I was invited to the Ford F-150 Lightning launch event at the REVC Rouge Electric Vehicle Center and I got the chance to interview Darren Palmer, Vice President Global EV Programs at Ford Motor Company.
“When did you realize that Electric Vehicles are here to stay?”
“We formed a group called Team Edison about four and a half years ago, with a guy called Ted Kennedys. When he recruited me, we said we need to work differently if we’re going to work out what people want. We were an older company, so it takes time to move in. We formed this group which was a startup within Ford, and we started with open minded people. It tended to be people who had international experience, it turned out in the end, but we didn’t choose that way. It just turned out that way.
Then we went out to see customers early on. It was that work, speaking to customers early on, where we realized not just will it take off, we knew it would one day, but what will matter. We determined that because people are resistant to change, you have to show them WHY. Every electric car we made had to do things they never knew or could do or never had before.
We started with our icons, because things like Mustangs, Transit, F-150s, or Explorers have met people’s needs of their families and business for years. It’s logical that if you get the product right, it’s going to meet their needs in the future. That’s why we started with our icons. People know those cars, you see the whole character of the car, they know what is Transit, almost half of the world relies on Transit for deliveries, and they know what it is and what it does.
F-150, the best tool ever, has been America’s best selling car for four decades. So we chose those to start with that. What we really focus on is how to make them do things you could never do before. That’s where human centered design came in.”
I am also working hard to educate people about what it means to drive electric, and I’m a big believer in circular economy. I really believe in using batteries in their FIRST LIFE in electric cars and then SECOND LIFE energy storage, and at some point RECYCLING them. Recycling turns into a local mining opportunity.
“What are Fords plans for Second Life applications?”
“We have massive plans for it. When we’re building Ford Blue Oval city in Tennessee, we’re partnering with a company called Redwood Materials.
Redwood Materials are interested in how to recycle batteries, and getting back the materials to use again in batteries. Now you can see, not just for the right thing to do, but because of the demand for electric vehicles and batteries and the materials, supply can be a problem. It’s not just that, it’s also price and supply to guarantee your supply.
We’re already going to start with Redwood Materials, recycling the parts of batteries that are used in the manufacturing process to get ready, such that when batteries start coming back from electric vehicles, we will be recycling them and using them in our own batteries. It is one of the biggest partnerships to do that in the world actually.”
That’s wonderful to hear, makes so much sense. There are research papers out there already that show that batteries from recycled material can even perform better, so that’s just amazing.
I have one more question about charging. I was really excited to see that there is the first pilot in the U.S. charging from the road happening in Detroit.
“What’s your take on charging from the road and wireless charging?”
“Yes, that’s in combination with Cisco. We’re putting in a one mile roadway that is an intelligent roadway, it does charging and lots of other things, and connects and takes data from vehicles that pass over it as well. It is unbelievable.
I couldn’t believe they can tell the make and model of vehicle just by driving over with no other information, except for its size and weight. I couldn’t believe it, from every car ever made, even back to 1950 and so on. It’s just crazy.
That system also has in-road charging, which sounds crazy, but the system prepares before you get there. It forms a connection and by the time you hit that road it is ready and it receives the power. It connects in and basically transmits power to the vehicle while you drive over that part of the road. They start with a reasonable power but one day the power will go up and up, such that when you drive over a one mile section of road, maybe slow down a little bit, it will charge your car up as you drive on the way to work. Amazing.”
“I have seen several pilots like that in Sweden, but I was so excited to see the first pilot in Detroit. I would love to have this road. When we are coming from Wisconsin to Michigan all the time, an eight hour drive, it would be cool to just have a couple of miles of charging while driving.”
“It could also be partially self-funded. Because the data of those vehicles, if the customer allows it to be used, it’s very useful to various companies so they can start to fund themselves. While you’re replacing a section of the road anyway, you then put these in and it’s not as expensive as you might imagine. I was blown away by how cool the technology was.”
I have one last question for you. I really love my Ford Mustang Mach-E, and we’re so excited to get the F-150 Lightning. But we’re also converting a car to electric, and this is my dream car. It’s the Gilmore Girls Jeep. I wanted to know what is your dream car?
“If you had the chance to convert an icon to electric what would it be?”
“I would use the crate motor that we now sell from the Mustang Mach-E and convert a 1966 Mustang. It would just be amazing. Something I’m going to do I think in my retirement.
I’m also experimenting now, and I made an electric solar powered lithium electric boat for my kids last summer. I’m working on that one, but by the time I retire I think it’ll be onto boats as well. So I’d like to convert a boat.”
Watch my interview with Darren Palmer: