- Ford had to literally tear down the walls of its factory to cope with demand for the electric F-150.
- Darren Palmer told Insider that Ford was surprised by the number of orders for the Lightning.
- He said that meeting customers’ expectations was a “huge piece of work.”
Ford’s F-150 truck looks set to retain its crown as America’s best-selling vehicle for the 41st consecutive year.
After launching an electric version last year, it received nearly 200,000 orders for the Lightning opened and had to close its order book last December in a bid to catch up.
“That surprised us – I think it surprised a lot in the industry, how ready people already were for electric vehicles,” says Darren Palmer, who heads up Ford’s electric vehicle (EV) program.
The level of demand forced Ford to take some drastic action to boost the number of Lightning trucks it can produce in Michigan.
“They’re actually building a factory almost the same size alongside the one that’s producing at the moment,” Palmer told Insider. “We had to cut the walls open again and start again.”
Despite recently committing $50 billion to its EV program over the next four years, the success of an electric F-150 was never certain.
Linda Zhang, the Lightning’s chief engineer, previously told Insider she initially had to convince her colleagues to buy the vehicle. Now it’s winning over customers who never owned an EV, as well as younger drivers who hadn’t previously bought a Ford, said Palmer and Zhang.
Coping with the surge in demand has been a “huge piece of work,” Palmer says: “It will take most of this year and some of next year just to convert the reservations – and I trust we haven’t had it open for a year and a half.”
A wave of positive reviews for the Lightning meant even more orders are likely to follow, he adds, but first it has to convert a multitude of existing reservations. Palmer couldn’t confirm when this would happen.
In the meantime, Ford will try to increase production from the existing factory to double its annual output to 150,000 annually.
Supply chain woes
Coping with demand hasn’t been helped by supply chain issues brought on by the pandemic. The Wall Street Journal reported in September that Ford had been forced to halt the delivery of some of its vehicles due to a shortage of the automaker’s famous blue badges.
A bigger issue has been the ongoing shortage of semiconductor chips, although Palmer says Ford is prioritizing supplies for its EVs. Still prices for the trucks have been forced up by a wave of obstacles, increasing the F-150 Lightning Pro by $5,000 last month in the second price rise this year.
Geopolitical factors helped influence the company’s decision to move some production closer to home, coming alongside a massive supply chain restructure after $1 billion of unexpected costs last quarter.
Palmer thinks the Lightning will go down in history as the vehicle that brought EVs into the mainstream in the US. He says there’s more to come, with a renewed focus on in-car technology in the next phase of Ford’s EV program.
“The things we’re going to bring in the next three years are just mind blowing. They’re doing things that vehicles never did before,” he adds.