DETROIT: Ford Motor Co on Thursday more than doubled the amount of money it plans to invest on electric and autonomous vehicles, to US$29 billion, even as it posted a fourth-quarter net loss of US$2.8 billion.
The No. 2 U.S. automaker also said the global semiconductor chip shortage could lead to a 10per cent to 20per cent loss in first-quarter production, resulting in a potential hit to operating earnings of US$1 billion to US$2.5 billion. But its shares gained 1.5per cent in after-hours trading as the fourth-quarter operating results and 2021 profit forecast were above Wall Street's expectations.
"If EVs continue to quickly gain favor, especially with commercial customers, we want to be clear that we will not cede ground to anyone," Chief Financial Officer John Lawler told reporters on a conference call.
Ford said it was "doubling down" on connected electric vehicles and said it will invest US$22 billion in electrification through 2025, nearly twice what it had previously committed to EVs. Ford also said it would invest US$7 billion in self-driving, or autonomous, technology development over 10 years through 2025 – US$5 billion of that from 2021 forward.
"We are accelerating all our plans," Chief Executive Jim Farley said, including increasing battery capacity and adding more electric vehicles in its future portfolio.
He said on a conference call with analysts that the US$22 billion investment does not include potential investment in battery production, whether through at Ford itself or via a joint venture. He added that Ford will have more announcements soon around its EV partnerships.
Farley told Reuters last fall Ford was considering making its own battery cells as sales volumes of electric vehicles rise globally.
Ford previously committed to invest US$11.5 billion in electrification, including gasoline-electric hybrid vehicles, through 2022. That included the launch of the Mustang Mach-E EV crossover, and electric versions of the F-150 pickup and Transit van.
A Ford spokesman said the US$22 billion includes hybrid vehicles, but the commitment is "overwhelmingly" on EVs.
U.S. rival General Motors Co has said it will spend US$27 billion by 2023 on electric and autonomous vehicles, a total that does not include hybrids. It said it plans to offer 30 EVs globally by 2025 and is targeting topping annual sales of 1 million EVs in the United States and China by 2025.
Asked whether Ford would match GM's announcement that it aspires to stop selling gasoline-powered light vehicles by 2035, Lawler told reporters Ford is focused on selling high-volume EVs now, a possible reference to GM's initial EV product launches being lower-volume, higher priced models.
For 2020, Ford reported a net loss of US$1.3 billion. It had previously said it expected a full-year profit of between US$600 million and US$1.1 billion.
Ford had a loss in the fourth quarter of US$2.8 billion, or 70 cents a share, compared with a loss of US$1.7 billion, or 42 cents a share, a year earlier. The quarter included several previously disclosed charges related to a recall, remeasurement of pensions and the closure of the company's Brazilian manufacturing operations.
Excluding the charges, Ford's operating profit was 34 cents a share, easily topping the 7-cent loss analysts polled by Refinitiv had expected.
The Dearborn, Michigan-based company projected operating earnings would climb to US$8 billion to US$9 billion in 2021, compared with US$2.8 billion last year. Credit Suisse analyst Dan Levy said in a research note the forecast was above Wall Street consensus expectations for US$6.9 billion.
The forecast includes a US$900 million non-cash gain on Rivian, the electric vehicle startup in which Ford has invested, but does not include the effect of the ongoing global semiconductor shortage. Farley said the Rivian investment was strategic despite Ford previously shelving a vehicle based on a Rivian platform.
In COVID-19 pandemic-ravaged 2020, Ford's total revenue fell to US$127 billion, from US$156 billion in 2019.
Ford ended the quarter with nearly US$31 billion in cash and US$47 billion of liquidity, compared with almost US$30 billion and more than US$45 billion respectively in the prior quarter.
Its operating margin in the fourth quarter was 4.8per cent, compared with a full-year target of 8per cent.
(Reporting by Ben Klayman and Paul Lienert in Detroit; Editing by Dan Grebler)