Automotive > Powertrain, Body, Chassis & Safety Blog

Ford's Winning EV User Experience

by Roger Lanctot | 3月 17, 2021

It’s amusing to listen to Volkswagen and General Motors posturing over their multi-billion-dollar plans to launch massive EV product line-ups in order to dominate EV sales globally. Toyota, too, is also fun to watch as it begs for U.S. legislators to include plug-in hybrids and hydrogen fueled vehicles as part of climate legislation.

Ford Motor Company has already won this battle of the EV upstarts hands down. (Tesla is the big dog. Nissan gets an honorable global mention.)  It all comes down to the EV user experience.

Volkswagen held its Power Day Monday. The company talked about battery gigafactories and unified prismatic cell design. GM, too, has been touting its sexy Ultium battery platform. Both companies have a couple dozen new car models coming based on these new propulsion systems.

But they just don’t get it. They don’t understand what the market and the consumer wants and needs and the evidence is already on the road.

Buyers of Chevrolet Bolts and Volts, for example, have been left to their own devices to find nearby compatible charging stations. Chevy has an app for that, but there aren’t many owners using it. (And who wants to use an app to find charging stations? More on that, later.)

The Bolt can’t even be bought, today, with a built-in navigation system. It wasn’t so long ago that car makers understood that shipping an EV without navigation was a first order marketing and design fail. GM took the penny wise, watt foolish route.

Thankfully for GM, Bolt and Volt owners are a scrappy bunch, willing to figure out and solve problems on their own and overcome an array of shortcomings associated with their vehicles. Those shortcomings are many including slow charging, a lack of battery warming, no special integration or discounts with charging partner EVgo, and a general lack of enthusiasm from the dealer network. (“Not ANOTHER EV!”)

This is not to suggest that GM isn’t serious about EVs. GM President Mark Reuss laid out his vision for an EV “breakthrough” in a commentary on LinkedIn last week. The elements of that breakthrough included:

  • Battery technology breakthroughs that make EVs more affordable and faster to charge. 
  • Getting Communities Ready. 
  • Smart and effective public policy. 
  • Creating Confident and Excited Consumers. 

Those points read like EV marketing pablum. Of course we want battery breakthroughs. Sure we want to get communities “ready.”  We already have smart and effective public policy – translation: “More EV tax credits!”  And, sure, we want customers to be confident.

Unfortunately, GM’s on-ramp to an Ultium-infused future is a clearance sale of 2020 and 2021 Bolts that may leave a bad taste in the mouths of consumers and may engender bad blood from the dealer network.  Chevy is throwing dealer cash at Bolts and there are offers floating of free home charging installation and $49/month leases with retail prices plunging to $25K and less.

One can only imagine the whiplash when consumers see the 2022 Bolt with a $43K sticker next to its predecessor going for half that price.  It’s not a great marketing story to have these Bolts coming and going on dealer lots – which is a shame given the fan base that was created by the original extended range EV Volt.

But what GM is really missing is a tight, in-dash, embedded navigation integration with EVgo’s network, fast charging, and a plug-n-charge charging experience.  The Bolt is more of a plug-n-wait – and don’t expect any special pricing or free charging at EVgo stations.

Meanwhile, an absolute unmitigated debacle is playing out around Volkswagen’s premier EV market entry for North America – the ID.4.  There isn’t much I can add to the description of the incomprehensibly and unnecessarily complicated charging process for the ID.4 at Volkswagen-created Electrify America charging stations that hasn’t already been noted by this reviewer:

The Volkswagen ID.4 is a Disappointing Electric Car (for Now) -

To summarize, Volkswagen has failed to deliver a plug-n-charge experience, has unnecessarily added a smartphone app that introduces a multi-step process to initiate the charging, and has included an embedded navigation system that fails to prioritize Electrify America charging stations for EV routing – or even the fastest nearby chargers.

So, with GM and VW falling wide of the mark on delivering a pleasing EV charging experience, what is it that Ford Motor Company has gotten so right?

  • Ford has partnered with Electrify America
  • Ford has included other charging partners enabling it to claim the largest charging network at 16,000 locations (more on that in a moment)
  • Ford has included 250Kw of free charging – roughly five free full charges worth <$100 – on the Electrify America network with the Ford Mustang Mach E
  • Ford enables an app-free, plug-n-charge experience at Electrify America charging stations

If I have one beef with Ford, it’s the company’s puffed up claim of a network of 16,000 charging stations. Clearly, the majority of these stations will be slower, Level 2 chargers suited to overnight stays, extended shopping trips, a day at work or school, or an emergency top up.

Ford Mustang Mach E Review:

EV points to ponder:

  • Most EV owners do most of their charging at home, work, or school
  • Longer trips normally involve planning for en route charging – i.e. EV owners do very little ad hoc charging for which an app might be relevant (charging apps are a distraction)
  • Temperature/weather matter – Tesla keeps its batteries warm and ready to charge – Bolts do not – that matters in colder climates accelerating energy consumption and slowing charging
  • EV owners either must teach themselves or be taught about charging protocols and preferences, and kilowatts and charging times

GM and VW may paint a public picture of bending to mandates and political pressure to convert their fleets to EV propulsion in the interest of a greener, healthier planet. But on a more practical level these car makers understand that EV shoppers and buyers by and large are super prime customers with top notch credit – at least according to Experian’s latest quarterly report. 

Car makers that stick to pumping out internal combustion vehicles will relegate themselves and their dealers to serving a less prosperous customer base. And the entire industry recognizes that China, with its government-led EV investments, is on the verge of bursting out in Western markets with an avalanche of SPAC-fueled EV startups.

The bottom line is that the EV war will not be won with unified prismatic battery cells, gigafactories, snappy brand names, or dozens of vehicles crammed into the market.  The EV war will be won on basic, stress-free, app-less, (nearly) touchless consumer experiences that have been crafted and delivered to market by a cleverly led product development team.

If you are pumping out press releases, webinars, podcasts, staged events, or analyst briefings about your organization’s vast EV investments and amazing technology – your organization will fail.  It is all about the user experience. As former U.S. President Ronald Reagan is purported to have said: “If you are explaining, you’re losing.”  GM and VW are explaining. Tesla and Ford (and maybe Nissan and Renault) are winning.

Further insights on EV user experiences from Strategy Analytics:

In US & UK:

In China:

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