Bill Ford Envisions Electric Pickups, EV Sales, Going the Last Mile

Bill Ford Jr.
Bill Ford Jr.

Soft demand for electric vehicles and an unclear regulatory future were among the challenges facing the automotive industry debated during a variety of panel discussions at AutoMobili-D on Thursday at NAIAS.

On one hand, automakers and suppliers are busy reinventing the future with the multi-billion dollar investments in hybrid, electric and self-driving vehicles. At the same time, the industry – along with regulators and municipalities – continue to debate the most effective ways to fit all of the new forms of emerging transportation together in a way that is both profitable and benefits consumers.

From Ford Executive Chairman Bill Ford’s perspective, these are exactly the issues the automotive industry should always be focused on.

“If our mission is to improve people’s lives around the world – and I would argue that we have done that – then we have a chance now to reinvent what mobility means for the future," Ford said during The Final Word, sponsored by The Detroit News. “What we are trying to do is create the best cars and trucks for today, and then prepare for tomorrow, which is largely unknown."

Electric Scooters – A fun ride or urban clutter?

In Urban areas many people are now skipping Uber and taking electric scooters. They are downright fun to ride
In Urban areas many people are now skipping Uber and taking electric scooters. They are downright fun to ride

New modes of transportation – ranging from e-bikes and scooters to self-driving shuttle buses – are all viewed as possible ways to provide “last mile" services to people in dense population areas.

Scooters have simultaneously emerged as one of the most popular and most controversial last mile services over the past 12 to 18 months. Those who use them say electric scooters are quick, efficient and fun. Those who dislike them say they are dangerous, users lack etiquette, are prone to crashing and leave them laying anywhere.

“I’ve heard many people complaining about coming out of a crowded event and everybody is literally tripping over a pile of Bird scooters," said David Byron, manager of design and innovation strategy at Sundberg-Ferar. “It’s kind of emerged as an urban clutter issue."

However, Brett Wheatley, vice president of Ford’s Mobility Marketing Group, said customers have enthusiastically embraced electric scooters.

“For anybody who has ridden one, they are just fun – they are addictive," Wheatley said, adding that many consumers are choosing to use scooters instead of calling an Uber.

Steve Vozar, chief technology officer and co-founder of May Mobility, said scooters work well for one person but not for groups of people or for somebody who needs to get to a grocery store. Vozar said the transportation industry and urban planners need to focus efforts on identifying underserved, dense population centers and connecting those people to other transportation systems.

Overcoming electric vehicle sales barriers
Even though just about every global automaker has announced plans to launch multiple electric vehicles in the coming years, sales of EVs only accounted for about 1 percent of U.S. vehicle sales in 2018.

Sujit Jain, president of E Vehicles and Powertrain Solutions for Bosch, identified three barriers to widespread adoption of electric vehicles during a discussion about “E-Mobility: What Are We Waiting For?" They include:
• Low gas prices
• An unclear future U.S. regulatory structure
• The relatively limited range and high cost of batteries

“These factors are largely outside of the control of Bosch and other suppliers …and it is likely that these headwinds will continue in the foreseeable future," Jain said. “The most important contribution that suppliers can make is to provide cost-effective and efficient solutions."

Paul Eichenberg, managing director of Eichenberg Strategic Consulting, said, “Europe is driving global regulation of CO2 emissions and fuel efficiency."

Industry sales of the traditional internal combustion engine are not, “Going away anytime soon, regardless of the headlines you read," said Scott Adams, Senior Vice President, Product Management and Sales, eMobility – Vehicle Group. In fact, the company’s projections call for ICE vehicles to retain a 71 percent share of the global vehicle market in 2030 compared with 88 percent now.

Still, the consensus of panelists was that the auto industry must forge ahead with providing e-mobility solutions to customers worldwide despite these obstacles, and doing so will be one of the most important missions for corporate survival.

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