Automotive experts say the electric F-150, known as the Lightning, must be successful if Ford is to thrive in the electric vehicle age. The introduction of this truck is now equivalent to “betting on the company,” said William C. Ford Jr., the company’s chief executive, who is a great-grandson of Henry Ford. “If this launch doesn’t go well, we could tarnish the entire franchise.”
Critical year for electric vehicles
The popularity of battery-powered cars is growing worldwide, even as the entire car market stagnates.
The company has amassed about 200,000 bookings for trucks, but may still stumble. Production may be slowed by global chip shortages or rising costs for lithium, nickel and other raw materials, which are crucial for batteries. The software Ford developed for the truck may be defective, a problem that has hampered sales of a new electric Volkswagen in 2020.
Ford and Mr. Farley have some things. Unlike many other electric cars, the F-150 Lightning is relatively affordable – starting at $ 40,000. Tesla’s cheapest car is the Model 3 compact sedan, which starts at over $ 48,000. Lightning has plenty of storage space, including a giant front rack, which is attractive to families and businesses with a large fleet of trucks. And it helps that Tesla won’t start producing its Cybertruck until next year.
And Ford is also already in the EV game with the Mustang Mach-E, an electric sports car. It had sales of over 27,000 in 2021, its first year on the market, and won favorable 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 pickups – are at least a year away. Rivian, a newer manufacturer in which Ford is investing, has started selling electric trucks, but is struggling to increase production.
“If the Lightning launch goes well, we have a huge opportunity,” Mr Ford said.
In many ways, Mr. Farley checks most of the boxes when it comes to running a major American carmaker. 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 in a Ford factory. During visits to his grandfather, he toured Ford’s factories and other important sites in the company’s history. As a 15-year-old, he bought a Mustang while working in California one summer and drove it home to Michigan without a license. His grandfather named him “Jimmy car-car.”
But like Mr. Musk, a South African-born founder of PayPal and other companies, Mr. Farley has had a varied career and been involved in starting a business. Born in Argentina when his father worked there as a banker, Mr. Farley, 59, also lived in Brazil and Canada when he grew up. His career began not in the automotive industry, but in IBM. He spent a long time at Toyota. He helped the Japanese carmaker overcome its reputation for producing boring and economical cars by working on its new luxury brand, Lexus, now powerful.