Ford Australia’s new president and CEO, Kay Hart, says our market doesn’t seem ready to embrace electric vehicles until we have confidence in the country’s charging infrastructure.
That said, the Blue Oval stands ready to wade into the world of lower emissions vehicles when the time comes, given its massive global investments into research and development.
Hart is pretty well placed to monitor the situation in Australia, given she previously worked as Ford’s global battery electric vehicle manager, customer and digital experience.
We’d caveat all this by saying she’s just two weeks into her new role, so when we spoke with her she was understandably still diving into Australia-specific issues.
“I think it’ll happen, [but] I don’t think we’re ready quite yet,” she said, when we asked her to discuss the rollout of electrified cars en masse, in Australia.
“If you think about the markets you mentioned, Europe and the States, and the readiness of those markets, I think they’re ready for EVs from an infrastructure strandpoint.
“Customers have confidence in charging and I think that's something we need here in Australia, to really make sure customers are confident in the EV purchase.
“If you think about where all the markets are at, obviously Australia is behind the Europeans and California, the State you mentioned, but it’s not the only market in the world [in that situation].”
As we know, Ford is slashing spending on many core models to divert the savings into electrification, with a goal of investing US$11 billion ($A15 billion) by 2022.
"We're all in on this and we're taking our mainstream vehicles, our most iconic vehicles, and we're electrifying them," Bill Ford said recently. “If we want to be successful with electrification, we have to do it with vehicles that are already popular.”
As a result of its extra investment, Ford plans to have 40 electrified vehicles in its global range by 2022, up from the previous target of 13. Of the 40 electrified cars, 16 will be pure-electric vehicles, with plug-in hybrids accounting for the remainder.
Australia is still miles behind much of the developed world in the rollout of battery electric and plug-in hybrid cars, though mild hybrids are growing in popularity thanks to Toyota.
There have been repeated calls from most corners of the industry for the government to follow the model set by many in Europe, the US and Asia, of offering incentives such as subsidies or tax breaks, to get that ball rolling. All to no avail.
That said, with EVs such as the second-generation Nissan Leaf and Hyundai Kona Electric both set to arrive here soon, at comparatively affordable prices compared to something from BMW or Tesla, the pendulum might start to shift.
We asked Hart if Ford may be well served by getting ahead of the curve like Nissan and Hyundai, reconciling its commercial imperatives with the notion of ‘being the change it wants to see’.
“I think it’s a bit of both, it’s a bit of making sure you have the right product for this market as opposed to others, making sure you can give customers confidence in infrastructure. I think we have an opportunity when the market is ready,” she replied.
The other side of the coin is local development. GM announced this week it was pumping more money into Holden’s Lang lang proving ground in Victoria, turning it into a hub for engineering autonomous technology and electric vehicles, promising 150 new engineering and design jobs.
Ford Australia has an even bigger development hub in Victoria, based in the You Yangs area, focusing on global programs like the Ranger, and China-market product such as the Escort. Might it, too, become an EV development site?
“Nothing to announce,” Hart said.