Tesla Motors was the first automaker to build a battery-powered car that can travel more than 200 miles per charge, and it remains the industry’s range leader. But by the end of the decade, there will be more long-range electric cars than ever, and Ford Motor Co. has become the next manufacturer to commit to moving well beyond its Focus Electric’s current 76-mile limit.
“We want to make sure that we’re either among the leaders or in a leadership position,” Ford CEO Mark Fields said during a conference call Thursday following the company’s strong first-quarter earnings results.
The announcement comes as Ford’s Detroit rival General Motors is poise to release its Chevrolet Bolt hatchback later this year that the company says will deliver at least 200 miles per charge for around $30,000 after federal green-car incentives are applied. Tesla unveiled late last month a working prototype of its $35,000 Model 3 due out in late 2017 with a range of 215 miles. And the next Nissan Leaf, history’s bestselling electric car, is all but certain to meet or top 200 miles for around $30,000.
Fields declined to say when Ford expects to have a competitive electric car on the market, or how much it would cost, but it’s likely to carve out a niche among this modestly priced group rather than attempt to challenge Tesla and other automakers in the luxury space.
Two-hundred miles is widely considered to be the minimum range needed to boost interest among wary consumers. Current battery technology makes longer ranges currently too costly to install in lower-priced electric cars -- though that could change soon.
Matt DeLorenzo, managing editor of Kelley Blue Book, points out that Ford will have a cost advantage against GM and Tesla by building the car in Mexico instead of the U.S. where labor costs are higher.
“If 200-mile range is a given, Ford will most certainly be looking at being the most affordable entry in the segment, which would put additional pressure not only on Chevy, but also more so on Tesla, which hardly has the scale of a GM,” DeLorenzo said in an email.
Ford will release its 2017 Focus Electric later this year, extending the range of to 100 miles from 76 miles. The Dearborn, Michigan, automaker says its investing $4.5 billion to add 13 electrified vehicles to its line by 2020, which includes hybrids, plug-in gas-electric hybrids and fully electric cars.