Jan 27, 2022 - Economy

How your plumber could lead the electric vehicle revolution

Image of a vineyard owner studying computer data about his connected electric van, parked outside

Ford Pro Intelligence gives farmers access to important data on every vehicle – whether gas-powered or electric. Image courtesy of Ford.

Businesses like farmers, contractors and delivery companies — not individual consumers — will lead America into the electric vehicle era, judging from how demand is currently shaping up.

Why it matters: While consumers are waiting on the sidelines to see if the charging infrastructure improves and prices come down, commercial businesses see EVs as a way to boost their productivity and improve operations.

  • EV fleets connected to the cloud are like distributed computer networks — chock full of data, which is good for business.
  • Plus, making the decision to go electric is good for the planet (and customers may notice).

Driving the news: A new offering from Ford Motor gives businesses a bigger incentive to go electric with their commercial fleets.

  • Ford Pro Intelligence, announced Tuesday, is a cloud-based software platform with tools to help business customers keep track of their vehicles, manage their drivers and improve relationships with their customers.
  • With it, Ford is doubling down on its already lucrative commercial fleet business, which includes its new line of electric F-150 Lightning pickup trucks and its e-Transit vans.
  • "The biggest pain point we hear from commercial customers when it comes to managing their fleets is not having a single place to access all of their information across vehicles and services," Ted Cannis, Ford Pro CEO, told reporters.

The new platform centralizes that digital ecosystem for both gas and electric vehicles — even for non-Ford models.

  • And it works with VIIZR, a sofware-as-a-service tool built on Salesforce technology that Ford introduced last month. VIIZR helps tradespeople schedule appointments, send invoices and manage customer relationships from one integrated, cloud-based platform.
  • "A roofer wants to roof. A plumber wants to plumb. They just want to be productive," Ford CEO James Farley tells Axios.
  • They don't want to be tied up with paperwork or lose time getting vehicles serviced.

Between the lines: Ford announced a year-long partnership with the Sonoma County Winegrowers to test its new services and technology with three vineyards.

  • The growers will explore how Ford's vehicles and software can help them manage their mixed fleets of gas- and electric-powered vehicles, ideally reducing their operating costs up to 20 percent and controlling their energy use.
  • For the pilot, Ford will provide each farm with several F-150 Lightning pickups and e-Transit vans and will install charging infrastructure on their property.

The big picture: Commercial vehicles — those work trucks and vans often hidden in plain sight among the Teslas, Toyotas and Hondas on the road — are suddenly a hot market for automakers looking for new revenue from subscription services as they reimagine themselves as digital service companies, not just manufacturers.

  • "If you free up people's time, they'll pay for it," Farley tells Axios.

None is better positioned than Ford, which already commands 45% of the U.S. market for commercial vehicles and is a big player in Europe too.

  • Ford says more than 300 businesses have already placed orders for a total of 10,000 E-Transit vans — including Walmart, which plans to buy 1,100 of them.
  • Ford said recently it would nearly double production capacity of the F-150 Lightning to meet soaring demand.
  • By 2025, Ford expects its Ford Pro unit to generate $45 billion in revenue from vehicle sales, subscription services, charging infrastructure, credit financing and replacement parts.

The bottom line: After retrenching for years and dumping its unprofitable car business, Ford uncovered a gem it had long ignored in its commercial fleet business.

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