The F-150 Lightning is finally shipping. Is Ford ready?

The first Ford F-150 Lightnings are rolling off the assembly lines and heading to customers today, after nearly a year in advance. The company’s second EV after the wildly successful Mustang Mach-E is in a category of one at the moment: the only full-size electric pickup available right now. (Rivian has sold about 2,000 of the well-reviewed R1T, but it falls somewhere between the compact Toyota Tacoma and full-size trucks like the F-150.) GM’s full-size competitors Ram and Tesla are all forthcoming, but the Lightning will have the market to itself for at least a year, and Ford CEO Jim Farley intends to make the most of that advantage to steal customers to your competitors.

“We should send each one to a customer who has never bought a Ford before,” Farley told me in a brief interview last week. “My opinion is that we should try it.”

Later he ships the 200,000 pre-orders, of course. Demand for the Lightning has been so strong that Ford has invested $950 million in expanding the factory, adding 750 jobs and doubling production, but some pre-order customers will still wait until 2023 to get their trucks, and the website Ford says no more 2022 Lightnings available. .

The plant had built about 1,800 Lightnings when we spoke, and Farley said that while Ford would be “on plan” with its capacity targets, he just laughed and said “no” when asked if production would meet demand in the future. short term. There just aren’t enough batteries to build Ford’s goal of 150,000 Lightnings a year. But even then, Farley says he is confident the battery plant in Georgia that Ford operates in partnership with SK Battery will be able to grow. “I think we’re in pretty good shape for batteries, and that seems to be the biggest problem with getting to 150,000 units,” he says.

As for the rest, well, the Lightning is very much based on the existing F-150, so there’s plenty of existing manufacturing capacity. “The seats and the instrument panel, that’s something we’ve been building for two years,” Farley reminds me. That’s true even for chips, which have been in perpetual global shortage since the pandemic began. Ford makes about a million F-series trucks a year, which means it buys a lot of chips, and Farley has made making sure the Lightning gets the chips it needs from that supply a priority. “I don’t see the chips as a limitation for Lightning,” says Farley. “I definitely see it as a limitation for our company. But we’re not going to produce 20 percent less Lightning because we have 20 percent fewer chips for the F-series.”

Farley says Ford will have to focus on preorders for six months to a year, but then he wants to aggressively market the Lightning to people who buy other truck brands. Truck owners are famously loyal, of course, but Farley thinks having a real EV truck that people can buy will attract switchers. “If you are offering something and it can be boughtThat’s a big advantage,” he says. “And if you have a year on the market essentially to yourself, you have to go after him.”

If things go well, Farley predicts that Ford will run out of its 125,000 electric vehicle tax credits of $7,500 sometime late this year or early next. He is lobbying for more. “I spend a large portion of my day talking to legislators and leaders about the importance of helping our customers, any customer, transition to [EV] technology. China has done it. Europe has done it. It’s not even a Ford thing. If we want to be competitive as a country, if we want to attract investment in electric vehicles from foreign companies here in the US, if we want to localize the supply chain of raw materials, we must have incentives for the consumer.”

Ford’s first EV, the Mustang Mach-E, has been praised by critics and buyers alike, but the experience of driving a Mach-E is severely hampered by the charging network, which lags behind the superlative charging network. Tesla Supercharger. “We have a lot of scars to show” when it comes to charging, says Farley. Ford has touted itself as having the biggest charging network, “but it’s not really useful to be the biggest if half the chargers don’t work,” says Farley. “Or if you show up and need a fast charger, and it’s not a fast charger, that’s not going to work.”

Lightning will ship with a new charging location map that identifies fast chargers and allows users to report broken or malfunctioning charging stations. “We’ve done a lot of benchmarking of our competitors’ algorithms to find a charger and there are others that were better than us,” says Farley. “It was very impressive to see what Hyundai did for their Ioniq 5.”

Ford’s main internal metric for the quality of its charging network, laid out by new EV boss Doug Field, is “successful charging,” which is simply a measure of how often drivers approach a charger. , they complete a charge and leave. It is easily measurable and does not require drivers to report anything. The data reveals that much work remains to be done.

“I’d give myself a C-plus,” on a successful charge, says Farley. “The number of fast chargers will only take time. This will be like brushing our teeth, we are never going to end this.”

That new charger-locator interface will eventually make its way to the Mustang Mach-E, which is due to receive a major software update later this year that will update the entire interface displayed on the car’s screens. Farley compares it to an iPhone update, saying “the whole UX is going to change.” Farley has set ambitious goals for OTA software updates in the future, part of Farley’s push to rethink cars as “digital vehicles,” but he’s off to a slow start. “We’re not shipping enough software to the car yet,” he says. Field, who comes from working at Apple and Tesla, has started to improve things.

“We had some trouble with BlueCruise when Doug came along,” says Farley, speaking of Ford’s Level 2 driver assistance system, which was released as a software update for vehicles that had the right hardware. “We had designed the over-the-air upgrade for BlueCruise in three different tranches, and that just wasn’t going to work. So we have simplified it. Now we are getting a lot of BlueCruise downloads.”

Of course, the biggest software change of all will come when Ford’s collaboration with Google on an all-new Android-based Sync infotainment stack that has Google Maps and other services arrives next year. Ford has said “millions” of vehicles will run this new version of Sync by 2023, but Farley says it’s “months” behind schedule.

“We are making a lot of progress. I’m very impressed with the team that Google has put together,” says Farley. “They have been very accommodating; You can imagine we don’t want a generic solution for the Mustang instrument panel. We want to, like, line lock to do a burnout. But it’s a little behind schedule, so it’ll be later in the fall.”

Current Ford vehicles won’t be able to upgrade to the new Android-based Sync, meaning these first-in-the-line Lightnings will have Ford’s existing Sync 4 system, while 2023 Lightnings shipping next year will have the new Android-based Sync. on Android, a silver potential. Lining for impatient buyers of pre-orders.

The F-150 Lightning Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images

Farley recently reorganized Ford into two divisions: Ford Blue, which makes traditional cars, and Ford Model e, run by Field, which will make electric vehicles. Farley says Lightning is just the first in a “truck portfolio,” and that Field and his team are free to invent radically new vehicles to compete against Tesla and others. “We’re not going to serve the entire market with one product,” says Farley. “Our strategy is definitely to electrify our icons” like the Mustang and F-150. “But just because we’re electrifying our icons doesn’t mean we’re going to be anything but routine in addressing that.” So don’t expect a Ranger Lightning or a Maverick Lightning, even if a Maverick EV seems like a great idea.

The goal, in the end, is to allow the Model e team to build new types of electric vehicles that directly compete with existing Ford vehicles and let the chips fall where they may. Asked if he’s ready to mediate disputes between Ford’s huge traditional car business and its new electric vehicle division, Farley laughs.

“I think I think if we do our job right, I’ll worry about that for the rest of my career.”

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