Ford Facing Major Roadblocks With E-Explorer

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Some Ford dealers withdraw from the EV sales program

Ford Motor unveiled its first all-electric Explorer exclusively for the European market on March 21, 2023. The electric crossover is part of Ford’s plan to achieve its 2030 goal of having only an electric lineup in Europe.

Although the new SUV shares the same nameplate with a gas-powered model in the U.S. and a plug-in hybrid version in Europe, they have little in common besides the name and a few design attributes. Ford chose to call the new EV an Explorer as a way of leveraging its “most iconic” brands for EVs, just like the F-150 Lightning and the Mustang Mach-E crossover.

“Explorer is a trailblazer for a new breed of exciting Ford electric vehicles,” said Martin Sander, GM of Ford’s European EV business. “Steeped in our American roots but built in Cologne for our customers in Europe, it is road trip-ready for the big adventures and fully loaded with everything our customers will need for their daily drives.”

At the moment, Ford said there are no plans to bring the midsize electric crossover to the U.S. market. The new electric explorer is one of the two vehicles Ford plans for Europe that will be built on the Volkswagen Group’s all-electric MEB platform. It will be built in Ford’s Cologne, Germany plant.

Ford announced a broad partnership with Volkswagen back in 2019. The intention of the partnership was to help Ford bring its EVs to market quickly while they work on building a dedicated platform. Ford has a target of producing 1.2 million EVs on Volkswagen’s platform over the next 6 years, beginning from 2023. The previous plan was to produce 600,000 EVs a year in Europe by 2026.

According to the Dearborn-based automaker, the new Explorer EV will be available in two trims; Explorer and Explorer Premium as well as RWD and AWD configurations. The starting price of the EV is expected to be less than €45,000 ($48,250) when the books open for orders later this year. However, the automaker is still mute on the expected range and other performance statistics.

Ford Electric Explorer charging

Some Ford dealers withdraw from the EV sales program

In 2022, Ford gave its 3,000 US dealers the option of choosing between upgrading their facility to support the EV revolution or forfeiting the chance to sell EVs from Ford. The window provided for the dealers to make up their minds was short.

During an interview with Ford CEO Jim Farley in December 2022, he said 1,920 Ford dealers enrolled in the Model e program for 2024-2026. Out of that number, 1,659 opted for the “certified elite” level, the highest level which requires higher investment and gives them full sales and service capabilities.

A further 261 dealers chose the “certified” which requires lower investment and grants them full service capability. However, it has a cap on how many EVs the dealers can sell. The automaker said those that didn’t get the chance to sign up now can still do so in 2026.

“We’re betting on the franchise system,” said Farley. “Now the largest luxury brand in the United States [Tesla] didn’t. And we’re betting on the dealer council process.”

Emerging reports shows that 53 of the dealers who signed up for the “certified elite” program have opted out while 24 dealers joined the “certified” program. The automaker recently amended the requirements for the highest tier by removing the provision that required the dealers to have publicly available chargers 24 hours a day. This wasn’t feasible since many dealers have fences that are locked at the close of the shop.

Also, Ford eliminated the provision that required dealers to sell at least 25 EVs a year to participate at the “certified” level. It appears many dealers are unsure of selling that many EVs in a year. This gives an idea of how little they think of the current buzz around the EV revolution.

Ford Dealers in North Carolina rebel

Obviously, not every Ford dealer is happy about the provisions of the Model e Certified programs and 46 of them in North Carolina have filed a petition with the state’s commissioner of the division of motor vehicles challenging the programs.

“The dealers waited to see what changes Ford would make to the Model e program at NADA, and unfortunately, those changes were insufficient to address these dealers’ concerns,” said Shawn Mercer who represents the dealers. “It was not enough to address unlawful aspects of the program or to remove the valid concerns about excessive intrusion by Ford into dealer day-to-day operations.”

Part of the petition filed by Ford dealers read, “Through the EV program, Ford seeks to coerce dealers into expending huge sums of money unnecessarily in order to continue selling vehicles they are already authorized to sell. Ford’s EV program will serve to reduce the number of Ford dealers in North Carolina and further restrict consumer access to electric vehicles, particularly those citizens residing in parts of North Carolina outside of the largest cities.”

In Mississippi, the governor recently signed legislation that would stop EV makers from selling their cars through a “store” rather than going through a regular dealership. The new law is believed to have been influenced by the auto dealers in the state.

“We’re saying if you choose to have a brick-and-mortar dealership, you have to follow the same laws that everyone else has to follow,” said senator Daniel Sparks. “Please don’t tell me Tesla’s car doesn’t identify as a car.”

There have been mixed feelings about the Mississippi law. Joey Fillingane, Member of the Mississippi State Senate said the bill may cause the state to fall behind other states in the race to attract investments from EV makers.

“Maybe we just like being last all the time. Maybe it’s a badge of honor—we’re the last ones to change,” said Filligane. “If we’re not careful… we could deprive our citizens of opportunities they really ought not to be deprived of.”


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