Ford's four new SUVs will include 'mini utility,' electric models

We only got vague hints today, but Ford's new SUV-filled future looks electric.

  • Image Credit: Brandon Turkus
There was a palatable sense of excitement emanating from Ford's vice president of marketing, sales, and service this morning. Mark LaNeve gave the opening speech as the Chicago Auto Show today and delivered the goods on the Blue Oval's line of thinking about why now is exactly the right time to introduce four new SUVs to the market in the next four years.

The plan for these new SUVs is for them to be "four new nameplates" in segments that Ford "does not currently compete" in. "There are certain segments of the SUV and CUV market where we are not competing today, and Ford is a full-line manufacturer and we believe we should be competing in all the relevant segments," he said. The basic argument LaNeve laid out for this expansion is this: gas prices are low and will remain low, Millennials don't want to drive the large sedans of their parents' generation, and new SUVs are more fuel efficient so Ford will still be able to hit CAFE targets. Oh, and electrification is likely to be involved.

"We don't compete in the mini utility category." - Mark LaNeve

While LaNeve did not get into any, you know, actual details about these new models – he wouldn't comment on the possibility of bringing Bronco back or if Lincoln will get new SUVs, for example – he did give us some hints to chew on for a while. We know that Ford already has small, medium, and large SUVs (the Escape, Edge, and Explorer, respectively), so what's the segment they're not in? "We don't compete in the mini utility category," LaNeve said, which doesn't explicitly mean that Ford will make another tiny SUV like the EcoSport (Ford's small SUV, based on the Fiesta, that is sold around the world, but not in North America), but maybe. Currently, Ford's smallest SUV in the US is the Escape, which is based on the Focus.

In 2010, passenger cars were 52 percent of the US market. At the end of 2015, they were 41 percent, LaNeve said. This happened despite high gas prices a few years ago. "The low cost of fuel just ads more fuel to the fire, no pun intended, on the move from passenger cars to SUVs," he said. Whether this SUV expansion will shrink Ford's sedan lineup, LaNeve would not say, but he did say that Ford's long-term predictions hold up even if gas prices go back up. "[SUVs] get very good fuel economy, so we think that if there was a run up in fuel prices, it would be more of a shift from bigger utilities to smaller utilities, not a shift into passenger cars," he said.

"There will be more electrified vehicles across all segments."

Future efficiency gains will almost certainly come from electrifying some of these SUVs. Ford announced a $4.5-billion investment in its electrification efforts, "so you can imagine there will be broad usage across our lineup," LaNeve said. Hitting CAFE targets is "a big challenge for the industry, but at Ford we have a plan. To meet the future targets, there will be more electrified [vehicles] across all segments, cars, utilities, everything."

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