Ford's future hybrid, electric-car lineup: 5 things to know

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The "Ford Uncovered Future Product Forum" held Thursday for journalists was a break in recent tradition for Detroit's second-largest automaker.

The abrupt firing of CEO Mark Fields last May was an indication that Ford's board of directors wasn't happy with progress in preparing the company for a turbulent and uncertain automotive future.

But the stock price of the company had barely moved under new CEO Jim Hackett, whereas Tesla's stock has stayed at lofty heights and even cross-town rivals General Motors and FCA have seen market capitalization increase of late.

DON'T MISS: Ford's future 300-mile all-electric performance SUV: what we know

Our coverage of the event included Ford's announced plans for new hybrids—every SUV it makes will have a hybrid variant, the company confirmed to our reporter—and what we know about its future 300-mile all-electric SUV (very little more than before).

After discussing the event with the rest of the Internet Brands Automotive staff, we've come up with five points that we think put "Ford Uncovered" in the proper perspective.

(1) It's all about stock price

The main reason Ford held this event wasn't out of the goodness of its heart.

Jim Hackett

Jim Hackett

Mark Fields (left) and Alan Mulally

Mark Fields (left) and Alan Mulally

Mark Fields

Mark Fields

It's because the company's stock price has lagged—likely one of several reasons CEO Mark Fields was shown the door last year.

The goal is to persuade Wall Street analysts and large institutional investors that the company has a grasp on a future that includes electrified vehicles, autonomous driving, connectivity of all sorts, and much more car-sharing.

No one knows how all that will play out in 10 years, but while Ford has expended lots of words about mobility over the last several years, it hasn't convinced the financial community.

Will Thursday's discussions of actual future Ford products and technologies work? We'll have to wait and see.

READ THIS: Ford to electrify most SUVs, promises to pass Toyota in hybrids

(2) Ford will be mostly trucks: cars will wane significantly, at least in North America

One of the most remarkable statements was that Ford will largely become a company of crossover utility vehicles, SUVs, pickups, and other light trucks, at least for the U.S. and Canada.

But that applies to the rest of the world as well, to lesser degrees. Europe and China too are buying more small crossovers in place of smaller hatchbacks, sedans, and wagons.

For the U.S., we know there will be an update to the Ford Fusion mid-size sedan. But don't be surprised if the Fiesta subcompact, Focus compact, and Taurus large sedan go away.

2018 Ford Fusion Energi

2018 Ford Fusion Energi

If the Focus does survive, industry sources have suggested it may soon be imported from China—and perhaps the Fusion too.

Ford's SUV strategy, meanwhile, involves reallocating $7 billion from cars to SUVs and offering eight separate crossover and SUV models by 2020.

(3) Ford has a lot of catching up to do in hybrids and electric cars

We've commented before that Ford hasn't issued a single new hybrid, plug-in hybrid, or battery-electric vehicle since the 2013 model year.

CHECK OUT: China to lead Ford electric-car effort, 300-mile electric SUV to be built in Mexico

We heard from two different sources that one of CEO Fields' first acts on taking over in July 2014 was to cancel all work on several future hybrid and plug-in hybrid models.

While we could never confirm those reports, the timing fits perfectly. Ford launched its Focus Electric for the 2012 model year, and four separate hybrid and plug-in hybrid models for 2013.

Those were the mid-size Fusion Hybrid sedan and the tall compact C-Max Hybrid wagon, along with an Energi plug-in hybrid version of each.

That puts it woefully behind not just crosstown rival General Motors, but most of the rest of the mass-market carmakers.

2018 Chevrolet Bolt EV

2018 Chevrolet Bolt EV

Meanwhile, General Motors has its 238-mile Bolt EV battery-electric car, the Volt plug-in hybrid, the Chevy Malibu Hybrid, a Cadillac CT6 Plug-In Hybrid, and more on the way.

Even Fiat Chrysler, whose CEO notoriously complains about losing money on every electric Fiat 500e California forces the company to sell, came out with the much-praised 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivan, actually a plug-in hybrid.

Then there's Toyota with its huge range of hybrids, the Nissan Leaf and more electric cars coming from Nissan, and the very aggressive plans of Hyundai-Kia for multiple entries using all forms of fully or partially electric powertrains.

Ford's upcoming small off-road crossover SUV

Ford's upcoming small off-road crossover SUV

(4) Ford's vehicle mix will move closer to that of a luxury-car maker

You may not have noticed that the traditional European luxury makes—Audi, BMW, Jaguar Land Rover, Mercedes-Benz—now sell as many light trucks (e.g. crossover utilities) in the U.S. as they do the sedans and sports cars they're better known for.

Ford is following that path, first blazed out of sheer necessity by Fiat Chrysler, which has always had a lineup heavier in trucks.

Ford's movement to SUVs is either enabled by the better fuel economy of its 15 years of hybrid experience, or demands more hybrids just to stay within corporate average fuel economy standards.

And while Ford is indeed lobbying the Trump Administration to modify, freeze, or roll back the CAFE rules—and the White House and its agencies appear fully on board with that plan—that doesn't affect the rest of the world.

Ford still needs to cut carbon emissions and offer far more plug-in electric vehicles in Europe and China.

As seems increasingly clear, North America may become even more of an outlier in the global auto market than it is already: larger vehicles, less efficient powertrains across the board, and less interest in reducing the vehicular carbon emissions that contribute to climate change.

Establishment of electric car joint venture between Ford and Zotye on November 8, 2017

Establishment of electric car joint venture between Ford and Zotye on November 8, 2017

(5) China wasn't mentioned—for good reason

The world's largest car market, China, barely came up during Thursday's Ford presentation.

It's the place where electric cars will grow fastest and most aggressively, and Ford under Mark Fields appeared remarkably vulnerable on that front, with little if any work on developing battery-electric vehicles for the global market and China in particular.

Last fall, new CEO Jim Hackett announced that the company would partner with Chinese maker Zotye to develop electric cars for that market.

But smaller battery-electric vehicles made in China seem likely to have little place in Ford's North American lineup in the early 2020s.

There may be another reason Ford chose not to discuss China, too.

If industry rumors are correct, and the company plans to devote all of its North American production footprint to crossovers, SUVs, and pickup trucks, it will have to bring in the remaining passenger cars from somewhere.

2018 Ford Focus

2018 Ford Focus

That location may well be China, according to industry reports.

And given the tenor of the current administration and its sensitivity to U.S. industrial manufacturing, that may be a topic the company just doesn't want to bring up.

Various Buick, Cadillac, and Volvo models sold in the U.S. are now imported from China, but their makers have been almost entirely mute about the fact.

Perhaps Ford would rather deal with that issue down the road.

Ford provided airfare and transportation so Internet Brands Automotive could bring you this first-person news story.

 
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