Automotive experts say the electric F-150, called the Lightning, must be a success if Ford is to thrive in the electric vehicle age. William C. Ford Jr., the company’s executive chairman and great-grandson of Henry Ford, said introducing the truck now equates to “taking a bet with the company”. “If this launch doesn’t go well, we could tarnish the entire franchise.”
An important year for electric vehicles
The popularity of battery-powered cars is skyrocketing worldwide, even as the overall auto market stagnates.
The company has amassed about 200,000 reservations for the vans, but it could still struggle. Production could be slowed by a global chip shortage or the rising costs of lithium, nickel and other raw materials so important for batteries. The software Ford has developed for the truck may be flawed, an issue that hinders sales of a new electric Volkswagen in 2020.
Ford and Mr. Farley have some work to do. Unlike many other electric models, the F-150 Lightning is relatively affordable – starting at $40,000. Tesla’s cheapest car is the compact Model 3 sedan, which starts at more than $48,000. The Lightning has tons of storage, including a huge front trunk, appealing to homes and businesses with large fleets of trucks. And it helps that Tesla won’t begin production of the Cybertruck until next year.
And Ford has also entered the EV game with the Mustang Mach-E, an electric sport utility vehicle. It had sales of more than 27,000 in 2021, its first year on the market, and won many good reviews.
Production of the F-150 Lightning is scheduled to begin next Monday. Competing models from General Motors, Stellantis and Toyota – Ford’s main rivals in the pickup truck space – will be available for at least another year. Rivian, a newer manufacturer that Ford has invested in, has started selling an electric truck but is having a hard time ramping up production.
“If the Lightning launch goes well, we have a huge opportunity,” said Ford.
In many ways, Mr. Farley checks most of the boxes when it comes to leading a major American automaker. Like Mary T. Barra, GM’s chief executive, whose father worked on the Pontiac assembly line, Mr. Farley has family roots in the industry: His grandfather worked at a Ford factory. During his visits to his grandfather, he would tour Ford factories and other sites important to the company’s history. When he was 15 years old, he bought a Mustang while working in California one summer and drove it home to Michigan without a license. His grandfather nicknamed him “Jimmy Car-Car.”
But like Mr. Musk, a native of South Africa who has been a founder of PayPal and other companies, Mr. Farley has had a varied career and is involved in creating businesses. Born in Argentina when his father was working at a bank, Mr. Farley, 59, also lived in Brazil and Canada while growing up. His career began not in the auto industry but in IBM. He spent a long time at Toyota. He helped the Japanese automaker overcome its reputation for producing boring and economical cars by developing the fledgling luxury brand Lexus, which is now a powerhouse.