Automotive experts say the electric F-150, known as the Lightning, must be a hit if Ford is to thrive in the age of electric vehicles. Introducing this truck now is tantamount to “gambling the company,” said William C. Ford Jr., the company’s chief executive, who is the great-grandson of Henry Ford. “If this launch doesn’t go well, we can tarnish the entire franchise.”
A critical year for electric vehicles
As the overall automotive market stagnates, the popularity of battery-powered cars is skyrocketing around the world.
The company has amassed some 200,000 reservations for the trucks, but it could still stumble. Production could be slowed by global chip shortages or rising costs of lithium, nickel and other crucial raw materials for batteries. The software Ford has developed for the truck could be flawed, a problem that hampered sales of a new electric Volkswagen in 2020.
Ford and Mr. Farley have a few things going for them. 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 more than $48,000. The Lightning has plenty of storage space, including a giant front trunk, which is appealing to families and businesses with large truck fleets. And it helps that Tesla doesn’t start manufacturing its Cybertruck until next year.
And Ford is also already in the EV game with the Mustang Mach-E, an electric sport utility vehicle. It had sales of over 27,000 in 2021, its first year on the market, and garnered 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 trucks, are at least a year away. Rivian, a newer manufacturer in which Ford has invested, has started selling an electric truck but is struggling to ramp up production.
“If the Lightning launch goes well, we have a great opportunity,” Ford said.
In many ways, Mr. Farley ticks most of the boxes when it comes to leading a large US automaker. As does GM CEO Mary T. Barra, whose father used to work in a line of Fitting Pontiac, Mr. Farley has family roots in industry: his grandfather worked in a Ford factory. On visits to his grandfather, he toured Ford plants and other sites important to the company’s history. When he was 15, he bought a Mustang while working in California one summer and drove it to his home in Michigan without a license. His grandfather nicknamed him “Jimmy Car-Car”.
But like Musk, a South African native who was one of the founders of PayPal and other companies, Farley has had a varied career and has been involved in starting businesses. Born in Argentina when his father worked there as a banker, Mr. Farley, 59, also lived in Brazil and Canada as a child. His career began not in the automotive industry but at IBM. He spent a long period at Toyota. He helped the Japanese automaker overcome its reputation for making boring, cheap cars by working on its fledgling luxury brand Lexus, now a powerhouse.