Ford is probably working on a Tesla Model 3 rival

Ford reported first-quarter earnings on Thursday, and they were strong.

On a conference call with analysts after the numbers hit, CEO Mark Fields took questions, and at the very end, was asked if Ford is working on its own 200-mile-per-charge electric vehicle to take on the Tesla Model 3 and the Chevy Bolt.

Fields danced around the question a bit in terms of specifics and the timetable, but he didn’t deny that Ford was working on something.

“Absolutely,” he said. “We want to be either among the leaders or in a leadership position.”

However, Ford hasn’t yet made any product announcements on this front. And Fields didn’t go beyond laying out Ford’s vision for an electrified future.

He noted that Ford is investing $4.5 billion in electrifying its vehicle lineup, with the goal of having “40% of out nameplates” be electric around the world.

“We’re developing for that,” he said.

So is Ford rushing a Model3/Bolt fighter to market? The answer is a big “probably.”

But even if Ford doesn’t beat either Chevy or Tesla to market, it’s still far from incapable of introducing a 200-mile electric car. It already has a 100-mile vehicle in the Focus EV.

The question is really, “Does Ford want to engineer a 200-mile car from scratch, or expand on an existing vehicle?”

In any case, if GM can do it with Chevy, Ford can do it, too. It’s just a matter of timing.

That might be why Fields was diplomatic on the call. Ford would prefer to let GM absorb the initial risk of jumping into the longer-range EV market — because at the moment, with gas cheap, electric cars aren’t selling well. Sure, the Model 3 has 400,000 pre-orders, but many of those customers may simply want sa Tesla. The electric part is part of the deal. And not all those pre-orders will be converted into sales.

Nevertheless, it’s interesting to observe traditional automakers edging toward bigger bets on EVs, even thought the actual market for them hasn’t yet arrived.

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