Ford, GM, Toyota, Nissan following different paths to electric car nirvana
If plug-in electrified vehicles are the future of automobiles, how should an automobile manufacturer approach electrifying their fleet? Automakers are full of engine design engineers who know how to optimize camshafts, timing belts, and all the other aspects of engine design. Can they wave a magic wand and instantly have every vehicle they sell be a clean all electric vehicle? No. Ford Motors and the other automakers are following significantly different paths to electrification. The shifting capabilities of electric vehicle technology, and changing acceptance level of the customer base, should converge on the mainstreaming of electric vehicles. Multiple paths are being taken to this goal, ones which will play out over the next decade or two.
Nissan, GM, Mitsubishi, and Toyota all have one or two flag-bearer electrified vehicles in their fleet. These are the Nissan Leaf, the Chevy Volt, the Mitsubishi i-MiEV, and the Toyota Prius family. Each of these vehicles are the primarily face of electrification efforts at the respective automaker. Each of these manufacturers make more than one hybrid or electric vehicles, but the named vehicles are held up as the primary example from each in the clean vehicles category.
BMW has been taking an experimentation approach that they say is leading to the BMW i3 and i8 expected to go on sale next year. In the meantime the company built the Mini-E fleet a few years ago, leasing them to customers as a sort of trial project. Earlier this the company called back the Mini-E's, and began leasing the ActiveE instead, again as a sort of trial project. Which is to say that the Mini-E and ActiveE have also served as flag-bearer vehicles for BMW.
Coda Automotive, Fisker Automotive and Tesla Motors all have flagship vehicles, but this is largely because all three are start-up companies and simply don't have the same deep bench of vehicle models as the other automakers. Fisker's flagship is the Fisker Karma, a plug-in hybrid electric luxury car. Tesla's flagship has been the iconic Tesla Roadster, with the Tesla Model S electric luxury car about to supplant that car as the flagship. Coda's flagship is the Coda electric car, launched earlier this year.
Ford Motors, on the other hand, has followed a different strategy that is instead focusing on an across the board electrification of their vehicle fleet. The rollout of that strategy began earlier this year when the company started manufacturing and selling the Ford Focus Electric. Prior to that Ford unveiled their Power of Choice strategy, making it clear that the Ford Focus Electric was to be quickly joined by four other electrified vehicles, the Ford Fusion Hybrid and Energi, the C-MAX Hybrid and Energi. Not only that, but Ford is following a different manufacturing strategy than the other automakers.
Ford is designing their electrified vehicles for manufacturability as either gasoline or hybrid or plug-in hybrid or electric. Each of the named Ford vehicles are built on the same assembly line as the gasoline version. Ford has designed the manufacturing process to simply allow a electric, or hybrid, or plug-in hybrid drive train to be installed as requested by the customer. The effect is similar to when you buy a laptop computer in an online store that lets you click on options to customize the components in the laptop. Many automaker websites offer a similar experience of selecting options one-by-one, and on Ford's website one of those options is the drive train. That is the Power of Choice strategy, to enable Ford's customers to make a choice that was previously unavailable. In the past the customer could not choose the drive train, because even though we could choose the engine size or transmission, it was a a choice between various gasoline burning engines.