During an otherwise ordinary conference call with reporters and Wall Street analysts on Friday, Ford chief executive Mark Fields announced that his company has torn apart and rebuilt a Tesla Model S – and is considering building a full-size, long-range electric car of its own.
Why would a carmaker with a 100-year pedigree be interested in emulating Tesla, which was founded just a decade ago? Mr. Fields told reporters that a high-performance electric car would be “consistent with [Ford’s] product philosophy,” adding that the company has the expertise and ability to build an electric vehicle with a large range and cutting-edge technology.
Ford engineers apparently got their hands on a Model S and took a peek under the hood (and by that, we mean they drove it, took it apart completely, reassembled it, and drove it again). This kind of automotive teardown is a pretty common way for companies to study each other’s technology and engineering, and Fields told reporters Ford is “very familiar” with the Model S as a result of having studied it. And while he says the company has no plans to build a car that would compete directly with the Model S, Ford is considering building an electric car with a larger range than its current model, the Focus Electric.
The electric Focus, which began production in 2011, has a range of 76 miles and the fuel economy equivalent of 105 miles per gallon. That doesn’t hold a candle to the Model S’s 265-mile range, but it beats its fuel economy (the EPA rates the Model S at 89 m.p.g.) – and it’s worth mentioning that the Tesla starts at $72,000, while the Ford costs about $30,000.
It’s no stretch to say that Tesla’s Model S is the darling of the car industry overall. In spite of the car’s relatively steep price, Tesla is on track to sell its 50,000th Model S by the end of October. The car received Consumer Reports’ best score of all time. And the company already has plans in the works for a mid-range electric car called the Model 3, which would go mainstream in 2017 to compete with the Nissan Leaf and BMW i3.
Fields’s comments were part of a conversation with analysts about Ford’s third-quarter earnings, which were healthy but down compared to last year’s Q3. The company made $1.2 billion in pre-tax profit and received $835 million net income this quarter.