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Ford's sustainability chief reveals how brand ambassadors like plumbers and police forces are boosting EV adoption: 'Maybe there is more here than we might have imagined'

"The pace is showing that more and more customers are coming."

"The pace is showing that more and more customers are coming."

Photo Credit: Ford

Bob Holycross has a massive job: As Ford's vice president and chief sustainability, environment, and safety officer, he's responsible for finding ways to help consumers understand the durability and long-term savings of driving alternative-fuel vehicles. 

His favorite proving grounds? Football games. 

"I'm a big Michigan State football fan, I go to tailgates. I pull up with that vehicle [a 2024 F-150 Lightning pickup truck], and I hear everybody else starting their gas generators to power their TVs and everything else. Everything's running on our tailgate site and there's not a single sound coming out of anything. People are always like, 'Where's the power coming from?' And you follow the cords back to the vehicle." 

In an exclusive interview with The Cool Down, Holycross (now the coolest guy at tailgate parties) told us that despite recent headwinds in EV sales, Ford is bullish on electric vehicles long term, saying, "More and more customers are coming." (Ford just announced it would release its next-generation F-150 EV pickup in 2027 instead of 2025 and focus instead on ramping up hybrid offerings across its entire model lineup by the end of the decade.)

The good news for Ford: The company reported a first-quarter EV sales increase of 86%, with hybrids up 42% year-over-year, as the Detroit News reported. The downside is that Ford says it expects to lose at least $5 billion on its EV lineup in 2024, even after cutting $12 billion in planned investments, though remaining investments will still lay the groundwork for future business

How do automakers responsibly bridge to an electric future? According to Holycross, first and foremost: "We have to meet our customers where they are, when they're ready."

We spoke with Holycross about how Ford is inspiring those consumers to choose new powertrain solutions and move away from gas-only vehicles, and how commercial and professional teams are helping the company pave the way to greater EV adoption because of their myriad on-the-job benefits. 

πŸ‘€ EV adoption: "The overall trajectory is about growth"  

"If there's one thing we've learned, the customers are going to dictate the pace of overall adoption of electrification," Holycross told TCD. "While we've seen a little bit of volatility in the rate of adoption, the overall trajectory is about growth. We'll sell more electric vehicles this year than we sold last year. The pace is showing that more and more customers are coming."

"As we get further into the market," Holycross continued, "some of their needs and some of their challenges are going to play out in different ways when it comes to pricing and charging β€” that's what we're going to see as we move from these early adopters to what we call the 'early majority.'"

πŸš— Hybrids are a "bridge technology"

While Ford has cut back on production of some of its EVs, they're seeing increasing adoption of hybrid vehicles. "Hybrid electric is something that people are realizing can be a bridge technology," Holycross said. "It's not just about pure electric, but it is about hybrid electric vehicles and what we call plug-in hybrid electric vehicles that can provide a variety of different solutions for customers that have different needs.

"Ford has the best-selling hybrid pickups in their segments today … We were the first to have a hybrid SUV, the first automaker to have a hybrid SUV in the U.S., our Escape Hybrid … These are vehicles that are for mainstream customers

"So we're doubling down to ensure that the offerings that we have today are providing all that functionality and we're not going to cede any of the leadership we have in hybrid vehicles as we continue to look at the different use cases for customers, both retail and on the fleet side."

🚨 EVs with sirens  

From governments to police, small business owners, plumbers, electricians, and delivery services, Ford's business clients are making the switch to electric vehicles. Holycross explained that it saves them money, while also reducing pollution from vehicles that are frequently idling.

"When you think about the operating costs around charging versus some of the other fuel sources, especially for fleets that have defined routes, these vehicles are providing significant cost savings and benefits," he said, adding that these vehicles also offer "reduced maintenance, higher uptime [the amount of time a charging station is available for use], and … lower operating costs over the life of the vehicle."

And if a police officer can drive an electric car, why can't you? 

"When they see the use case through Ford Pro fleet customers, [suddenly they think,] 'Hey, maybe there is more here than we might have imagined,'" Holycross told us. "[Commercial use] also [helps] in ways to alleviate some of the trepidation that some retail customers have about going into electrification. 'Are the batteries big enough? What about the range? What about charging solutions?'" 

Ford Pro customers are great test cases around reliability. "They have come to expect and rely upon the same durability, full functionality, and services that our internal combustion engine vehicles provide, and they don't want to compromise."

🏈 Where else Lightning strikes β€” beyond the tailgate 

For the last 47 years and counting, Ford's F-Series (including variants of F-150) has been the best-selling pickup truck in America. Holycross was quick to tell us about some of its electrified version's latest high-tech features. 

"I can start it with my phone [using the FordPass app]. I can also program it when I want it to charge," he said. "Now we have these programs so that you can join with your utility to get a benefit on your bill because of charging during off-peak hours. That's all enabled by the vehicle software's ability to communicate."

The battery's extended range storage pack also lets customers use it as a generator without having to turn the truck on β€” powering people's homes during outages or in one case, during a three-hour rock concert

πŸ‘–Over 85% of the vehicle is made of recyclable materials

There's a lot that goes into the vehicle behind the scenes to enhance sustainability, Holycross told us. For example, all of Ford's manufacturing facilities aim to use carbon-free electricity by 2035, and the company is integrating more non-petroleum-based, renewable materials into its vehicles. The company even made the news recently for its plans to use materials from discarded olive tree waste in future vehicles.Β 

"The good news is most of the vehicle β€” in terms of its metal, steel, aluminum β€” is well over 85% recyclable," he said, noting the company is using a lot of recycled materials to begin with as well. "We've taken things like blue jeans, soda containers, and other things and converted them into vehicle components. The blue jeans go into the carpet and some of the interior materials. In some cases, it may even be seat material."

πŸ’š How to win over skeptics

"I think the way we're going to win them over is just continuing to have the vehicle in a way speak for itself, but have those customers speak on its behalf as well," Holycross told us. 

"It's incumbent upon us to make sure that we are communicating as clearly as we can with potential customers on what the benefits of these vehicles are. There are aspects of these vehicles that customers have to be comfortable with, in terms of affordability, access to charging … a lot of it is tied to charging and range."

"As we bring those costs down and we go to more advanced chemistries in our batteries, that's going to help with the affordability piece of it. And as we expand that charging network and get the policies aligned with supporting consumers with incentives … it's really this ideal combination of things coming together that can really be a multifaceted solution."

"What excites me is that we have folks within the company that will seek us out and say, 'Hey, I want to be on this journey,'" he said. "The good news is you don't have to work in the sustainability department or the safety department. You can make an impact anywhere in the company. Innovations come through from all parts of our company that just continue to inspire all of us every day."

πŸš“ So, back to electrifying police vehicles … will we see an electric Crown Victoria? 

"That's an interesting one," Holycross laughed. "We've got all kinds of vehicles in the stable that we've had in the past and some famous nameplates β€” I haven't thought of that one before β€” I'll have to come back to you on that."

Sue Callaway is the CEO and Founder of Glovebox Media and Senior Advisor to The Cool Down.

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