Editor Blog: Ford Battery Blinkered to Pull Plug on the Fiesta

Ford will be killing off one of its most successful selling models as it hurtles pell-mell towards an electric strategy that no-one can guarantee really is the future for all personal transportation.

In announcing the little Ford Fiesta will no longer be produced after 2023, a company spokesman said the decision was made as part of “accelerating our efforts to go all in on electrification” and that the company is reviewing the portfolio of cars it has on offer. Perversely, the car that was launched in 1977 in response to a global fuel price crisis to offer a cheap-to-run alternative to gas-guzzlers, is being discarded in the teeth of a similar fuel crisis.

The little roundabout has so far sold more than 20 million models worldwide and has been one of the top five best selling cars for Ford for decades. Yet, the automaker’s conviction that larger electrified vehicles will take over its role, probably coupled with the ongoing belief that urban transport will increasingly be covered by shared mobility solution, has driven the last nail into the coffin of this popular car. It is rumored Ford hopes the consumer will turn to its larger sibling, the Puma SUV probably to be sold in full self-charging mode, as an alternative.

Add, too, the sheer challenge of making a small BEV at an affordable price with a large enough profit margin and the automaker’s decision seems reasonable… but is it?

Ford Fiestas were never the choice solely of city dwellers. They turned up everywhere that consumers wanted a small efficient car that did most of the things they needed from a car while not breaking the family budget. There’s not a BEV out there, or even on the horizon, that can currently claim the same.

Also, this focus on urban dwellers ignores that most will never have facilities to charge their vehicles anywhere but at public charging points. Even if these charging stations line every city street, access will still be limited and charging fees, as we have seen recently in Europe, could be as costly as filling up a car with gasoline.

So, would there have been a better way for Ford to find a way of continuing a Fiesta-like model able to combine all the car’s benefits that proved so popular for so long? I think yes – hydrogen. Some automakers and Tier One suppliers are increasingly looking at ICE powertrains fed by hydrogen. A recent range of trucking engines launched by Cummins give customers the options of fossil fuel, natural gas or hydrogen powerplants with the only difference being the units fitted above the headgasket. This is also a theme several Japanese automakers are promoting as a way of accelerating the infrastructure for hydrogen gas at service stations ahead of a future roll-out of fuel-cell technology.

So, on the face of it, the little Fiesta could also have, at least in the short to medium term, been converted to hydrogen ICE, or even hydrogen hybrid, at a much more affordable price than replacing it with a BEV. It’s time all automakers stopped putting all their eggs in the battery basket and adopted a more agnostic view on how best to lower CO2 emissions while providing personal transport to meet the needs of all consumers.

— Paul Myles is a seasoned automotive journalist based in Europe. Follow him on Twitter @Paulmyles_

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