Remember when you were a kid at Christmas time and there’d be a big box under the tree. You’d get excited in anticipation that it was a new remote-control car or Hot Wheels set… only to open it and find out it was gardening tools or school supplies?
That’s sort of how it felt when Ford Australia announced its long-awaited plans to enter the electric vehicle (EV) race recently. The brand has been conspicuously absent from the EV debate in this country, so when the company sent out a note to the media announcing it would reveal its first electric model there was genuine excitement in the industry.
Would it be the exciting new Mustang Mach-E? That would make sense given Australia’s love of both the Mustang nameplate and SUVs, particularly fast ones.
Or perhaps a big shock, confirmation that the all-new F-150 Lightning had become available in right-hand drive after all? Because it seems custom-made for this country, with its combination of size and practicality (not to mention our fondness for the F-150’s historical rivals, the Ram 1500 and Chevrolet Silverado that are already available here).
Look, I don’t have a problem with the E-Transit per se, but the issue seems to be that Ford Australia is seemingly often overlooked by the management in Detroit.
The local operation has made it clear for some time now that it believes there’s Australian demand for the F-150 – but Detroit doesn’t seem ready to offer up the full-sized pick-up Down Under.
The Bronco is built on the Australian-engineered (right-hand-drive capable) T6 platform, but again, Detroit denies us access.
What happened to the ‘One Ford’ philosophy of global vehicles?
Sure, we should be grateful we were allowed to have the iconic Mustang, one of Ford Australia’s best sellers, but why not the Mustang Mach-E that could be the new technological and performance flagship in showrooms?
As Hyundai demonstrated recently, an exciting EV can be a boost to a brand’s image even if it’s only available in small numbers and for a big price, with the 240 examples of the Ioniq 5 bound Down Under selling out in less than three hours, despite a price tag north of $70k – which is a hefty premium for a mid-size SUV and makes it one of the brand’s most expensive models.
Why couldn’t Ford have done something similar – secure a limited number of the Mustang Mach-E models and introduce it as the first Blue Oval EV in the Great Southern Land. It needn’t be thousands of cars, as little as 250-300, in premium specification and with a price to match, it could have been a real image changing move for Ford Australia.
Instead, the E-Transit carries the responsibility of establishing Ford’s EV credentials in Australia. That’s a lot of pressure on a van that will appeal to a select audience of commercial buyers.
Fortunately, there’s hope.
Ford Australia has said it will introduce four more ‘electrified’ models by 2024 (or more accurately, the company said “at least four more” which means it could be a higher figure). We know the next will be the Escapeplug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV), but it will be arriving late after delays, and will hit showrooms nearly a decade after Mitsubishi introduced an Outlander with the same technology.
Instead, the real hope will come in the form of Ford’s greatest strength – the Ranger. The plug-in hybrid Ranger, which is expected in late 2022 or more likely 2023, has the potential to be a real gamechanger, and not just for Ford.
Electrified utes are likely to become a key battleground for carmakers in the next decade, so if Ford can get in early with its most popular model, it could set it up for long-term success.
The addition of the Everest PHEV spin-off will also be a boost too, when it arrives. It should help buy time for Ford in Detroit to get its act together and ramp up production of Mustang Mach-E, possibly in time for an Australian launch ion 2024.
But will that be too late? By then it’s likely that Hyundai will offer a wide range of Ioniq 5 models, plus the Ioniq 6 sedan and Ioniq 7 large SUV; Kia will have established the EV6; Volkswagen should have launched ID.3 and ID.4, not to mention the Cupra Born and Skoda Enyaq by then too; plus the Tesla Model 3 and maybe even the Model Y will also be available for would-be EV buyers. The list goes on…
Ford Australia needs help, or more specifically the Ranger needs back-up. It cannot continue to carry the brand on its own, it needs models like the Mustang Mach-E, F-150 Lightning and Maverick (not to mention the Bronco) for support.