I could hardly believe it the first time I saw the headline, but Ford is retooling the Michigan Assembly Plant. No longer will it manufacture gas-guzzling, greenhouse forcing SUVs and trucks. It will instead begin to manufacture Ford’s Focus and by 2011, it could be manufacturing electric Ford Focuses. Which is interesting, because I still hear naysayers going on and on about there isn’t a market for electric vehicles in the U.S. I’ve done my fair share of criticizing Ford, but this plan flies in the face of their now-dead strategy of selling high-profit vehicles. There is a market for electric vehicles in the U.S. today and it will will only grow by 2011. I would be willing to bet that Ford won’t be able to keep up with the demand when they first sell the electric Focus. The NY Times article also reports that Ford will introduce four new electric vehicle models to the U.S. market by 2012. Two other Ford plants will undergo similar retooling to begin manufacturing smaller cars and not trucks and SUVs.
Look, Ford could have done this 5 or even 10 years ago. The technology was ready. The market was ready. Ford wasn’t ready – not until they were faced with possible extinction. Sometimes it takes a close call with disaster to change behavior. I was never an advocate for Ford’s failure. I repeatedly pointed out that I thought they were making unrealistic business decisions. This announcement sets the stage for a stronger U.S. domestic auto manufacturer for the 21st century. It represents a huge step forward – one that will force GM and Chrysler to respond in kind. It also puts more pressure of foreign automakers like Toyota and Honda, although their hybrid and electric vehicle technology is arguably in better position to compete today because they’ve brought products to market already. In the end, it’s the consumer and the environment that really wins.
Oh, this also puts pressure on municipalities and other stakeholders to come up with an infrastructure that can support mass electric vehicle usage. I would recommend officials at all levels of government to be aware of these developments so their constituents can exercise their choices as they want.