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Ford Pilot Program to Equip California Winegrowers With EVs

The pilot program aims to encourage electric vehicle adoption among farmers and other commercial customers to help reduce the impacts of climate change, which directly impacts the state’s agriculture.

(TNS) — Ford Motor Co. on Wednesday announced the launch of a pilot program that will equip winegrowers in northern California with electric pickup trucks, cargo vans and software services in a bid to boost EV and technology adoption among farmers and other commercial customers.

The Dearborn, Mich., automaker also announced the launch of Ford Pro Intelligence, a cloud-based platform underpinning a set of digital services aimed at supporting commercial fleet operators. The platform will provide customers with software they can use to manage their vehicle fleets on a single interface.

"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," said Ted Cannis, Ford Pro CEO. "We've created a platform that centralizes and powers our entire digital ecosystem, working across gas and electric powertrains, Ford and non- Ford vehicles."

The company reported that it's received 10,000 orders from 300 customers for the all-electric 2022 E-Transit van, which is now in the midst of launching. Early customers include retail giant Walmart Inc., which ordered more than 1,100 vans, according to Ford.

Meanwhile, the pilot program will supply three farms in Sonoma County, Calif., with a suite of products and services from Ford Pro, the standalone commercial vehicle business Ford launched last year. The participating farms will receive electric vehicles, charging stations and telematics services aimed at helping businesses maximize the uptime and productivity of their vehicle fleets.

"Right now, businesses large and small are facing really critical decisions about the future," Ford CEO Jim Farley said during an event in Sonoma County unveiling the program. "It's not just a decision about the vehicles they use, it's also, more importantly, how they manage their fleets. Most of our customers really are already there. They know electric vehicles are better for their bottom line and for the planet. And for winemakers here in Sonoma, the stakes couldn't be any higher."

In California wine country in particular, the imperative to transition to zero emissions vehicles has taken on greater urgency as farmers there have directly felt the effects of climate change, he and others noted. The group with which Ford Pro is partnering, the Sonoma County Winegrowers, has been working since 2014 to make its 1,800 grape farmers' operations 100 percent environmentally sustainable.

"This collaboration with the Ford Pro team is a great natural next step to help us continue our progress in sustainable agriculture," Karissa Kruse, the organization's president, said in a statement.

"A lot of farming families have a rich history with Ford, and with history comes trust. So as many of our farmers look for ways to lead in innovation and be a part of the solution, that trust is critical when it comes to investing in electric vehicles and in solutions to manage farming fleets," she added. "Our farmers love this pilot program; it's going to be foundational."

The pilot participants — Bevill Vineyard Management and Vino Farms in Healdsburg and Dutton Ranch in Sebastopol, which collectively span several thousand acres in the Russian River Valley — will add the all-electric F-150 Lightning pickup truck and E-Transit cargo van, among the other offerings, to their operations.

The farms also will be able to consult with Ford Pro employees over the course of the program, and will have access to the Ford Pro Intelligen software, home and depot charging, energy management and various telematics that will give them access to data on everything from vehicle maintenance schedules and the state of the vehicle's charge to charge history and more.

"We believe that the telematics data will change the way farmers manage their fleets and operations," Wanda Young, Ford Pro global chief marketing officer, said in a statement. And Kruse said that members of her organization are "data nerds. They rely heavily on information and they love the data to help them run their business. They also are trying to make every penny count, now more than ever."

For Steve and Joe Dutton, second-generation operators of Dutton Ranch, the program marks the continuation of a decades-long relationship with Ford. They oversee a fleet of about 70 commercial trucks and vans in a variety of configurations, and over the last several weeks have begun familiarizing themselves with Ford's telematics service. They're eager to take delivery of F-150 Lightnings once the battery-electric truck launches in the spring.

Previously, the ranch largely relied on drivers to bring in vehicles when maintenance was needed, said Steve Dutton. Having more granular data about their vehicles will allow them to instead catch maintenance needs earlier on and potentially save money. And though they're still getting to know the capabilities, Dutton said he could see it helping enforce safety among his drivers, keeping up with vehicle service needs and reducing the time vehicles spend idling.

"A lot of us have F-150 trucks on our ranch, or that size truck," he said. "There's no reason that, here in Sonoma County, why other farmers ... shouldn't have an electric vehicle."

Farley and other Ford executives have emphasized that they see the transformation taking place in the automotive industry as being just as much about software services enabled by digital connectivity as it is about electric powertrains. In May, the Dearborn automaker announced Ford Pro would launch as a standalone business, and company officials have cast it as a one-stop shop that will outfit customers with everything they need to operate and manage an electric vehicle fleet.

"We're integrating an intelligent management system into our trucks and vans to turn them into generators of data," Farley said. " Ford's approach to the auto evolution is an always-on relationship with our customers." Ford Pro, he said, is leading that transformation.

Ford Pro also provided additional detail about the progress it's made since launching last year. About 30 percent more vehicles are now enrolled in revenue-generating subscriptions, for example, and twice as many fleet customers are active on Ford Pro's software platform, Cannis said.

The winegrowers program, according to Ford, aims to demonstrate how EVs and fleet management tools can boost productivity, improve sustainability and lower the total cost of fleet ownership by 10 percent to 20 percent.

Ford Pro officials said they expect the program to expand in the coming months to include other farms in Sonoma County. To determine the impact of the program, emissions levels in Sonoma County will be measured after one year and compared to current levels.

(c)2022 The Detroit News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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