Ford CEO Farley: ‘Showroom Math Easier for Hybrids’

In a Q4 earnings call on February 6, Ford President and CEO Jim Farley provided insights into the company’s plans for Model E, the success of Ford Pro, and addressed concerns regarding mainstream EV adoption. He also revealed the company’s strategy for the Chinese electric vehicle (EV) market, setting the tone for the automotive giant’s future. Ford’s low-capital approach in China was a focal point, reflecting Ford’s navigation of the challenging EV landscape in that country.

Model E and EVs

Ford acknowledged a seismic change in the electric vehicle market in the last six months of 2023, driven by EV manufacturers cutting prices and increased capital influx into the segment.

In response, the company is:

  • Adjusting its capital allocation, focusing on smaller EV products and spending less on larger EVs.

  • Developing a low-cost EV platform with a dedicated team, aiming for flexibility across various vehicle types.

  • Rationalizing battery capacity to match demand, reassessing vertical integration, and betting on new chemistries and capacities.

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Farley directly addressed concerns about the challenges facing the EV market, acknowledging the cost considerations for mainstream customers. He highlighted the importance of “getting the cost right.”

“Now someone portrayed the change in the EV market as Darwinian,” Farley noted. “That could be a slow evolutionary change, but we think this has been a seismic change in the last six months of last year. That will rapidly sort out winners and losers in our industry.”

Related:EV Year in Review: Vehicle Electrification Got Pushback in 2023

BEV vs HEV buyer behavior

The CEO pointed out the company’s advantage in not relying completely on BEVs, in the drive to electrification, citing the company’s active hybrid-electric (HEV) business. Farley emphasized, “The good news is Ford has a high-volume hybrid business, and the timing of our second cycle product gives us a chance to make a lot of adjustments in capital, bringing it down.”

Farley discussed the unique consumer dynamics in evaluating hybrid and electric vehicles (EVs). He noted, “Customers are doing the quick showroom math on hybrids, evaluating the breakeven between ICE and a hybrid on the showroom floor.”

Farley cited the practical example of the F-150, stating, “For an F-150, they know how much a Honda generator costs versus Pro Power on board, and they don’t have to change their behavior.”

Addressing challenges in mainstream EV adoption, Farley pointed out complexities in cost-of-ownership evaluations, emphasizing uncertainties like, “How much will I save on repair cost? How much will I save on electrons versus gasoline? It’s harder to compare.”

Related:Ford’s F-150 Lightning in Spotlight Amid Production Cuts

Farley acknowledged the pivotal role of cost of ownership in the success of EVs and Ford Pro, stating, “The success of EVs and Pro is a customer that does that math more brutally, looking at cost of ownership in a clearer lens. Some are doing the math and going to EV.”

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Reminder: Ford Pro includes electric

In contrast to the EV challenges, Ford Pro, the commercial business unit, is the company’s “profit juggernaut,” demonstrated strong performance with revenue up 11% in Q4 and a notable EBIT margin of 11.8%. Ford Pro’s full-year results indicated significant potential, with revenue jumping 19%, earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) more than doubling year-over-year to $7.2 billion, and a margin of 12.4%.

In response to an investor notion that all profits from Ford Pro are funding the EV transition, Farley strongly disagreed.

“By the way, Pro includes electric,” Farley reminded. “And although electric is going slower for Pro customers, it’s actually they do the math quicker than retail customers.” Farley noted that January EV sales in Pro surpassed December, a counterintuitive trend indicating growing interest among commercial customers.

A cautious China strategy

Related:Ford’s Strategic Pivot: Resizing EV Investments

In the Q&A portion of the earning call, Farley was asked about Ford’s strategy in China, where the company has chosen an unconventional path in the fiercely competitive EV market. Farley acknowledged the current “bloodbath reality” in China’s EV sector, opting for a low-capital strategy to navigate through the challenges.

“We’re allowing our partners’ platforms to lead our electrification. And in doing that, we are learning a lot about their capability and the local IP there in China,” he explained. “And it’s pretty breathtaking to see what we’re learning.”

This cautious strategy involves leveraging partnerships with local entities, primarily Changan, and allowing their platforms to take the lead in electrification efforts. Farley expressed confidence in this unique learning approach, emphasizing the importance of understanding local capabilities and intellectual property.