Bill Ford Says F-150 Lightning Is the ‘Most Important Launch’ of His Career
Henry Ford’s great-grandson doesn’t mince words about what a big deal the electric F-150 is.
Henry Ford's family is still involved in the car company he founded nearly 120 years ago. Different executives with their last name on the building have come and gone, but executive chairman Bill Ford has stuck around for more than four decades. In that time, he's seen plenty of key cars and trucks be launched—most recently, the iconic Mustang's first electric variant—but the battery-powered F-150 Lightning is the biggest of 'em all, according to him.
That's what Mr. Ford told The Detroit News in a recent interview, where he also spoke on electrification at large as well as autonomous vehicles and how they're likely to result in fewer cars on the road. That's a challenge in its own right, but he expects the F-150 Lightning to be a turning point, not just for the Blue Oval but also for the pickup truck segment as a whole when it launches April 26.
"Every time any auto manufacturer does a major launch, they always say it’s the most significant in the company’s history. To put this in perspective ... it is probably the most important launch of my career. ... This has been a personal journey of mine since I joined the company 43 years ago. And it sort of all culminates on Tuesday with the launch of this vehicle. So I think in many ways, it's for me, anyway, the most important launch of my career."
Indeed, you'd expect to hear that from any executive hyping up their company's newest product. But I think Ford's claims here are independently verifiable. Sure, the Mustang Mach-E was and continues to be crucial, but we're talking about the F-Series here. It's second only to the iPhone in terms of revenue for American products, and this is undoubtedly its most extensive rework.
"Anytime you have a radical change to your most successful product, you really are betting the company," Ford admitted. "In some ways, we did that when we went to aluminum on F-150, because that could have been a disaster had people not accepted it. I think back also to EcoBoost, when we launched that engine, when the prevailing wisdom was that everybody wanted a V-8 in a pickup truck and we launched EcoBoost with the six-cylinder. Again, that could have been a disaster had that not worked. Both of those worked really well, though."
While both of those changes were big at the time, I'd wager to say neither comes close to stripping the truck entirely of internal combustion. Customers quickly became familiar with the F-150 PowerBoost hybrid that launched in 2021, but it didn't require them to adapt much; they still filled it up with gas and went on their merry way. The Lightning, however, is going to be different for anyone who's only ever had gas or diesel vehicles—Ford already surveyed reservation holders, and 79 percent said this will be their first EV.
"And here we are again taking our most successful nameplate, the F-150, and we’re doing something radically different with it. And just like those other two examples, if this fails, it will have a hugely negative effect upon us. But I think it’s going to be just the opposite. I think it’s going to really enhance the brand reputation of Ford and the F-150, and I think the early order bank tells us that’s true."
It's unclear how many of the roughly 200,000 F-150 Lightning reservations have turned into orders, but Ford said it couldn't satisfy the demand of all the potential buyers in the first year of production. The automaker expects to build 150,000 of the EVs annually once manufacturing ramps up at its Rouge plant in Michigan.
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