DETROIT – Ford Motor is set to be the first automaker to bring a mainstream, full-size electric pickup to the U.S. market, poised to capitalize on a first-mover advantage in what’s expected to be a hotly contested segment in the years to come.
Ford CEO Jim Farley said the company plans to scale production of its electric F-150 Lightning pickup faster than its competitors, with plans to increase production of the Lightning at a plant in Dearborn, Michigan, to 150,000 units in the next year or so, up from an initial target of 40,000 vehicles.
That would dwarf plans of Rivian Automotive and General Motors, which are expected to be in the tens of thousands. Both are already producing and selling pricier electric pickups in smaller and larger truck segments.
Other companies, specifically EV start-ups, have previously touted the electric pickup as a massive opportunity, but have so far failed to execute on a large scale.
“In this market, being a first-mover is a very, very important move,” Farley told CNBC. “We didn’t know we’d be first, but we worked fast in case we were, and it’s worked out that way. I think it could be one of the most important advantages we have.”
Ford is “confident” it can hit its 150,000 production target, according to Farley. He said the company has secured the lithium-ion batteries needed for that level of production – a major concern of investors and Wall Street analysts. Ford also will prioritize supplies of semiconductor chips, which have been a major supply chain problem for more than a year, for the Lightning, Farley said.
“We’re not joking. We think this is as big a product as when the Model T came out for us,” Farley said, referring to Ford’s flagship product that is credited with being the catalyst for mass adoption of vehicles from horse and buggies beginning in 1908.
Some believe the F-150 Lightning could be the first true test of whether Americans are ready to adopt electric vehicles that aren’t Teslas. The pickup is also crucial to Ford’s $42 billion truck franchise and retaining its decades-long sales dominance as America’s best-selling truck and vehicle with its F-Series pickups.
While Rivian’s R1T electric pickup was the first to market last year, it’s a smaller vehicle than the Lightning and priced starting at $67,500. GM also started shipping its GMC Hummer EV pickups at the end of last year, but they’re larger than the F-150 Lightning and initially priced at about $110,000.
The F-150 Lightning starts at about $40,000 for a work-oriented version and $53,000 – only thousands of dollars over the average price paid for a new vehicle – for a consumer pickup.
Ford has started saleable production of the F-150 Lightning. The automaker is expected to begin shipping the new electric trucks to dealers within days.
First to receive the F-150 Lightning will be select commercial, or fleet, customers and the 200,000 reservation holders who have placed $100 refundable deposits for the vehicle since it was unveiled last May. It could take Ford more than a year to fulfill those orders, according to Farley.
That time frame is longer than historical lead times for such vehicles but is still expected to be sooner than other EVs. New orders for the Hummer EV aren’t expected to be fulfilled until 2024, and Rivian only expects to produce 25,000 vehicles this year.
Farley said the company is sharing the F-150 internal combustion engine plant, which should help it hit between 150,000 and 200,000 production units a year.
“We build a million F-150s a year. We know how to do this. And we have incredible scale,” he said.
Ford’s recipe for profitability with the F-150 Lightning is indeed scale. The Lightning shares parts such as seats, doors and much of the vehicle’s interior with its traditional gas-powered siblings to assist with supplier pricing and development.
It’s a different strategy than GM, Rivian and Tesla, which all have unique electric truck platforms. And it’s a strategy that assisted Ford in getting the vehicle to market.
The parts sharing is also expected to assist with increasing production, but it’s opened the company up to criticism that a dedicated EV platform is preferred. Ford eventually expects to build a dedicated EV platform at a new plant in Tennessee.
Unlike the Hummer and R1T, Ford is making it a massive point to target fleet customers with the F-150 Lightning. About 20% to 30% of initial production will be for those customers, however Farley said he believes the demand from companies and work customers could eventually surpass the consumer market.
LMC Automotive expects the U.S. electric pickup truck market to increase from about 25,000 vehicles this year to 1 million or so by 2030. The five electric pickup models available this year is expected to jump to 21 over the next decade.
The race to release electric pickups was largely sparked by Tesla and other EV start-ups eyeing the segment, which the Detroit automakers have dominated for decades.
Ford’s F-Series, which includes the F-150 pickup and its larger siblings, has been America’s best-selling vehicle for 40 straight years and the industry’s top-selling truck for the 45 years. Neither are titles Ford wants to relinquish when it comes to electric pickups.
“We’re not going to cede the future to anyone,” Farley told CNBC last year. “Our electric strategy is very specific. We’re going to invest in segments where we’re the dominant player and we have scale, like the F-150, the Transit van, our Mustang.”
Ford has announced plans to ramp production capabilities to 2 million EVs by 2026, as it seeks to become the second-largest seller of such vehicles, behind Tesla, by that time. Its crosstown rival, GM, has said it plans to surpass Tesla in domestic EV sales by 2025.
Both automakers have a lot of catching up to do against Tesla, which accounted for roughly three out of four electric vehicles sold during the first quarter of this year.