In a bid to survive the transition to intelligent electric and autonomous vehicles, Ford CEO Jim Farley is working on a new three-row SUV so quick he’s calling it a “personal bullet train.”
The upcoming vehicle should offer 300 miles of range even when driving at 70 miles an hour thanks to a strict focus on efficiency that reduces the size, and therefore the cost, of its high-voltage battery by a third.
More important, however, it should compete in an underserved segment where pricing power is strong and customers are willing to pay more for the kind of high-tech software that currently is the hallmark of its chief competitor in the EV market, Tesla.
“That’s the big change for the company, it’s actually outside of the four walls of the physical hardware,” Farley told analysts on Monday.
Ford didn’t give a glimpse of the upcoming vehicle’s design but made it clear the different aerodynamics would mean it would not look anything like the equivalent combustion engine Expedition three-row SUV.
The new crossover is scheduled to launch in 2025 on a dedicated EV platform that will also underpin an electric pickup truck it has previously teased with the working title “T3.”
The duo, already secretly in development for a couple of years now, form the initial wave of second-generation EVs built from the ground up and funded by a comprehensive $50 billion investment package through 2026.
They follow its first EV models that include the Mustang Mach-E and F-150 Lightning derived from combustion engine vehicles with all the entailing compromises and tradeoffs that can reduce performance and range.
Farley saw price war ‘coming like a freight train’
Speaking at the company’s investor day, Farley confided to analysts the Mach-E two-row crossover was feeling the acute pricing pressure amid a pincer movement by the leading EV premium and volume brands, Tesla and BYD.
Sales of the two-row crossover dipped by a fifth in the first three months of this year, relegating Ford to third place behind Tesla and GM’s Chevrolet in the U.S. market, according to research firm Cox Automotive.
The plan to evade being crushed in between hinges on escaping into product segments like the three-row SUV, where the industry won’t see a glut of overcapacity, customers are not spoiled for choice, and buyers do not shop primarily based on price.
“That’s why in the second cycle we want to go to segments where customers use the data and the software more intensely,” he said.
“Having a personal bullet train that goes 300 miles at 70 miles an hour—safety and security, [hands-off driving feature] Blue Cruise—those software items are perfect for that kind of vehicle concept.”
The boss of Ford’s EV and software division, former Apple and Tesla exec Doug Field, said he wanted to make the second generation electric models like the “bullet train” SUV so appealing to ride with the help of software and infotainment that “it wouldn’t even need wheels to be a great product.”
If successful, Ford can avoid being run over by Tesla, BYD, and other upstart EV manufacturers from China such as Geely, SAIC, and Changan, which Farley said have proved faster in developing affordable electric vehicles than most incumbent automakers.
“We saw it coming like a freight train,” Farley said. “If your EV strategy depends on a two-row crossover right now, you better have the costs of a BYD to compete.”