company’s fleet must average 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025.
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Ford this fall will begin offering its Focus Electric model with a driving range of 100 miles. That’s an upgrade from the 2016 model’s 76-mile limit. Current Focus Electric owners drive about 9,500 miles annually, or about 30 miles a day, according to the automaker. Ford expects that a longer range and faster charging outlets will generate more EV buyers.
Ford has said it is investing $4.5 billion in electrified vehicles and will add 13 electric cars and hybrids to its lineup by 2020. Those models will represent 40 percent of Ford’s showroom, up from 13 percent now. Fields has said plug-in hybrids will be the fastest-growing type of electric vehicle.
But with fuel prices low, the automaker has had a hard time attracting buyers to its hybrid and plug-in hybrid models, including the C-Max, Fusion and Lincoln MKZ hybrids. U.S. sales of those models have fallen 6 percent this year, to 13,688 vehicles, according to researcher Autodata Corp.
Consumers are showing a greater preference for SUVs and pickups. U.S. sales of Ford’s SUVs rose 16 percent in the first quarter.