Ford May Show A 200-Mile Electric Car This Year To Counter Chevy Bolt: UPDATE

John Voelcker

The announcement that the 2017 Chevrolet Bolt electric car will go into production within 18 months seemingly sent shockwaves through the auto industry.

GM's crosstown rival Ford, which has sold hybrids for more than 10 years but shown little love for battery-electric cars, now seems to feel the need to respond.

According to reports, Ford will now unveil its own 200-mile battery electric car--this year.

DON'T MISS: 2017 Chevrolet Bolt 200-Mile Electric Car To Start Production In Oct 2016

The news was reported Tuesday by Automobile magazine, which said simply that Ford would unveil a competitor to the 200-mile Bolt electric car.

The second sentence of the article began, "Scant details are available."

And the piece ends: "Ford's official word is that the story is not accurate."

UPDATE: Said Deep, who is Ford's North American Product Communications Manager, contacted Green Car Reports after this story was published, with the following statement: "We do not comment on speculation but can confirm these reports are not accurate."

We spent much of yesterday talking to various sources in the industry who--as usual in such circumstances--declined to be identified or go on the record.

2013 Ford Focus Electric
2013 Ford Focus Electric

Here's what we've pieced together from those sources.

First, Ford was caught very much off-guard by GM's announcement. The carmaker is now "scrambling to respond," said one source.

The world's fifth-largest auto manufacturer may now feel vulnerable for not having a strong product among the battery-electric cars it has historically dismissed.

While Ford has offered its Focus Electric for more than three years, it has delivered just over 4,600 of the battery-electric hatchback. During that time, Nissan sold 66,500 Leafs.

ALSO SEE: Ford Can Design Tesla-Like Electric Car, CEO Says (Oct 2014)

Second, the carmaker's plans for an electric Bolt competitor are so new that as of 10 days ago, even such questions as its size--compact or subcompact--apparently hadn't been settled.

That may indicate that the entire program kicked into high gear only after February 6, when GM announced its production plans for its 200-mile Bolt electric car, at volumes around 25,000 cars per year.

Odds are a 200-mile Ford electric car would end up as a compact vehicle, as today's Focus Electric is.

One source suggested the car might possibly be sold as a Lincoln, bringing a dose of high-tech attention to a luxury brand struggling to survive--not to mention a higher price tag.

2013 Ford C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid, Marin County, CA, Nov 2012
2013 Ford C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid, Marin County, CA, Nov 2012

On the other hand, Ford CEO Mark Fields said last October that the company had the engineering ability and product development staff to build an electric car like a Tesla.

While he didn't say Ford would do so, Fields called such a car "very consistent with our product strategy"--perhaps giving a nod to the Lincoln notion.

Third, while Ford may show a concept version of a planned electric car this year, it is at least four years away from Job One, the first production version of any new Ford electric car.

Such a vehicle wouldn't roll off the assembly lines until late 2018 or sometime in 2019 at the earliest. At best, Ford's unnamed electric car will trail the 2017 Bolt by at least a year, but more likely two or three.

MORE: 2015 Ford Focus Electric Price Cut To $29,995, A $6K Drop

Fourth, if it does produce such a car, Ford will do so for two different reasons.

One is competitiveness: Any time that GM, Nissan, and VW Group plan to produce tens to hundreds of thousands of a specific vehicle type, a maker as large as Ford has to consider whether it must compete in that segment too.

But the other is the combined effects of CAFE, the corporate average fuel-economy rules that steadily tighten between now and 2025, and California's zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) sales mandates.

While carmakers hope to relax, delay, or alter the CAFE rules during a mid-cycle review in a couple of years, the rules are largely expected to stay more or less intact.

2015 Ford Focus Electric, 2014 New York Auto Show
2015 Ford Focus Electric, 2014 New York Auto Show

Ford may feel particularly vulnerable to upcoming changes in EPA testing procedure, meant to ensure that real-world gas mileage stays close to the EPA's window-sticker ratings.

The company had to cut its ratings on the C-Max Hybrid twice, and adjust numerous other models--all of which lowered its CAFE average.

Its EcoBoost engines, which are downsized and turbocharged, have faced continuing questions from owners about why they're not matching the vehicles' window-sticker combined ratings.

Under the arcane details of the EPA rules, plug-in electric cars offer a way to boost the company's CAFE average even at relatively low volumes.

And the California ZEV rules start to get far tougher in 2018.

2013 Ford Focus Electric
2013 Ford Focus Electric

For their first six years, emission-free vehicles had to make up only about 1 percent of a carmaker's total California sales.

In 2018, the mandated numbers start to rise by 1 percent a year--2 percent that year, 3 percent in 2019, and so forth.

Special event in summer or fall?

Lastly, when might we expect to see such a car?

2014 Ford Fusion Energi charging in driveway [image provided by owner Brandt Buffham]
2014 Ford Fusion Energi charging in driveway [image provided by owner Brandt Buffham]

The logical event for such an unveiling would be the Los Angeles Auto Show in November, widely (if not always accurately) viewed as a showcase for green cars.

But Ford often doesn't follow industry custom, preferring instead to create its own events.

And we rather wonder if it won't want to get its car into the public eye a little earlier--given the urgency it seemingly now feels over the need to be viewed as competitive with GM in electric cars.

By the time of the LA Show in November, after all, the Chevy Bolt will be less than a year away from starting production.

If we had to bet, we'd expect Ford to stage some kind of event in the summer or early autumn.

Grain-of-salt disclaimer

As always, note that this article is largely speculative--the sum of our discussions with a number of people, each of whom sees a little piece of a bigger but still largely hidden picture.

We could be entirely wrong; it's happened before.

Either way, we look forward to learning what Ford's up to.

Within a handful of months, we'll likely know more.

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