Ford puts commercial business at forefront of EV strategy

Industry

RUTHERFORD, Calif. — Gasoline-powered vehicles are banned inside Inglenook Winery’s vast Infinity Caves, which can be good for the quality of its most popular varietals but problematic for workers trying to move heavy equipment, like the massive stainless-steel fermenting tanks.

Among the estate’s 235 acres of grapevines, employees often lug cumbersome generators to keep saws and other tools running during the busy harvest season, when they collect 400 to 500 tons of grapes over roughly three months.

Associate winemaker Chris Phelps says the zero-emission Ford F-150 Lightning Pro and E-Transit van, with on-board generators, can solve both of those issues and relieve other pressures of managing the 1,700-acre property with about 100 workers.

“There’s applications all over the place for these vehicles,” he said. “It will be a fight to see who will get to use them.”

Ford Motor Co. expects vintners such as Phelps — along with florists, plumbers and other business owners — to be in the vanguard of its pivot to the electric age. The automaker already owns a leading share of the high-margin, high-volume commercial vehicle market and is betting that fleet managers will recognize the benefits of going electric far quicker than the average retail buyer.

As new competitors seek to chip away at Ford’s lead, CEO Jim Farley has invested heavily in its newly created Ford Pro commercial business unit to offer not only electric trucks and vans, but a suite of software services and depot charging infrastructure to make work more efficient.

“Ford Pro is one of the biggest bets we have to lead a connected, electric mobility future,” Farley said at a media event here last week. “We’re not going to cede that future to anyone. There are plenty of startups promising new breakthroughs, and that’s fine. They do not have the trust that we do at Ford. They don’t have our global scale, either.”

Ford already has booked 10,000 orders for the E-Transit, which goes on sale soon. It has capped Lightning reservations at 200,000 as production nears this spring but has not said how many are for the commercial version.

The automaker expects Ford Pro will generate $45 billion in revenue by 2025, but the vehicles may not be the main attraction.

Farley said last week that he thinks half of Ford’s commercial revenue could come from physical vehicle service as well as software.

“Our vehicles will still be really important, but I do believe loyalty to the brand is going to be driven by the software experience,” he said.

That’s why Ford is offering a host of services through Ford Pro Intelligence, a proprietary software platform. Those services include telematics data to track vehicle health and driver performance, a digital field service tool called Viizr to reduce paper waste, security cameras to protect valuables and charging services to reduce vehicle downtime.

Ford expects to generate $1 billion in revenue from commercial charging services by 2030, and last year acquired Electriphi, a fleet-charging service provider, to bolster its knowledge.

In addition to offering ways for businesses to compensate owners who charge at home and through public networks, the company will offer to install Ford Pro-branded chargers at workplaces. The chargers will be compatible with non-Ford models.

Farley believes consulting on and installing the on-site chargers will be key to achieving the $1 billion revenue figure. Executives previously have estimated that the depot charging industry will grow to more than 900,000 full-size trucks and vans by 2030.

“Of all the objectives I give [Ford Pro CEO Ted Cannis], that’s the one I care most about, even more so than market share,” Farley told Automotive News on the sidelines of the media event. “We want to be the Supercharger network of depot charging.”

Brothers Joe and Steve Dutton, co-owners of the 1,400-acre Dutton Ranch in Sebastopol, Calif., are part of a pilot program Ford announced last week that will give them a Lightning, E-Transit and access to Ford Pro Intelligence services for a one-year trial.

They expect to eventually purchase additional vehicles but say they’re already reaping benefits from Ford Pro’s services on their fleet of about 70 gas-powered work vehicles. Ford Pro’s cloud-based telematics data can be used on older models, as well as non-Fords, that are equipped with modems.

After connecting their vehicles and scanning the vehicle health report, the brothers realized one 2018 F-150 had two outstanding recalls and needed an oil change. Its driver will be out of town in the coming weeks, so they used the service to schedule a maintenance appointment.

“Before this, we relied on the driver to tell us something was wrong,” Steve Dutton said. “It’s going to be really helpful to us.”

Ultimately, the Duttons say the services will reduce vehicle downtime, which will help them make more money.

Cannis, in a media presentation, cited a Ford-commissioned KPMG study that said its Ford Pro suite of services can reduce total cost of ownership by 10 to 20 percent.

He said Ford’s holistic approach to the commercial space will be a differentiator from its competition.

Delivery services, a segment targeted by startups such as Rivian and Workhorse, make up just 10 percent of the commercial business segment, Cannis said. Half of the businesses in the commercial industry have fleets of 50 or fewer vehicles.

He said Ford plans to cater to the full range of businesses. Its 10,000 E-Transit orders come from 300 companies.

“Customers have chosen Ford, leading us to earn nearly half the commercial vehicle market in the U.S.,” Cannis said. “Others will have a tough time catching up.”

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