We are still waiting for what many call the 'EV boom', where we will see the development of electrification take the lion’s share of the global automotive market from petrol and diesel powered cars. From an automaker’s perspective, the industry has the technology and capability to provide modern electric vehicles, however there is still work to be done in order to attract new buyers and, essentially, change transportation forever. I speak to Andreas Schamel, Director Global Powertrain Research and Advanced, Director Ford Research and Innovation Centre, and Brett Hinds, Chief Engineer, Electrified Powertrain Systems, to find out their thoughts on the future of electrification and mobility.
Schamel tells me that the industry is ready for this shift when it comes to the technology, however he believes that the market is not necessarily ready for the move into future transportation and needs to be educated on the benefits of EVs. “I think that the highest likelihood of success is really driving customer attraction by issuing legislation restraints on the conventional technology so that the customer is forced to go that way. I think that, right now, we are not in the situation where we have products which fit the customers’ needs and push them towards electrification,” he says. “There are exceptions; we have announced a partnership with DHL and its StreetScooter in Germany. In this case, electrification absolutely matches the customer as it is for commercial use and this natural situation creates momentum. It is difficult to see what needs to happen to get the high double digit percentage of the market share for conventional customers who currently buy gas and diesel vehicles.” Hinds also agrees with this, telling me that in order to break into the public market there must be strong collaboration between cities, automakers and the public. “There is a partnership developing between consumers, manufacturers and governments, which is bringing benefits to the industry such as a convergence in manufacturing costs with EVs, infrastructure being put in place to enable customers to drive and charge their vehicles like conventional cars and the fact that customers are finally starting to accept the technology.” These factors are slowly coming together and increasing EV rollout, but there is still a need for education when it comes to the technology itself.
To address this, Ford has launched a pilot programme in Europe to attract a wider audience to EVs and connect car technology, which will help consumers understand the benefits of cleaner and more efficient transportation. “Our new pilot programme is being used to educate consumers, automakers and governments in order to start the bridge building process,” Hinds continues. “There are other avenues that we are going down, such as partnerships in mobility and autonomy. It is all about trying these things first to get the acceptance from customers.” As Schamel previously stated, it seems that the commercial sector is providing the most success for EVs, however this will start to change when mobility services increase in global cities. Driving in a dense urban environment like London is a nightmare, so innovations such as ridesharing, which will transition to using EVs exclusively, will provide the best alternative. Schamel thinks that these mobility services where customers do not have to own the vehicle are important to this growth: “People want to move on in the city and not worry about such things as parking their car or being stuck in traffic, so it is key to work with the cities and integrate EVs into the overall transportation system with those electrified solutions. These are the main areas where we will see success in the early stages, rather than the higher market share in private EV sales,” he says.
Mobility services are driving transportation in urban environments and this innovation will highly benefit electrification. Both technologies go hand-in-hand when it comes to future transportation, which will help change the public’s perception of alternative fuel vehicles. And, thanks to schemes such as zero emissions requirements, there will be a significant element of electrification within mobility services. “I think that this will go hand-in-hand with electrification, but it is not something that we will leave to other people,” Schamel claims. “We not only want to build and provide the vehicles to customers and mobility service providers, we want to operate as a business in the transportation service as well as creating the technical solution for it.” One way that Ford has approached this is by creating specialised divisions to focus on different areas of future mobility, working in smaller and more efficient groups to accelerate development. Hinds tells me that, although Ford has a wide range of professionals and the global presence in the market, there is a need to approach this new-look business structure with a start-up mentality. “We have specialists that are involved in cutting edge research that allows us to progress, which are the advantages of being a huge company. But it is also important to think in smaller pieces in order to do things in an accelerated manner, instead of to a traditional automotive timetable,” he comments. “Once we have clear direction and know what we want to do, we can focus and execute it just as nimbly as anyone else.”
This allows Ford to work outside of its normal processes which follow a different scheme. For example, the Ford Smart Mobility division is a separate company to Ford which, among other things, helps the automaker operate on a faster and unique scheme than what it would do internally. Other example is Argo AI, a start up company operating on autonomous software development, which works much the same as a start-up would. “We have integrated the start-up mentality into Ford and have strategically invested in the skill set required,” confirms Schamel.
Ford has formed a partnership with Volkswagen, BMW and Daimler in order to install a European EV network consisting of 450 charging stations over the continent to help support EV growth and adoption, as this is required to enable EVs to move about freely over long distances. However, automakers need support from others so that the world can prepare for this shift. “Partnerships and new lines of communication have to be established; we have to talk to energy providers, localised utilities and manufacturers about how we can make this seamless for our customers,” says Hinds. “One of the things we have to do as an automotive manufacturer is help bridge this bigger environment and this is one of the roles we think we have to step up to.” By working together, automakers and authorities can set a standard in the EV sector, such as establishing an open network for all car brands. Schamel and Hinds both agree that it is “absolutely mandatory” for there to be a standardisation of EV charging stations. “The technology needs to be open in order to progress as the capability of the utility companies and the network support increases,” Schamel assures me. “When the USB was introduced, people laughed at it, however it has become an industry standard with backwards compatibility. The same has to happen with the EV charging network, otherwise it will be deeply frustrating for customers to get to a charging station just to find out that their car is not compatible.” By forming a cross-industry collaboration with a range of global OEMs, EV charging stations become usable for the automakers’ joint customer base and will benefit everyone involved, much the same as we see with petrol and diesel cars. The joint venture will rollout EV charging points across a number of motorway networks, with 450 stations largely targeted for long-range travel, unlike inner-city charging networks that will be used for shorter journeys.
So, what is next for Ford? Well, the automaker is set to introduce 13 new EVs within the next four years, making a full-range commitment to this change we are about to see around the world. With this approach, consumers will start to change their perception of EVs and become attracted to the idea of either owning one, or using them through mobility service networks. Hinds predicts that “there are going to be hybrids, plug-in hybrids and EVs in the market, with different solutions for different kinds of vehicles and customers. So we will not see a convergence, but a wider application of the different technologies in years to come.”