Ford Pro CEO : ‘Software-based vehicle is much harder to design than EV’

Just before the presentation of the new Ford E-Transit Courier, we got a chance to sit down with the CEO of Ford’s commercial vehicle operation Ted Cannis. He offered some insight on what’s next for Ford Pro, and how he would like to see some support from the Belgian government for electric commercial vehicles.

“At Ford, we have been strong in commercial vehicles in Europe and North America for a long time, and we know our customers really well. They have very special needs for their job. And now we see in this world where software and hardware come together, you have to have both physical and digital services. There was nobody trying to put together a complete solution together for the customers.”

“But the customers have to deal with data all day, every day. Their businesses are run on Excel spreadsheets, they have to pay taxes, they manage costs, and they’re trying to become sustainable… We thought we can do this because we have the scale and we know our customers so well. So that’s why we put together Ford Pro, which offers vehicles, software, service, charging, and financing, all in one package.”

NMN: What was your focus for the new Transit Courier?

“Part of the idea was that the line in that segment is blurring. In a lot of places in Europe, you need a smaller van to be practical, and often you don’t need as much capacity. But we wanted to give customers a lot more capability, to upgrade the software of the vehicle, and to add electric. Because in this segment, electric can be really useful, with a lot of stop-start driving and shorter routes. The vehicle will always do what it used to do, we never want to take anything away. So we wanted to give it at least the same functionality but with the added benefit of being electric. But combustion engines will still be available because not everybody is ready for the transition yet.”

The Ford Transit Courier was just announced and features more practicality, new software, and an electric drivetrain /Ford

NMN: In Belgium, there is no incentive yet to buy an electric commercial vehicle. How would you like to see this change?

“We have a really good market share with the recently launched E-Transit 2T, but the market is very small. I think the question is: what does the government want to do? If they want customers to learn faster, then it has to be a combination of government and private incentives. The batteries are not that cheap yet, so if they want to move faster toward electrification, some help will be needed. Especially here in Belgium, with Brussels as the capital of Europe. I think that would help speed up the transition a lot, which is what the planet needs. Even the US has EV incentives, and that’s saying something.”

“In terms of customer education, if we want to appeal to a broader market faster, we have to address the fear in the minds of customers. ‘I’m afraid of the range, there’s nowhere to charge, can I even charge in a puddle of water?’ So that’s why we spend a lot of time with customers to help them out. In the past, you just bought a new vehicle. Now, you have to have a charging plan, which customers often don’t have. But that’s not a good idea, because this is not just a new vehicle, it’s a new energy. And if you don’t have a good plan, you’ll spend too much money on public charging, or you’ll install expensive DC chargers at your site which you don’t need, as you can charge overnight.”

NMN: What’s the plan for the future of Ford Pro?

“We’re focusing on two things: filling the rest of the segment with plug-in vehicles, with the E-Transit Custom and Courier, so that we can reach more customers in different segments. That’s for the short term. In the longer term, it will be the software-defined vehicle.”

“Designing a fully connected digital vehicle is much more difficult than designing an electric vehicle. An EV or an ICE-based vehicle is basically the same: a chassis with four wheels and a powertrain. But with software, the transition is much greater. Instead of 80 different components from different suppliers, each with their own code locked in a box, now you can have OEM code for everything, which allows for much greater communication, more information for the user or the fleet manager, and faster and more potent updates.”

“This will unleash a lot more capability for the customer, which will improve productivity, sustainability, uptime, and even prognostic capability for the vehicle. That means the vehicle will start diagnosing itself if a problem is arising, for example with the brakes. It will warn you in advance to fix something before it breaks, which means you can schedule this maintenance, saving time and money by preventing unscheduled downtime. Even now with our E-Telematics software, our dealers can get 60 days of history with all the data. So intermittent problems can be spotted without a test drive where they might not appear, saving more time and frustration.”

NMN: How are the data used to improve vehicles?

“It can be wear on a specific part, for example, the doors of delivery vehicles, which open and close over 200 times a day. These data can be gathered for engineering analysis. And the opposite is true, too: if a feature is hardly ever or even never used at all, it might be better to get rid of it. And those data are a lot more reliable than the focus groups of the past, where people might lie for social reasons. And we are learning more and more as more and more vehicles are getting these connected modems.”


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