The Ford F-150 Lightning is a major entrant into the US auto market. That’s right, not just the electric vehicle market, but the overall auto market. This is no “compliance car,” as Ford’s head of BEVs (fully electric vehicles) told me, and Ford didn’t electrify its two biggest nameplates — the F-150 and the Mustang — to play softball or little league. As far as I can tell, Ford wants to be a leader in the fast-growing EV market, a market that I think everyone in the industry realizes will be the entire auto industry by the end of the 2030s.
The biggest stunner regarding the Ford F-150 Lightning is its price tag. The starting price is just below $40,000, about $20,000–$35,000 less than most people seemed to be expecting. It is truly cost competitive and also performs better than a fossil fuel F-150. The more decked out and pricier option is the quickest F-150 in history, demoting the F-150 Raptor. You don’t bring this truck to market at such a low cost on the bottom end and with such high performance on the top end with a goal of just getting some good PR and then forgetting all about electricity. This is for real.
Nonetheless, I do have a few big remaining questions.
1) How many will Ford be able to produce in 2022? And 2023?
This is the big question. The Ford Mustang Mach-E is a compelling, competitive electric crossover, but Ford’s only producing 50,000 in 2021 (20,000 for the US and 30,000 for Europe, reportedly) and we don’t know the company’s plans beyond 2021. That doesn’t really make a dent in emissions. The F-150 Lightning, as we’ve already reported several times today, comes in at a super competitive base price and then also outperforms the F-150 Raptor on the top end. This should sell better than pancakes at an IHOP! But how many is Ford willing and able to sell?
2) How well will Ford dealers sell it?
It’s not just about Ford, of course. One of the biggest challenges legacy automakers have in the United States is their dealer networks. Dealers want to get a customer off of their lots ASAP — with keys in hand and a lengthy contract in their bag. Tesla decided early on that it would die if it tried to sell electric vehicles through dealerships, so it never touched them. Rivian has followed the same path. Legacy automakers have to sell through dealers, though. I’ve heard repeatedly that when automakers have dedicated EV teams that are really given the opportunity to compete and have the backing of the top execs, their biggest challenge becomes getting dealers on board to actually try to sell these electric animals. Dealership salespeople don’t want to have to explain anything and often don’t know much about EVs anyway. Dealership owners and managers don’t get much from selling EVs, since much of their revenue comes from service, not sales, and EVs need very little service.
So, the second big question is: how well will dealers be prepared, enthusiastic, and committed to selling the electric F-150 Lightning over their bread-and-butter top sellers.
3) How much is the F-150 Lightning going to hurt demand for non-electric F-150s, and how much is Ford willing to encourage this cannibalization?
Aside from the automaker and dealer side of the story, there’s a big question (or two) on the consumer side. With better performance and lower price, how many traditional Ford F-150 buyers will be ready to go electric? How many will jump into the electric future enthusiastically? How many will find excuses to still stick to gas and diesel? Will the Lightning shoot to the top of buyer interest? Will it see a slow climb in demand as consumers warm up to the idea of a whole new powertrain and fuel type?
In a related manner, if demand is high but supply is low, will people delay buying a truck until the Lightning is available? Will the Lightning seriously dent F-150 sales if production capacity isn’t up to snuff?
The first step is here. We have a tremendously compelling and affordable electric pickup truck from Ford — displaying the company’s top selling F-150 nameplate. The next steps — production capacity, sales practices, and consumer demand — are still question marks.