DETROIT -- Ford Motor Co. is making a big investment to develop more than a dozen vehicles that it knows few consumers want to buy right now.
Ford is betting that by 2020, when it plans to offer 40 percent of its global lineup in hybrid or plug-in versions, they won't have to battle gasoline prices below $2 a gallon. But its plans to spend $4.5 billion tripling the number of vehicles it offers with some form of electrification also represent an acknowledgement that government regulations in the U.S. and abroad are forcing it on this path, regardless of what consumers want to buy.
And, CEO Mark Fields says, Ford sees longer term consumer demand moving toward electrified drive.
"In this business, you have to project where you see consumer demand going forward," Fields said in an interview last week. "Our view ongoing is still that the price of a barrel of oil is going to go up over time, so it's really important for us to anticipate that. Secondly, we have the regulations that are out there -- the one national standard. And we have to meet that."
The role those regulations play in decisions like this "should not be ... underestimated," Fields said.
Low gasoline prices -- the average price nationwide last week was about $2 a gallon, with some states dipping well below that -- are injecting even more uncertainty into automakers' product development plans as the midterm review of federal fuel economy standards approaches in 2017. Fields said Ford wants the review to involve a "very fact-based" look at not only consumer acceptance of the more efficient technologies automakers have been introducing but also what has changed since the industry and the government agreed in 2011 to pursue a target of 54.5 mpg.
"We want to be part of the solution, but we want to make sure it works for consumers and it works for us as a company," Fields said. "There's been some fundamental changes, particularly around oil supply, oil extraction costs, the ultimate end cost to the consumer and then the issue of what will this mean in terms of pricing to the consumer and what will it mean in terms of jobs. ... Clearly, price and affordability is going to play an important part in this."