Ford Motor Co.’s push to peddle the Mustang Mach-E later this year starts by getting more than two-thirds of its 3,000 U.S. dealerships ready to sell a battery-electric SUV company officials say represents an important part of the Blue Oval's future.
The automaker is in the midst of training sales staff and shop technicians at some 2,100 participating dealerships on the intricacies of the all-new EV due to launch in the fall. Ford requires any dealership that wants to sell the Mach-E to undergo training and buy new equipment to service and charge the vehicles — which could prove that the Mach-E isnt just another fad, experts say, if Ford gets a majority of its U.S. dealers on the same page.
“This is the first time that we're building a ground-up, all-new battery-electric vehicle,” said Jason Mase, Ford’s head of electrification marketing strategy. “We’ve got a lot of dealers that might not have sold high-voltage batteries. When you have a battery-electric versus a full gas or full diesel engine, you're going to have different types of repairs.”
Ford’s been here before. Much like when it launched its first aluminum-bodied F-150 pickup in 2014, the company is educating salespeople on the tech-packed Mach-E as dealerships pay to install new charging stations and tools to work on the high-voltage battery packs that will power the newest addition to the Mustang stable.
Ford officials also are training technicians in the dealerships’ shops on how to work with battery-powered vehicles and how to charge them. The automaker won't say how much dealerships must invest to become EV Certified by Ford, but one dealer said the cost would be made up by selling a few Mach-Es.
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The ongoing process is voluntary and involves a series of webcasts and digital training for salespeople. Ford representatives also are visiting dealerships to assess what's needed to certify them to sell the Mach-E. Typically, dealerships need a handful of chargers installed to ensure they can "fill up" the vehicles when they're in for service. Mase said technical training to service battery-powered vehicles is also a priority.
That includes equipping dealer service shops with the necessary tools and equipment to pull the SUV’s battery out of the vehicle for maintenance and repairs, when needed. Mase’s team also answers directly with Mach-E questions from the dealer body.
The national initiative isn't unprecedented: GM offered something similar when it first introduced the Bolt EV. Educating the sales and service staffs on the Mach-E is vital for an automaker pinning its future to the vehicle's success. Automakers routinely educate dealerships on new vehicles — though the Mach-E has a number of new things packed into it.
“Our dealers are used to new products coming into the showroom,” Mase said. “They're very adaptable. The investment to get the service tools and chargers is fairly minimal.”
Not every Ford dealership is starting from scratch. The automaker for years has sold various hybrid and plug-in hybrid vehicles that dealers could get certified to sell and service. Tim Hovik, owner and general manager of San Tan Ford outside of Phoenix, said he's adding several chargers to the four he already has installed at his dealership because a top priority is getting the sales staff fully versed on the new vehicle.
“The reality is product knowledge has never been more important,” said Hovik, who operates one of Ford's top dealerships in the United States. “These vehicles anymore are like computers with four wheels. They do so many things that I think knowledge that the salespeople have is going to continue to be more and more important.”
It’s also important for automakers and their dealers to remember that a majority of Americans have yet to even sit in an electric vehicle. Most people will need answers to even the most basic questions about electric vehicles — such as how to charge it — until the vehicles become more mainstream, according to Jessica Caldwell, analyst with Edmunds.com.
“Technology is changing so fast, it's definitely hard to keep up,” she said. “You almost have to explain to people how to turn the car on. Those are things that can't be overlooked.”
Another big task, added Caldwell, is getting thousands of dealerships “on the same song sheet.” It will be tough for all automakers to get their diverse groups of dealerships to get behind the same vehicle, especially those who operate in areas of the country where electric vehicles aren't expected to be popular — even as Ford pickups and SUVs continue to be.
“This is an important product for Ford,” Caldwell said. “Not just from an image standpoint. It's also their first proof-point of the new Ford they've been talking about for years. To get this right is so important.”