Ford hurries out F-150 Lightning to grab share of electrics market

A Ford Motors pre-production all-electric F-150 Lightning truck prototype is seen at the Rouge Electric Vehicle Center in the Rouge Complex in Dearborn, Michigan (Photo: Reuters)
A Ford Motors pre-production all-electric F-150 Lightning truck prototype is seen at the Rouge Electric Vehicle Center in the Rouge Complex in Dearborn, Michigan (Photo: Reuters)


Output of new truck comes amid supply-chain constraints, rising battery costs

Ford Motor Co.’s first all-electric F-150 pickup truck is rolling off the assembly line Tuesday, marking a major step in the company’s move toward electrification.

Getting the plant going will be the easy part. Like other car companies, Ford continues to confront difficulties getting parts, particularly semiconductors critical to car manufacturing, and is launching the new truck in one of the most vexing periods for the auto industry’s complex supply chain in years.

The new plug-in truck, called the Lightning, is a battery-powered version of the F-150 pickup, America’s bestselling vehicle for decades. The model represents an effort by Ford to secure a lead in the nascent market for electric trucks. The Dearborn, Mich.-based auto maker has said it is working to triple its original output target to 150,000 a year for the truck, citing 200,000 reservations.

Ford and other auto makers are hurrying to capitalize on momentum for electric cars. The Lightning and other forthcoming EVs have drawn positive reviews from critics and long wait lists. Sharply higher gas prices are adding to the economic case for plug-in vehicles powered solely by electricity. Filling a gas-powered F-150 with regular fuel from empty costs nearly $100 based on the national average gasoline price reported by AAA Monday.

General Motors Co. on Monday said it is planning an all-electric version of its sports car, the Corvette, although the company didn’t disclose timing. GM is scheduled to report its first-quarter earnings later Tuesday, a day ahead of Ford.

Traditional car companies continue to chase electric-vehicle pioneer Tesla Inc., which plans to release its electric Cybertruck in 2023. Tesla is navigating its own supply-chain bottlenecks as it brings two new factories online this year—one in Germany; another in Texas—and tries to boost production to make more than 1.5 million vehicles in 2022.

The electric-vehicle maker notched a 68% vehicle-sales growth in the first quarter, while many other car companies saw sales decline.

A shortage of semiconductors continues to hamper output at some car factories, including recent interruptions at Ford’s U.S. plants that make gas-powered trucks.

EV startups Rivian Automotive Inc. and Lucid Group Inc. have cut their 2022 vehicle-output targets, citing supply-chain constraints. The war in Ukraine and lingering Covid-19 restrictions in Asia have further disrupted the flow of some parts.

Some auto executives have additionally warned about looming shortages in batteries, particularly the raw materials needed to build them, another potential hurdle for companies straining to crank up EV factories. Fast-rising prices for core battery ingredients, such as lithium and nickel, are pressuring car companies to pass along those costs to consumers.

Darren Palmer, Ford’s vice president of electric-vehicle programs, said the company worked with battery maker SK Innovation Co. to secure enough supply to support the beefed-up production schedule.

“We go from nothing to full-on production volume immediately. This is not a soft launch," Mr. Palmer said. Ford plans to expand the factory’s capacity to an annualized rate of about 150,000 Lightnings by July 2023, he said.

The Lightning’s debut is a milestone in the auto industry’s transition to battery power because it is the first time a traditional car company has offered a fully electric version of a nameplate that sells in big volumes, said Sam Fiorani, vice president of global vehicle forecasting at research firm AutoForecast Solutions.

“In the past they’ve made halfhearted attempts that didn’t appeal to many buyers," he said. “The Lightning is hitting the heart of the American market: trucks."

For the Lightning, Ford plans to use battery cells built at SK’s plant in Georgia and manufacture the truck inside a new factory on Ford’s Rouge complex near the company’s Michigan headquarters.

Ford Chief Executive Jim Farley in February expressed confidence that the company had secured the battery supply necessary to hit its Lightning output goals. He told analysts Ford would give priority to EV production in the event that chip supplies constrain output.

The rollout will give Ford a jump on rival GM, whose most-direct Lightning competitor, the electric Chevrolet Silverado pickup, is expected about a year later. The other big Detroit pickup-truck player, Stellantis NV’s Ram brand, has said it is targeting 2024 for an electric-truck rollout.

Signals of stronger-than-expected demand have prompted Ford and other car companies to rip up earlier production plans to deliver even more. Originally, it had planned to make around 40,000 of the trucks annually. It bumped that up last summer, and again early this year, to 150,000, after receiving 200,000 reservations.

“We underestimated it," Mr. Palmer said. “The customers showed us in the end."

Ford also must overcome its own recent troubles with quality problems on high-profile vehicle launches.

Last year’s reintroduction of the Bronco SUV after a nearly quarter-century absence from the U.S. market was mired with delays and quality snags. In 2019, problems ramping up output of a revamped Explorer SUV at Ford’s Chicago factory led to delays and dented profits, the company has said.

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