Ford drops biggest hint yet ‘skunkworks’-developed vehicles will move ahead of Gen-2

The firm’s California project may well produce the next round of BEVs

Ford drops biggest hint yet ‘skunkworks’-developed vehicles will move ahead of Gen-2
The Explorer may be followed by a slew of California-developed offerings

US automaker Ford’s new all-electric Explorer SUV, which went on sale in Europe last month, is largely a retooled Volkswagen ID.4. Further BEV models that do not originate out of Detroit HQ may now be next in line to follow it.

It looks increasingly likely that Ford’s so-called “skunkworks” project based in California — given how the narrative has evolved ever since the project was first publicly acknowledged by Ford during its Q4 results call in early February — will be first to take on the challenge of producing profitable all-electrics rather than the second generation, or Gen-2, line-up that the OEM had previously been discussing.

“Our new affordable platform will be used for most of our volume in the next cycle of product,” Ford CEO Jim Farley told analysts on the firm's Q1 investor call. “What is really exciting for us is that we see an opening in the market.”

This represents another step in a pivot away from Ford’s previously advertised strategy — selling BEVs to the ICE customer base it knows best, i.e. trucks, including a Gen-2 e-pickup that Farley described as "one of the most thrilling vehicles I have ever seen in my career" — to a focus on the compact SUV segment that may have more appetite to go all-electric than trucks and where ICE sales are dominated by Japanese brands far behind Ford in their electrification journey.

“We believe that we can be profitable at $25,000-30,000 so it is a huge opportunity for Ford. We are really excited about that new more affordable vehicle line-up,” Farley continues.

Why so cloak-and-dagger?

The new focus appears, if Ford can deliver on it, entirely sensible. The only question is why the narrative is being altered so incrementally, when the message is broadly positive. Even on the Q1 call, Ford did not come out and definitively say that skunkworks was now Gen-2, and Gen-2 will have to evolve into Gen-3.

When it was first mentioned, it seemed slightly bizarre that Ford had a secret project, running contrary to their stated 'customers we know' BEV strategy, on the go for a full two years without telling anyone about it. Admittedly, ex-Tesla man Alan Clarke, Ford’s Irvine CA-based executive director for advanced EV development, has been on board since early 2022.

But equally, it seems safe to assume that Ford’s November acquisition of Auto Motive Power (AMP), a Californian maker of energy management systems for EVs, may have materially altered the unit’s firepower. AMP boasts “a pool of talented engineers and technology that Ford is incorporating and vertically integrating into our EV plans”, Ford told EV inFocus at the time.

So, a major acquisition in November; followed by the revelation of the project’s existence in February; followed by CFO John Lawler describing it as “Gen-2A”, rather than Gen-3, in late March; followed by Ford announcing delays to planned Gen-2 launches early this month; followed by Farley’s comments today.

It all looks to add up to a radical restructuring of Ford’s mid-term BEV product plan, just drip-fed to try to disguise quite what a seismic shift it is in a relatively short time period. EV inFocus suggests the market looks out for an official announcement some time soon.   

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