Ford's CEO, Mark Fields, told Wall Street financial analysts Friday that the company had the product development staff and engineering ability to build an electric car like a Tesla.
While he didn't say the company would do so, he did say that such a car would be "very consistent with our product strategy".
On top of that, behind-the-scenes efforts by Ford engineers to boost the power delivered by future generations of quick-charging stations may indicate that plans are more advanced than Ford is letting on.
Puzzling CCS power push
A long-range Ford electric vehicle--in perhaps three to five years--would require a robust network of DC quick-charging stations.
Chevrolet Spark EV at CCS fast charging station in San Diego.
Those sites would perform the same function as the fast-expanding Tesla Supercharger network: recharge a large battery pack to 80 percent of its capacity in 20 to 30 minutes, making long-distance trips possible.
It appears that Ford, alone among the participants, is now pushing to expand the power-delivery capability of future Combined Charging System (CCS) DC quick chargers to as much as 150 kilowatts.
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An engineer at another automaker who's involved with the technical committee working on that standard told Green Car Reports that other participants didn't understand why Ford insisted on such high power.
Today's Tesla Supercharger fast-charging stations deliver a maximum of 120 to 135 kW, with plans rumored to boost that further to 150 kW.
Tesla Motors Supercharger station in Oxnard, California.
The CCS standard is supported by General Motors, Fiat Chrysler, and Ford in the U.S. and BMW, Daimler, and Volkswagen Group in Germany.
Few CCS sites are open today, and the only cars on the market that can use them are the BMW i3 and Chevy Spark EV.
Minimal battery-electric effort
Ford's efforts in electrified vehicles have so far focused almost entirely on its hybrid and plug-in hybrid models.
It current offers conventional hybrid and Energi plug-in hybrid versions of its C-Max compact hatchback and Fusion mid-size sedan.
2014 Ford Fusion Energi
While the battery-electric version of the compact hatchback Ford Focus went on sale in December 2011, sales of the Focus Electric since then have been minimal: fewer than 4,000 units through September.
That compares to almost 64,000 Nissan Leafs. And it has led some analysts to deem the Focus Electric a compliance car sold only to meet Ford's requirements under the California Air Resources Board's zero-emission vehicle rules.
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While the Focus Electric is at least nominally on sale in states outside those with California emission rules, buyers report that stock is low to nonexistent, dealers know little or nothing about the car, and in general there's a lack of interest in battery-electric vehicles.
2015 Ford Focus Electric, 2014 New York Auto Show
The Focus Electric is built on the same assembly line as other Focus versions.
And in a clever bit of piggybacking, its LG Chem lithium-ion cells are essentially those that LG provides to General Motors for that company's Chevrolet Volt and Cadillac ELR range-extended electric cars.
Ford itself has downplayed and criticized its own product, several times underscoring its limitations and suggesting that many buyers will find it doesn't fit their needs--unusual behavior by an automaker, to say the least.
2012 Ford Focus Electric
Still, with the Tesla Model S now in its third model year--and more than 50,000 on the world's roads--Detroit can no longer ignore or downplay the influence of the Silicon Valley carmaker and its vision of fast, good-looking, luxurious all-electric vehicles.
There's even some suspicion that a Tesla-like vehicle could help Ford reposition Lincoln, the struggling luxury brand that it had long starved of distinctive product.
Perhaps Fields' comments about Ford wanting "more technology" in its vehicles go beyond its much-criticized MyFordTouch infotainment system and into more advanced powertrains.
Certainly Lincolns sell at price points higher than those of Fords, making any all-electric luxury Lincoln sedan (or crossover utility vehicle) a more viable business proposition.
The full Q + A
The comments by CEO Fields were reported late Friday by USA Today.
They included an acknowledgement that Ford had bought a Tesla Model S, driven it, taken it apart, put it back together, and driven it again.
Here's the complete exchange, as provided in a transcript of Ford's Q3 earnings call on the investment site SeekingAlpha:
Adam Jonas, Morgan Stanley: Right. Okay, Mark, next question for you. If you wanted – and this is a question about competitors product and I’m sure – and we know that you guys have tested and torn apart and I would imagine you guys have all driven the Tesla Model S.
I’m just curious in your opinion, high level, if you wanted to Tesla Model S, in your opinion this Ford Motor Company have the engineering, resources, take and talent, particularly software talent to do that?
Mark Fields, Ford: To your question, yes, we have. We have driven the Model S, we have torn it down, we’ve put it back together, we drove it again, we’re very familiar with that product. And I think our product development team is very familiar with the approach they have taken.
When we think about our products going forward, we have obviously a lot of experience as you know from a number of our electrified power trains and electrified vehicles that we have in the marketplace. And the answer is yes, I do believe with talent we have to continue to add and compliment that talent, absolutely.
And part of that is the growth we’re going to see in our Silicon Valley operations which is going to be growing significantly so that we can attract that talent to our company and compliment the already strong talent we have in those areas.
Jonas: So then just as you are not there, you can’t do it but you – is it intentioned to do something like that or is that just so niche that you want to focus on the more mainstream stuff for now and that kind of go forward strategy?
Fields: I think it’s very consistent with our product strategy, you know one of our fillers in our product strategy is from a technology standard, to have some more technology in our vehicles and you guys have seen them in a lot of the technology we have, we’re going to build on that, we’re going to make sure we have the talent to deliver it.