News Story

Green Groups, Politicians, Media, Love Electric Cars, Consumers Cold On Them

Ford sales of plug-in electric cars down from 3,000 a month to less than 500

The Detroit News recently ran a story highlighting the latest clash between environmental activist groups and Ford Motor Co. over vehicle mileage regulations imposed by the federal government. According to the story, environmentalist groups accuse the Dearborn-based automaker of merely paying lip service to sustainability while quietly working with the Trump administration to roll back fuel economy mandates imposed by the Obama administration.

The article suggested that miles-per-gallon numbers are not a top priority for many car buyers these days. But it failed to report that consumers also don’t appear much interested in the electric vehicles, or EVs, that environmentalist groups have demanded that the company produce.

Last year, Ford announced it would invest $11 billion in EVs by 2022. It also announced it would invest an additional $500 million in the auto technology company Rivian to produce an all-new electric vehicle. Ford has committed to producing 16 fully electric “plug-in” vehicle models and 40 hybrid electrified models through 2022.

“Ford electric vehicles will be inspired by our most iconic products like Mustang and our utility lineup,” said Emma Bergg, a spokeswoman for Ford. “Amplifying the best attributes that our customers love, such as performance, capability, and convenience combined with an ecosystem of services that will make the transition to an EV lifestyle easy.”

But over the past few years, Ford’s electric car sales have declined significantly. In 2018, the publication Inside EVs reported that the auto giant’s EV sales have fallen from more than 3,000 plug-ins a month to less than 500 a month. While at one time Ford offered three plug-in models, it now sells only the Fusion Energi. Sales of the C-Max Energi and Focus Electric models have dropped to almost zero. Bergg did not comment on why Ford believes its new line will be more successful.

“The interests of greens and automakers like Ford are diametrically opposed,” said Henry Payne, an auto writer and longtime industry observer at The Detroit News. “Greens want government to dictate to consumers what they must buy; automakers must respond to market tastes to make a profit.”

Payne added that today’s Corporate Average Fuel Economy laws dictate what powertrains automakers must use. As a result, automakers manufacture electric vehicles because the government demands it, not because they sell.

Even the huge subsidies offered by progressive California have failed to persuade drivers there to swap their petroleum-powered cars for ones powered by batteries. The Sacramento Bee found that roughly 600,000 electric vehicles are being used in the Golden State — out of a total of 25,646,228 automobiles currently in use. In an effort to encourage Californians to make the switch, Assemblyman Phil Ting, Democrat from San Francisco, has introduced a bill to increase the state subsidy for purchasing an electric car. The rebate would go up to as much as $7,500, a jump from the current rebate of $2,500.

Payne said the chances of Michigan instituting a similar subsidy are slim but pointed out that the real issue lies in the limitations of EVs.

“I own an EV as well as a number of gas cars,” he said. “The Mod3 is fun to drive with instant torque and Tesla’s unique operating system. But battery range is difficult to manage, even with Tesla’s proprietary charging network. A full charge takes 40 minutes compared to a five-minute refuel at a gas station. For non-Tesla EVs, range anxiety is a crippling issue on trips, making EVs only practical in metro areas.”

But the environmentalist lobby remains steadfast in its mission to pressure Ford into manufacturing EVs, regardless of whether consumers want them, said one policy expert.

“The attacks that they are facing are a good example of why it isn’t really all that good of an idea for companies like Ford to play the green’s game,” said Jason Hayes, director of environmental policy at the Mackinac Center. “All they do when they play along is strengthen the green case for attacking them later, because they have already conceded to all of the green arguments.”

Payne echoed Hayes’ assessment. He said he believes Ford’s best shot at reviving the EV market is to target wealthier buyers.

“Make expensive, sexy, luxury cars like Tesla,” he said, although he noted that even Tesla strains to make a profit despite selling $50,000-plus EVs. “The luxury market commands higher cost spreads than the mainstream market.”

Ford is doing just that with a $40,000 EV model specifically designed to mimic Tesla. It also has a line of Lincoln plug-in hybrids.