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Ford CEO Jim Farley’s $16 Billion EV Bet Is Imploding As Tesla Sees Continued Momentum: What Does This Mean For The Future Of Ford And Legacy Automakers?


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After achieving record sales in the electric vehicle (EV) segment, Ford Motor Co. has taken a step back, scaling down its EV plans.

Despite the F-150 Lightning becoming America’s top-selling electric truck and the Mustang Mach-E recording impressive sales, Ford is revising its EV strategy. Chief Financial Officer John Lawler announced a reduction in planned investments, including postponing around $12 billion in EV spending. Ford is reducing production at its plant in Marshall, Michigan, cutting down on inverter and motor capacity and scaling back integration plans​​​​​​.

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This decision comes amid a broader shift in the market, where hybrids are gaining increased focus. Ford’s hybrid sales have eclipsed EVs, with over 37,000 units sold in the last quarter of 2023, compared to 61,575 EVs for the entire year. Despite placing second in U.S. EV sales, the bulk of Ford’s vehicle sales remain gas-powered internal combustion engine vehicles​​.

Toyota Motor Corp. also pivoted its strategy. After initially planning to sell 202,000 EVs, Toyota slashed its forecast by almost 40%, now aiming to sell only 123,000 units. The decision reflects a strategic shift toward hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs), with Toyota Chief Financial Officer Yoichi Miyazaki citing the intensifying price competition in the EV market, especially in China. Toyota reported that it now expects to sell around 3.6 million HEVs into 2024, up from the previous 3.5 million predicted. The company also raised its plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) target slightly. The shift emphasizes Toyota’s focus on hybrids as a bridge to EVs, avoiding direct competition in the burgeoning EV market​​.

Both Ford and Toyota’s moves are indicative of a broader trend among legacy automakers. General Motors Co. and Honda Motor Co. have also reportedly delayed or scaled back their EV plans. The industry seems to be at a crossroads, with legacy automakers balancing between current market dynamics and the looming all-electric future.

While this shift might seem like a step back for the EV industry, it’s important to recognize the broader context. The global EV market is growing, with sales expected to reach 14 million this year, up 35% from 2022. In the U.S., EV sales are expected to grow even faster, with a projected 50% increase this year. This growth is driven by companies like Tesla Inc., Rivian Automotive Inc. and BYD Auto Co. Ltd., which are gaining market share because of their competitive pricing, range and features. The reluctance of traditional automakers to fully embrace EVs might open more opportunities for these EV-focused companies to expand their market share.

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The industry continues to be a lucrative option for investors, specifically in the startup investing and venture capital realm. Startups have been unsuccessful for decades in breaking into the auto manufacturing industry. But now, there have been several unicorns and multibillion-dollar companies minted in the space.

Tesla, renowned for its pioneering role in the EV industry, has maintained its leadership position by adopting aggressive sales strategies and innovation. Over the past year, Tesla has reduced prices, making its vehicles more accessible and putting pressure on traditional carmakers competing in the EV space. This price reduction strategy has been crucial in maintaining Tesla’s significant market share despite increasing competition from automakers like Ford, General Motors and Toyota. Tesla’s market share in the U.S. EV market fell to 50% in the third quarter of last year, but it remains a dominant force, with innovative revenue streams from aspects like charging and full self-driving subscription software​​.

Tesla’s success demonstrated the viability of EVs and has encouraged other companies to enter the sector. Companies like Lucid Motors, which won the 2022 MotorTrend Car of the Year award, and Inc.-backed Rivian are gaining traction in the U.S., while Chinese firms such as BYD, Nio Inc., XPeng Motors and Li Auto Inc. are challenging the status quo in the auto industry. These companies are capitalizing on the growing consumer demand for sustainable vehicles and the increasing focus of investors on environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues. The positioning of these brands as champions of sustainability resonates with consumers, especially in the U.S., where there is a passionate interest in solving global issues like climate change​​.

As traditional automakers navigate a cautious path in their transition to EVs, Tesla and other EV leaders are leveraging their head start in technology and brand positioning to consolidate and expand their presence in the market. Tesla’s software-centric approach to automotive design, with features like its infotainment system, over-the-air updates and Autopilot driver-assistance system, has set a benchmark in the industry. This focus on integrating advanced technology into vehicles has given Tesla and other EV startups a significant competitive edge over traditional carmakers that are still grappling with the shift from hardware-centric to software-centric automotive design​.

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