Ford is finally embracing the plug-in technology already adopted by much of the car industry, having been caught a bit behind the curve.
In an old sugar factory in Amsterdam earlier this month, it laid out a selection of enticing new models of various shapes but with one common powertrain.
The future is, finally, seen as being electric or hybrid at the UK’s most popular car company, with plans to launch 16 electrified vehicles announced at the event, eight of those due on the road by the end of 1019.
But as well as the big plug-in news, there was plenty of discussion around how Ford is looking to shape its future.
FORD ISN’T SELLING ENOUGH SUVs
One stat that wasn’t given headline billing at the announcement but stood out as notable related to Ford’s current sales splits.
Ford’s research showed that, while SUVs account for a third of the cars sold in Europe, just one in five Fords are SUVs. The implication here was that this is something that needs to change, and that Ford is keen to realign its ratio of SUVs to ‘normal’ cars.
It’s heading in the right direction, though, as Ford says its market share has grown by 20% and both the Ecosport and the outgoing Kuga had the best years so far in 2018.
“The Puma is returning but this time as a crossover above the Ecosport”
Change will come in two ways, firstly by the fact that all of the headline passenger car models revealed were SUVs. The most notable is the new Kuga, which will come with several variants of hybrid, ranging from mild (where the battery is a back-up to the engine and adds more torque) to plug-in hybrid with an electric-only range of 31 miles.
Add in the new Puma (which is now due to be a crossover-style model that sits between the Kuga and the Ecosport rather than the small coupe it was in the late 1990s) and the forthcoming electric-only ‘Mustang-inspired’ SUV that is due in 2020, and it is clear where Ford sees its future.
NO RUGGED SUVs
Aside from the move to hybrid technology, another notable shift for the Kuga came in its styling. The new model is lower, longer and wider, making for a sleeker and less rugged-looking model than the previous-generation car.
Ford’s European design director Amko Leenarts explained that this was down to direct feedback from customers, and that the 20mm-longer wheelbase meant that the new model has more space inside. He even claimed that the new Kuga has ‘best-in-class rear headroom’, despite the less upright looks.
What was equally striking was that the bigger, seven-seat, AWD Explorer SUV is not coming to the UK, at least not yet anyway, although it is due to come to Europe.
It is also telling that there won’t be an Active trim on the Kuga, at least not at launch, nor will there be a 4WD version. The latter could be done fairly easily, especially on the hybrid version, but Ford is prioritising the models that will appeal to fleets and families before it takes on tougher terrain.
TRADITIONAL FAMILY CARS TO THE BACKGROUND
One thing conspicuous by its absence was any sort of focus on anything other than SUVs when it came to passenger cars. Granted there was confirmation that the Focus and Fiesta will get micro-hybrid technology, and the Mondeo Estate will get a full hybrid version in ST Line trim, but none of these are particularly noteworthy given that the micro-hybrid technology is easily and cheaply implemented and the full hybrid tech was just a model line
There was also no role for MPVs, unless you count the much larger Tourneo PHEV that is essentially the passenger version of the plug-in Transit.
THE THREE ENABLERS
Ford says there are three enablers for modern motoring, one of which, unsurprisingly, is electrification – it says it will account for half of all vehicles sold in 2029. The brand also cites intelligent networked vehicles that will let managers know where their fleet is, while also allowing owners to access information such as vacant parking spaces.
The third element is connecting vehicles so they are able to talk to one another to aid traffic flow in cities.
In what is perhaps a small step towards that interconnected world, Ford also announced it will add more elements to its telematics service, due to launch later this year.
Ford Telematics will allow managers to check the health, productivity, safety and efficiency of vehicles, while Ford Data Services will allow the information to be integrated into existing systems.
The addition of a FordPass Pro app will allow smaller businesses – those with between one and five vehicles – to access similar information through a smartphone app.
Ford might not have been the first to market with any of these technologies, and it is notable that it still hasn’t announced details of a pure electric production model, but it has taken notable steps towards catching up.