Global automakers are looking to Europe as potentially the second-largest market for early adopters of battery-electric vehicles.
That’s mainly because of national and city regulators’ increasing concerns over urban pollution, which claims the lives of tens of thousands of people a year in densely populated areas. In the U.K. alone, some 40,000 deaths annually are directly attributed to poor urban air quality, primarily from diesel-powered transportation.
So, it was not surprising that Ford chose London to kick off its Go Electric roadshow that will tour the continent allowing consumers to get up-close and personal with the new Mustang Mach-E. The BEV is seen as a direct competitor to the Tesla Model X (below, left) that arrived on the European market a few years ago.
However, the Ford undercuts its upstart rival by a considerable margin, entering the market at just £42,500 ($55,100) compared to the Model X’s starting price of £86,200 ($111,800).
Yet, while comparatively affordable, the vehicle remains Ford’s second-costliest mass-market product behind its Mustang GT 5.0L priced at £43,645 ($56,600).
Wards asked Roelant de Waard, Ford of Europe’s general manager-passenger vehicles, for the strategy behind launching the brand’s first BEV at the premium end of the market.
“There are several reasons but, firstly, if you build a common platform for the globe, you look for a common segment and we believe this sits in the heartlands of the two markets (U.S. and Europe),” he says.
“The second thing we were looking for is something that is uniquely Ford, and that is what led us to the execution of this car using the Mustang brand.
“The last reason is that with the costs of this type of vehicle being quite high, with the relative cost of the batteries as you will see with other manufacturers, it was sensible to aim for this more expensive type of vehicle. We see this new technology, not unnaturally, will cascade down to other segments as the technology becomes more affordable.”
The Mach-E’s claimed range of up to 370 miles (596 km) trumps the Model X’s 351-mile (565-km) maximum range and that was a key marketing ploy, Waard says.
“It is the biggest customer pain point, and we found that range is the single most-mentioned point of anxiety,” he says. “So it was clear to us that we had to have a good range but the benefit, of course, is that as we have built this car as a Mustang (interior pictured, left) then you want a powerful vehicle that would need a big battery anyway. This, then, may be used for some excitement rather than just for range.”
The dealership relationship with Ford was another major consideration with the new BEV, and Waard points to the automaker’s extensive European network. He says most of the vehicle’s servicing needs will be met by all the dealerships in the network.
“We have categorized the work,” he says, “and there are jobs that every Ford dealer can do. But, for example, having to touch the high-voltage parts of the car will be limited to the specialist network.
“Initially, there will be 1,700 of the 5,000 European dealerships that would be part of the specialist network – a significant size, we feel.”
The next BEV that Ford will launch in the European market is the popular Ford Transit light-commercial vehicle due in dealerships next year. Waard admits the clean-air lobby is responsible for many urban business users considering the switch to electrification.
“We see three types of customers for the BEV commercial vehicles,” he says. “We already have a strong following of fleets who have their own green policies in place and decide to take this up. Then we see policymakers (making) cities closed to vehicles that are not emission-free.
“Then we have the third scenario where it is the most economical choice. Considerations such as usage, use cases and the lifecycle can make a BEV less expensive to run.
“We also see plenty of commercial customers where their van is also their workshop,” Waard says. “They don’t necessarily drive that far but they work with and from the van. So their mileage is not that high and, for them, it makes perfect sense to have a full-electric vehicle, especially if they do their work in a city.
For very high mileage users, diesel remains more economical. “However, increasingly as we have seen with the Mondeo hybrid, it is, in fact, more economical up to 20,000 kilometers (12,400 miles),” Waard says.
Government deadlines, such as the U.K.’s recent plan to ban the sale of all new internal-combustion-powered vehicles from 2035, also apply pressure to electrify a brand’s model range, Waard says.
“We fully subscribe to the objective of decarbonization,” he says, “but the hardest thing now is to forecast what level of electrification will be required and at what speed will this happen?
“We see this with decisions in Italy now where hybrids are allowed to drive in cities while diesel is not. At the same time in Spain sub-100 g/km of CO2 is the limit for cities, and that’s another threshold that allows the Mondeo hybrid to be used. In Germany we see businesses benefiting from benefit-in-kind tax breaks for using PHEVs.”
Waard says automakers require a Europe-wide approach to electrification if they are to meet the requirements of clean-air regulation.
“The important point here is to have the time and predictability and, ideally, the coordination throughout Europe that we don’t all go in different ways over this, because it is not efficient for us to have to provide different things for different countries.”