Jim Farley tries to reinvent Ford and catch up with Elon Musk and Tesla
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. The introduction of this truck now amounts to “betting on the company,” said William C. Ford Jr., executive chairman of the company, who is a great-grandson of Henry Ford. “If this launch doesn’t go well, we can tarnish the whole franchise.”
A critical year for electric vehicles
As the global automotive market stagnates, the popularity of battery-powered cars is skyrocketing around the world.
The company has amassed about 200,000 reservations for the trucks, but it could still stumble. Production could be slowed by the global shortage of chips or soaring costs for lithium, nickel and other crucial battery raw materials. The software Ford developed for the truck may be faulty, an issue that has hampered sales of a new electric Volkswagen in 2020.
Ford and Mr. Farley have their aces going. Unlike many other electric cars, the F-150 Lightning is relatively affordable – it starts at $40,000. Tesla’s cheapest car is the Model 3 compact sedan, which starts at over $48,000. The Lightning has tons of storage, including a giant front trunk, which appeals to families and businesses with large truck fleets. And it helps that Tesla doesn’t start making 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 achieved sales of over 27,000 in 2021, its first year on the market, and won favorable reviews.
Production of the F-150 Lightning is expected to begin next Monday. Competing models from General Motors, Stellantis and Toyota – Ford’s main rivals in pickup trucks – are at least a year away. Rivian, a new automaker 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 huge opportunity,” Ford said.
In many ways, Mr. Farley checks most of the boxes when it comes to leading a major American automaker. Like Mary T. Barra, the general manager of GM, whose father worked on a Pontiac assembly line, Mr. Farley has family roots in the industry: his grandfather worked in a Ford factory. During visits to his grandfather, he visited Ford factories 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 home to Michigan without a license. His grandfather nicknamed him “Jimmy Car-Car”.
But like Mr. Musk, a South African native who was one of the founders of PayPal and other companies, Mr. Farley has had a varied career and has been involved in building businesses. Born in Argentina when his father worked there as a banker, Mr Farley, 59, also lived in Brazil and Canada when he was growing up. His career started not in the automotive industry but at IBM. He spent a long time at Toyota. He helped the Japanese automaker overcome its reputation for making boring, economical cars by working on its fledgling luxury brand Lexus, now a powerhouse.