Ford CEO Mark Fields confirms 200-mile electric car coming (updated)

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Grille - 2016 Ford Focus Electric 5dr HB

Grille - 2016 Ford Focus Electric 5dr HB

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What a difference a week makes.

In late April, Ford's director of electrification programs and engineering, Kevin Layden, said the 100-mile range of the 2017 Ford Focus Electric would suffice for most drivers.

But then on Ford's second-quarter earnings call, CEO Mark Fields announced that the company plans to offer a battery-electric car with 200 miles of range.

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Fields was asked specifically whether Ford would join Chevrolet, Tesla, and other makers in offering a battery-electric car with a range of 200 miles or more.

“Clearly that’s something we’re developing for,” Fields said, according to industry trade Automotive News.

The company, he said, wants to be “among the leaders or in a leadership position” in electric cars as well as the segments in which it now competes.

2016 Ford Focus Electric

2016 Ford Focus Electric

Enlarge Photo

The future electric car is likely to be dubbed the Ford Model E, and will arrive after a new generation of Ford Focus is launched for 2019.

That car's underpinnings are expected to spawn a dedicated vehicle that will be sold as a hybrid, a plug-in hybrid, and an all-electric car.

It would likely replace both the current low-volume Ford Focus Electric compliance car and the hybrid and Energi plug-in hybrid versions of the current Ford C-Max.

ALSO SEE: Ford says 'no thanks' to 200-mile electric car race, for now

Before that time, however, the Ford Focus Electric will be updated to offer both 100 or more miles of range and the ability to use DC fast-charging stations to recharge its battery up to 80 percent of capacity in roughly 30 minutes.

That update will be launched later this year as the 2017 Focus Electric.

With the 2016 Nissan Leaf offering 107 miles of range, and battery updates coming for the BMW i3 and probably the Volkswagen e-Golf, 100 miles seems to be the new minimum range expectation among mass-priced battery-electric cars.

2017 Ford Focus Electric, from presentation on Ford electrification plans, Dec 2015

2017 Ford Focus Electric, from presentation on Ford electrification plans, Dec 2015

Enlarge Photo

But with the 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV due to start deliveries at the end of this year, and the Tesla Model 3 supposedly arriving about a year after that—along with a 200-mile option for the second-generation Nissan Leaf in 2018—a range of 100 miles will suddenly be at the low end of the scale.

That was what prompted the earnings-call question: what would Ford do in that changed environment?

Fields offered no further details about the car, its timing, its model name, or its body style.

CHECK OUT: Next-Generation Tesla Electric Car Won't Be 'Model E' After All

Still, his statement seemed to be intended to clear up any perception that Ford wouldn't stay competitive in the fast-changing world of plug-in electric cars.

2016 Ford Focus Electric

2016 Ford Focus Electric

Enlarge Photo

Late last year, Ford announced that it would commit $4.5 billion to expanding its lineup of green vehicles with 13 new "electrified" models.

That pledge was widely misreported as a commitment to launch 13 new electric cars—which is far from what Ford likely intends.

The word "electrified" includes conventional hybrids without plugs, and even vehicles with nothing more than 48-volt enhanced start-stop systems, as well as electric and plug-in hybrid models.

Industry analysts and observers anticipate that only a handful of those 13 models to have plugs; most will be far more modest versions of electrification.

But while one of those 13 vehicles may in fact be the future Ford Model E, it's becoming clear that company executives now feel pressure to show that they are at least keeping up with the leaders in the field: General Motors, Nissan, and Tesla.

And that's a change from Ford's position in the past.

EDITOR'S NOTE: A previous version of this article said that Ford's director of electrification programs and engineering, Kevin Layden, had told reporters that the company had no immediate plans to launch a 200-mile electric car. That was incorrect; Layden said only that he felt the range of the updated 2017 Ford Focus Electric, at 100 miles or more, would satisfy the needs of most drivers. Green Car Reports regrets the error.

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