The F-150 Lightning is finally getting delivered – is Ford ready?

The first Ford F-150 Lightnings are rolling off the assembly line and to customers today after almost a year of anticipation. The company’s second electric pickup truck, following the successful Mustang Mach-E, is currently in Category One – the only full-size electric pickup truck currently available. (Rivian has sold around 2,000 of the well-reviewed R1T, but it falls somewhere between the compact Toyota Tacoma and big trucks like the F-150.) Full-size competitors from GM, Ram, and Tesla are all ahead, but the Lightning will dominate the market to themselves for at least a year, and Ford CEO Jim Farley intends to take full advantage of that lead to steal customers away from its competitors.

“We should send everyone to a customer who has never bought a Ford before,” Farley told me in a brief interview last week. “I think we should try.”

According to he will of course send out all 200,000 pre-orders. Demand for the Lightning was so strong that Ford invested $950 million in plant expansion, adding 750 jobs and doubling production, but some pre-order customers will wait until 2023 to get their trucks, Ford’s website says , that no more 2022 Lightnings are available .

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

As for the rest, the Lightning is heavily based on the existing F-150, so there’s a lot of existing production capacity. “We’ve been building the seats and the instrument panel for two years now,” Farley reminds me. This is true even for chips, which have been in constant shortages around the world since the pandemic began. Ford makes around a million F-Series trucks a year, which means it buys a lot of chips, and Farley has made it its mission to make sure the Lightning gets the chips it needs from that supply. “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 won’t produce 20 percent fewer Lightnings because we got 20 percent fewer chips for the F-series.”

Farley says Ford will have to focus on pre-orders for six months to a year, but then he wants to aggressively market the Lightning to people who buy other brands of trucks. Truck owners are, of course, notoriously loyal, but Farley believes a real EV truck that people can buy will attract converts. “If you offer something and it can be Bought, which is a pretty big advantage,” he says. “And when you have a year in the market essentially to yourself, you have to strive for it.”

If things go well, Farley predicts that Ford will phase out its $125,000 7500 EV tax credit sometime late this year or early next year. He strives for more. “I spend a large portion of my day speaking to lawmakers and business leaders about the importance of helping our customers — all customers — through the transition [EV] Technology. China has done it. Europe has done it. It’s not even a Ford thing. If we’re going to be competitive as a country, if we’re going to attract EV investment from foreign companies here in the US, if we’re going to localize the commodity supply chain, we need to have consumer appeal.”

Ford’s first electric vehicle, the Mustang Mach-E, was lauded by critics and buyers alike, but the experience of driving a Mach-E is severely hampered by its charging network, which lags behind Tesla’s superlative Supercharger network. “We have a lot of scars to show,” says Farley when it comes to charging. Ford has touted itself as the largest charging network, “but it doesn’t really help that it’s the largest if half the chargers aren’t working,” 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.”

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

Ford’s main internal measure of the quality of its charging network – introduced by new EV chief Doug Field – is “successful charging,” which is simply a measure of how often drivers drive past a charger, complete a charge, and drive away. It is easily measurable and does not require drivers to report anything. The data shows that there is still much to be done.

“I would give us a C-Plus myself,” Farley says if the indictment is successful. “The number of fast chargers will only take some time. It’s going to be like brushing your teeth – we’ll never get done with it.”

This new charge location interface will eventually come to the Mustang Mach-E, which is due for a major software update later this year that will update the entire interface displayed on the in-car screens. Farley likens it to an iPhone update, saying, “The whole UX will change.” Farley has set ambitious goals for future OTA software updates, which are part of Farley’s push to rethink cars as “digital vehicles.” but it’s starting slowly. “We still don’t deliver enough software into the car,” he says. Field started improving things after his stints at Apple and Tesla.

“When Doug got here, we had some issues with BlueCruise,” Farley says, discussing Ford’s Level 2 driver assistance system, which was released as a software update for vehicles with the right hardware. “We had designed the BlueCruise over-the-air update in three different installments and that just wasn’t going to work. So we simplified it. We’re getting a lot of BlueCruise downloads now.”

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 includes Google Maps and other services next year. Ford has said “millions” of vehicles will be running this new version of Sync by 2023, but Farley says it’s “months” behind schedule.

“We are making great progress. I’m very impressed with the team that Google has assembled,” says Farley. “They have been very accommodating – as you can imagine we don’t want a generic instrument panel solution for Mustang. We want, like Line Lock, to do a burnout. But it’s a bit delayed, so it will be later in the fall.”

Current Ford vehicles cannot be upgraded to the new Android-based Sync – meaning these first assembly line Lightnings will have Ford’s existing Sync 4 system, while 2023 Lightnings shipping next year will have the new Android based sync, a potential silver fodder for impatient pre-order buyers.

The F-150 Lightning

Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images

Farley recently restructured Ford into two divisions: Ford Blue, which makes traditional cars, and Ford Model e, which will be led by Field and will make electric vehicles. Farley says the Lightning is just the first in a “portfolio of trucks” 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 just one product,” says Farley. “Our strategy is definitely to electrify our icons like the Mustang and the F-150. “But just because we electrify our icons doesn’t mean we’re routinely approaching it.” So don’t expect a Ranger Lightning or Maverick Lightning—although an EV Maverick seems like a great idea.

Ultimately, the goal is to enable the Model e team to build new types of electric vehicles that compete directly with Ford’s existing vehicles, dropping the chips where they can. When asked if he’s willing to settle disputes between Ford’s huge traditional auto business and its burgeoning EV division, Farley laughs.

“I think, I think if we do our jobs right, I’m going to worry about that for the rest of my career.” The F-150 Lightning is finally getting delivered – is Ford ready?

Fry Electronics Team

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