2015 Ford Focus ElectricEnlarge Photo
Ford Motor Company announced this morning that it would open its portfolio of patents related to electrified vehicles--meaning both hybrids and electric cars--to competitive automakers.
The Dearborn, Michigan, company says its goal is to "accelerate industry-wide research and development of electrified vehicles."
At the same time, Ford said it will add 200 additional engineers to work on those vehicles as it centralizes their operations in a new facility.
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Ford may be the least transparent of the three Detroit automakers around its intentions for electric cars.
General Motors is moving ahead with its launch of the 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV, a subcompact electric car with a 200-mile range that it says it will sell for $37,500 before incentives.
GM will also start selling the second-generation 2016 Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid later this year.
2016 Chevrolet VoltEnlarge Photo
Fiat Chrysler, on the other hand, makes no secret of its dislike for cars with plugs.
CEO Sergio Marchionne has said several times he hopes not to sell a single Fiat 500e electric car more than the minimum required to meet California's zero-emission vehicle sales rules, and he claims to lose $14,000 on each one sold.
Ford's view of electric cars, however, is far less clear. By the end of this month, it will have sold roughly 5,000 Ford Focus Electric hatchbacks.
That puts its sole all-electric car squarely in the same category as "compliance cars" like the 500e that are sold solely to meet the California rules.
2013 Ford C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid, Marin County, CA, Nov 2012Enlarge Photo
Ford has also sold more than 40,000 of its Energi plug-in hybrid models.
A few industry rumors suggest that the company may have something more up its sleeve, most likely a longer-range electric car.
That theory may be supported by Ford's addition of 200 engineers to work on hybrid and electric cars, moving them into a newly dedicated facility in a building that once housed Henry Ford's first laboratories.
MORE: Ford Can Design Tesla-Like Electric Car, CEO Says (Oct 2014):
The announcement that it will release its electrified-vehicle patents for general use follows a similar announcement last June by startup electric-car maker Tesla Motors.
Tesla, however, has suggested that it will license its patents free of charge--under unspecified terms--while the word "purchase" in Ford's announcement indicates that it will expect to be paid licensing fees.
"By sharing our research with other companies," said Kevin Layden, who is director of Ford Electrification Programs, "we will accelerate the growth of electrified vehicle technology and deliver even better products to customers.