“We’re hitting our biggest icons first,” he says, “but we have more. And we’ll keep working through them.” Meanwhile, starting now, Ford is launching a new or renewed supporting range of smaller plug-in hybrids, first being the Escape SUV (our Kuga) with a larger Explorer not far behind, although it isn’t currently planned for the UK.
Project Edison grew out of an earlier plan to build a second generation of the decent but dull economy BEVs, such as a second-generation electric Focus. But the decision to stop making saloons in the US, along with a realisation that the way to sell new BEVs at a profit was to build exciting cars closely related to existing icons, brought a new philosophy. “We decided very carefully where we’d play in the electric car market, and that every one would amplify the characteristics of the model it was based on. Each one had to be extremely desirable, but at an attainable price,” says Palmer.
“These cars won’t necessarily be cheap, but they’ll be gotta-have-it models, sold at a price we judge is attainable for our existing customers. They’re our focus. Ford has always democratised technology and this will be more of the same. But early adopters of BEVs have a lot to deal with, so Project Edison is working on every aspect of ownership, from the minute someone considers an electric car, through the whole web experience to buying, owning, using and charging.”
On keeping costs under control – already a proven BEV bugbear – Palmer acknowledges challenges but has answers. “We’ve planned the entire portfolio in one go,” he says. “We’ve selected a common battery cell for our BEVs and set up long-term, large-scale relationships with suppliers, because 75% of a battery’s cost is raw materials.
“It’s vital that every BEV is profitable because that means you can sell as many as customers want. If they’re not profitable you hold them back: why do you think so many of today’s electrics are subject to year-long waiting lists? We’ll launch, and we won’t lose money. That’s what will make our cars mainstream.”
BEV range, Palmer admits, is something customers obsess about. Decent range hasn’t been generally available up to now, partly because of poor battery density, partly because of cost. But these things are improving, even if progress is slowed by rising demand. “A car’s range in miles begins with a 1, 2 or 3,” says Palmer. “Our research shows that when it’s a 3 anxiety drops away fast. A 300-plus capability is something we’re aiming at.”
It’s clear Palmer could continue his rapid-fire advocacy of electric cars indefinitely, except that he has at least 100 other things to do against a punishing timetable. (He explains, for instance, how an Edison-led team recently produced a completely new infotainment system for the Mustang-based CUV in just 90 days, from plan to final hardware.) So we content ourselves with asking him to characterise the importance of the current era of car creation.