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How Ford Will Join the Electric-Car Revolution

By John Rosevear - Oct 2, 2017 at 7:46PM

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Ford's new CEO is setting the stage for a more aggressive push into fully-electric vehicles.

Ford Motor Company (F 0.25%) is gearing up for a bigger push into electric vehicles. It's setting up a new electric-vehicle team led by a veteran Ford executive, it said on Monday, and it will increase the number of fully electric vehicles it has in development.  

The news comes a day before Ford's new CEO, Jim Hackett, is expected to unveil his revamped strategy for the company in a presentation to Wall Street analysts. It's a clear hint as to where Hackett is likely to take Ford -- and another sign that the industrywide push toward electric vehicles might finally have hit a tipping point. 

A close-up of a Ford-branded recharging plug plugged into a Fusion Energi hybrid sedan. Image source: Ford Motor Company.

Signs are growing that Ford is preparing a major electric-car development effort. Image source: Ford Motor Company.

What we know about Ford's new electric-vehicle push

Ford hasn't shared much in the way of details yet. Presumably, Hackett will go into more detail during his strategy presentation on Tuesday afternoon. But here's what we know.

Ford has created a new internal team, called Team Edison, to accelerate its development of electric vehicles for global markets. The team will be led by Ted Cannis, an up-and-coming Ford executive who ran the Blue Oval's Russia operation for several years. Cannis most recently led Ford's investor-relations team.

Team Edison's role is separate from Ford's other "electrification" initiatives, which have so far focused largely on hybrid vehicles. Ford will continue to develop hybrids, but Team Edison seems to be focused on pure battery-electric vehicles. 

Sherif Marakby, the ex-Uber engineer who leads Ford's electrification and self-driving projects, said in an interview with Automotive News that Ford now sees an "inflection point in the major markets toward battery electric vehicles." 

Marakby said Team Edison will be "cross-functional," handling everything from marketing to engineering to determining Ford's overall electric-vehicle strategy. The team will also explore electric-car-related partnerships with other automakers and suppliers, he said. 

Ford has previously said that it has a long-range electric vehicle in development, a compact crossover SUV with 300 miles of range that will go into production in Michigan by 2020. Markaby said Ford will add more pure battery-electric vehicles, but he gave no details.

What it means: A more aggressive future-tech push for Ford

Although Hackett, who took over as Ford's CEO in May, hasn't announced his strategy for the company, there have been several signs over the last couple of months that his plans include a greater emphasis on electric vehicles and self-driving technology. Most notably, Ford in August announced a new joint venture with Chinese automaker Anhui Zotye Automobile to produce a new line of electric vehicles in China. 

Hackett, who as CEO of Steelcase led that company through a high-tech transformation, initially came to Ford to run its future-mobility subsidiary, Ford Smart Mobility LLC. Given his technology-savvy reputation, and given the growing signs that electric-vehicle development may be hitting a tipping point across the industry and around the world, a bolder move into electric vehicles by Ford now would be absolutely no surprise. 

Former CEO Mark Fields had begun moving Ford in that direction, but he was ousted for Hackett in part because of a sense that he wasn't moving quickly enough -- and that he hadn't clearly spelled out the profit opportunities for Ford that would result from its investments in new technologies. 

Given this latest development, I think it's clear that Ford shareholders can expect Hackett to address both issues in his presentation on Tuesday. 

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