Is the motoring industry up for the challenge of electric cars?

The deadlines are set, the clock is ticking — but can motoring manufacturers keep apace with the growing calls to phase out petrol and diesel models completely and convert wholly to electric and hybrid vehicles?

The British and French governments recently ramped up the pressure on the industry by setting a deadline of 2040 to end the sale of all conventional petrol and diesel cars.

The Irish government’s National Climate Plan published last month was even more ambitious, pledging that by 2030, all cars and vans sold in Ireland would be zero emission.

Is the industry up to the challenge? If the contents of a speech by Jim Farley, Executive Vice President and President of Ford Global Markets, at a recent international conference are anything to go by, then the answer is yes.

Ford is launching 13 new electrified vehicles in the next five years and liaising with other manufacturers to install 400 extra ultra-fast charging sites across Europe, Mr Farley revealed at the Financial Times Future Of The Car Summit 2017 in London.

“As automakers, we all know we’re at a moment in time that will change us forever, a moment that will decide the future of our industry, our companies and the thousands of our employees who work for us,” said Mr Farley in a talk entitled Evolution Of The Car: Mobility For The Future.

He told the gathering of industry leaders that a plug-in hybrid Transit Custom Ford is set to be trialled with fleet partners in London in the coming months. The company also had plans for a fully electric small utility vehicle with a range of 300 miles by 2020.

Mr Farley said: “Of course, the core of our business will continue to be our heartbeat. We design and build cars — that magic by which we transform thousands of parts to the vehicle of your dreams. That will never end.

“The near future promises many important technologies. Artificial intelligence. Cars talking to each other and to the infrastructure. More advanced driver assist systems.

Technologies like 3D printing may transform our business. Just imagine that dealerships could be printing replacement parts in the not too distant future.”

His plans for Ford to join forces with BMW, Daimler, Audi and Porsche to build ultra-fast charging sites along major highways in Europe were particularly well received, as they address a common complaint among drivers of electric vehicles, of a lack of charge points and that they are too time-consuming.

Mr Farley also raised the issue of driverless vehicles in his blueprint for the future.

“By 2021, we will also automate vehicles and launch an autonomous vehicle designed for commercial ride-hailing or ride-sharing in 2021 in the US, transforming the way we move,” he said.

“In mobility, Chariot, our app based, crowd- sourced shuttle service — already available in the US in San Francisco and Austin — will be expanded into six additional cities by the end of the year, including one global city. “

Jim Farley, Group Vice President, Marketing Sales and Service, Ford Motor Company, introduced the new 2014 Ford Fiesta with a 1.0-litre EcoBoost engine which is expected to be the most fuel efficient non-hybrid vehicle in North America.

Recent attempts by governments to set deadlines for the end of petrol and diesel transport in the coming decades have had the support of the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI), which has criticised the slow pace of the conversion to electric and said the roll-out must be “greatly accelerated” to thepoint where, by 2021, electric cars account for 20% of all new cars sold in Ireland.

To underline the pace of growth required, just 0.23% of new car sales in 2015 were electric, amounting to 562 vehicles. This figure needs to hit 50,000 by 2020, said the SEAI.

The benefits of the changeover are clear.

Ireland’s charging network recorded more than 140,000 recharging transactions in 2016, displacing the equivalent of 390,000 litres of fossil fuel in the process

Mr Farley stressed at the conference: “We have a bright and exciting future, but can we do it alone? Maybe. But I think all of us in the industry are learning that we will need partners in this brave new world.

“Collaboration and open innovation is the rich source of tech, but it has not been a muscle so readily activated in the auto industry.

“We need to expand our work with start-ups to accelerate our learnings in some areas — our $1billion investment in artificial intelligence company, Argo, is a good example of this.

“Our vision of the city of tomorrow is not just autonomous, electrified and connected vehicles, but a modern day joint venture with cities to work together providing solutions to complement and improve its transport eco-system.”