Ford is going full blast in its pursuit of adding an entire fleet of electric vehicles, after announcing that it would be investing an additional $4.5 billion in its electrified vehicle program. The amount represents the biggest investment the company has made in anything related to electric cars in a five-year period.

The Detroit-based automaker has made it a personal mission to expand its electric car lineup by the year 2020. If the company gets its way, it would have a total of 13 new electrified vehicles by the turn of the decade, accounting for more than 40 percent of its total lineup.

The model that will kick start this upheaval is the new Focus Electric, which is scheduled to start production in late 2016. The Focus Electric will come with a variety of new features, highlighted by an all-new DC fast-charge capability that cuts the charging time of the batteries by more than two hours compared to the current version. This is made possibly by the tech’s capacity to deliver an 80-percent charge in just a little over 30 minutes with its projected 100-mile range. The new Focus Electric will also feature a SmartGauge with EcoGuide LCD instrument cluster and a Brake Coach, a new feature that essentially “coaches” the driver on how to properly utilize smooth braking to help maximize the energy captured through the car’s Regenerative Braking System.

In addition to the increased attention in electric cars, Ford also plans to invest $2.1 million in a battery lab at the University of Michigan to boost research and development. The company also plans to expand battery development, presumably with the goal of opening factories in Europe and Asia that’s dedicated to the development of the technology.

As electric vehicles become more and more popular, there’s no doubt that this new round of investment in EV technology is Ford’s way of saying that it’s embracing the increasing demand for cleaner and more efficient vehicles.

Continue reading for the full story.

Why it matters

Ford Invests $4.5 Billion To Further Electrify Its Lineup
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If there ever was a blueprint on how to emphatically make your intentions known to the industry, announcing a new investment of $4.5 billion is a good way to go about it. The amount itself is huge, but it’s arguably not the most important part of this announcement from Ford. I think it’s more important that Ford is really showing a commitment to embracing electric vehicles. It’s not going to be evident in the near future, but if the American automaker really sees this through, it’s not far-fetched for Ford to accomplish its goal of having a lineup of cars with a significant number of EV models.

Far more than its promise of building more electric cars in the future, Ford is also planning to reinvent its production process by focusing more on customer experience instead of simply directing its full attention to the vehicles. This is still an admittedly vague proclamation, but the company said that a big part of this production shift will be tied into social science-based research that will be done on a global scale. This involves making key observations on how customers interact with their vehicles.

Apparently, Ford thinks that these interactions will be able to provide key insights that can have a positive effect in the production of its future models. Quantitatively, this new method will include doubling the number of projects that use ethnographic research compared to the amount of projects done using that method this year.

Ford’s also putting a new twist on how its designers sketch prospective models. Instead of the tried-and-tested method of simply putting pen to paper, the company will begin to turn these sketches into what it describes as “full customer experience illustrations”.

There’s definitely a lot of things going on in Ford these days as it begins to strap up and prepare for the future. As a fan of the company, it’s nice to see that the company is laying its plans on the table for everyone to see. That’s going to put a sense of accountability on those involved to live up to these promises.

Ford Focus Electric

2016 Ford Focus Electric High Resolution Exterior
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Read our full review on the Ford Focus Electric here.

Press Release

Ford is investing an additional $4.5 billion in electrified vehicle solutions by 2020 as well as changing how the company develops vehicle experiences for customers – all to make people’s lives better by changing the way the world moves.

Ford is adding 13 new electrified vehicles to its portfolio by 2020, when more than 40 percent of the company’s global nameplates will come in electrified versions. This represents Ford’s largest-ever electrified vehicle investment in a five-year period.

On the way next year is a new Focus Electric, which features all-new DC fast-charge capability delivering an 80 percent charge in an estimated 30 minutes and projected 100-mile range – an estimated two hours faster than today’s Focus Electric.

The new Focus Electric, which starts production late next year, also will provide North American and European customers:

SmartGauge with EcoGuide LCD Instrument Cluster, which offers a multitude of customizable displays that can help the driver see real-time EV power usage to help maximize vehicle efficiency
Brake Coach, another smart feature that coaches the driver on how to use smooth braking to maximize the energy captured through the Regenerative Braking System. The more energy a driver captures through braking, the more energy is returned to the vehicle’s battery
Fun-to-drive character, with agile steering and handling engineered into the vehicle to give drivers a more connected feel to the road

Ford’s shift to add electrified vehicle solutions answers increasing global trends calling for cleaner, more efficient vehicles.

Experience-Led Design
Ford also is reimagining how to set itself apart in the marketplace by focusing on the customer experience and not just the vehicle itself. The company is changing its product development process to support the shift.

“The challenge going forward isn’t who provides the most technology in a vehicle but who best organizes that technology in a way that most excites and delights people,” said Raj Nair, executive vice president, Product Development. “By observing consumers, we can better understand which features and strengths users truly use and value and create even better experiences for them going forward.”

In addition to traditional market research, Ford is investing in social science-based research globally, observing how consumers interact with vehicles and gaining new insights into the cognitive, social, cultural, technological and economic nuances that affect product design.

“This new way of working brings together marketing, research, engineering and design in a new way to create meaningful user experiences, rather than individually developing technologies and features that need to be integrated into a final product,” Nair said. “We are using new insights from anthropologists, sociologists, economists, journalists and designers, along with traditional business techniques, to reimagine our product development process, create new experiences and make life better for millions of people.”

Next year, Ford is doubling the number of projects that use ethnographic research versus this year.

The team of social scientists already has spent months exploring topics such as the future of luxury transport, how people form relationships with their cars and the role of trucks in the American heartland.

ReD, a social science-based strategy consultancy, has been innovating with consumer goods and pharmaceutical companies for a decade. ReD started working with Ford – its sole automotive client – in 2012.

During the past three years, the team has invested more than 4,000 hours with thousands of vehicle users in more than 25 cities worldwide, taking 80,000 photos, nearly 3,000 hours of video and more than 8,000 pages of field notes, feeding countless insights to improve the product creation process.

“For 70 years, market research has been done by asking people for their opinion. But

Ford has always been fundamentally skeptical about that. Henry Ford used to say, ‘If I asked people what they wanted, they would have asked for a faster horse,’” said Christian Madsbjerg, founder of ReD Associates and author of The Moment of Clarity. “I chose to work with Ford because this approach is in their DNA and is setting the company at the forefront of this advanced and bold process, which is redefining market research and silo-busting the way the company operates.”

Another new twist to the product development process is that designers no longer just sketch products but also full customer experience illustrations that visualize the experience each product is meant to deliver. The series of vignettes define a unique user journey that seamlessly integrates both hardware and software experiences.

This user experience design technique also plays an important role in developing the Ford Smart Mobility plan, which is designed to take the company to the next level in connectivity, mobility, autonomous vehicles, the customer experience and data and analytics.

“As both an auto and a mobility company, we at Ford are going further than just designing the product to move people from point A to point B,” Nair said. “We are considering the way customers interact with our vehicles as a unified experience, looking for ways to excite and delight customers and make their lives better.”

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