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Ford’s plan for EV profitability by 2026

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John Lawler, Chief Financial Officer of Ford, rings the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), March 23, 2023.

Brendan McDermid | Reuters

Ford Motor disclosed on Thursday that its electric vehicle unit, called Ford Model e, lost $2.1 billion in 2022 — and could lose as much as $3 billion in 2023.

But the company also forecast a drastic turnaround, reiterating that it expects its EV business to be solidly profitable by the end of 2026. So how will it pull that off?

The automaker’s answer started with a single slide presented during a “teach-in” for analysts and investors in New York on Thursday.

As the image shows, on an earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) basis, Ford Model e had a profit margin of roughly negative 40% in 2022. Ford is targeting a positive EBIT margin of 8% for the unit by the end of 2026.

“We’re already seeing green shoots of the improvements in the profitability of Model e,” Ford CFO John Lawler said Thursday during the investor event. “From a contribution margin perspective, we expect Model e to approach breakeven at the end of this year, and, in 2024, we believe our first generation products can be EBIT margin positive.”

But Model e as a whole won’t be profitable for a while yet, Lawler said, because of the heavy investments Ford will be making to scale up production and roll out more new EV models. Here, step by step, is how Lawler said Ford expects Model e to get to a positive 8% EBIT profit margin in under four years:

  • Scale. Simply put, building more EVs and allowing the supply chain to mature will yield greater economies of scale. Ford expects to have the capacity to build EVs at a rate of 2 million per year by the end of 2026. That alone will provide roughly 20 points of margin improvement, according to Ford’s projections.
  • Design and Engineering. Lawler said Ford is “obsessing over energy efficient designs because they will allow us to significantly reduce the battery size and cost.” He said such designs will lead to “ultra-high simplicity of manufacturing and platforms that maximize commonality and reuse,” which will yield another 15 points of margin improvement.
  • Battery. While costs have come down, batteries are still the most expensive part of an EV, especially if the automaker is buying them from third-party manufacturers, as Ford has been. To make matters worse (or at least more costly), Ford’s EVs have so far used relatively expensive lithium-ion cells, rather than the cheaper lithium iron phosphate (LFP) cells used by Tesla in its less expensive models. Ford’s plan to bring those costs down further centers on bringing battery-cell manufacturing in-house, either directly or via joint ventures with battery makers. In addition, it will soon begin offering LFP as a lower-cost option on some of its EVs — starting later this year with cells bought from Chinese battery giant CATL, and from a new Michigan factory that will come online in 2026. As those efforts scale up, Ford expects to gain another 10 points of margin improvement.
  • Other. Ford also expects to find incremental gains by selling software and services (such as driver-assistance system BlueCruise) to EV owners, via benefits in the Inflation Reduction Act, via improvements in raw materials costs, and with other tweaks here and there. But pricing – specifically, the need to stay competitive with a fast-growing number of EV rivals – may offset all of that to some extent. Ford thinks the upshot will be about 3 points of margin gain, just enough to bring it to that targeted positive 8% by the end of 2026 — if all goes according to plan.

Not all of those margin gains will take years to materialize. Lawler said that Ford thinks it can still reduce the costs of making its current first-generation EVs — the Mustang Mach-E crossover, F-150 Lightning pickup and E-Transit van — by incorporating lessons it’s learning as it engineers its second-generation models, which are due to launch over the next few years.

Despite the considerable detail that Ford provided on Thursday, some Wall Street analysts are still skeptical that Ford can achieve an 8% EBIT margin on EVs by 2026.

“We believe investors are likely to remain skeptical on the path to appropriate margins, especially amid inflationary headwinds and price declines,” Barclays’ Dan Levy said in a note following the event.

Wells Fargo analyst Colin Langan shared similar thoughts in an investor note Thursday morning: “It’s unclear how Ford expects to get to its 8% 2026 target margin for Model e” as long as sales expectations remain the same.

Part of that near-term help may come from the Inflation Reduction Act, which provides company-level credits for making batteries and vehicles in North America, as Ford plans to do with the EVs it sells here. But as Deutsche Bank analyst Emmanuel Rosner pointed out on Thursday, Ford’s 8% margin goal was announced “well before IRA.” That means any benefit realized from the legislation should be in addition to that goal, he said in an investor note during Ford’s presentation.

Rosner, prior to Thursday’s event, called the 8% margin target “especially optimistic” when compared to crosstown rival General Motors, which is only targeting low- to mid-single digit margins on its EV business by 2026, excluding any IRA benefits.

Lawler said the company will provide more details on Model e’s path to profitability during Ford’s annual capital markets day on May 22.

“We are laser-focused on building an industry leading portfolio of highly differentiated EVs that inspire our customers and play to Ford’s strengths in pickup trucks, vans and SUVs,” Lawler said.

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