Quality or quantity: Ford struggles for balance as it ramps up production of electric vehicles | Rare Techy


After a slow start, Ford has now firmly locked itself into second place behind segment leader Tesla in the emerging US EV market.

2022 Ford F-150 Lightning - Muddy Trail
While Tesla fans wait for the Cybertruck, Ford is cranking out F-150 Lightnings to customers as fast as it can.

The Detroit automaker said sales of its three battery electric vehicles were up 120% year-over-year in October, with the new F-150 Lightning pickup driving much of that boost.

But Ford could do even better, said Darren Palmer, vice president of Ford Model e electric vehicle programs. If anything, it greatly underestimated demand for its all-electric models, especially the Lightning.

An understatement

“We could sell a lot more of them,” Palmer admitted in a video interview this week. “We didn’t put in enough volume. We didn’t predict the success rate.”

When the automaker opened its new EV production facility at the Rouge manufacturing complex outside Detroit earlier this year, it was only able to build 40,000 battery-powered trucks. Since then, Ford has expanded the operation several times, and Palmer says the goal is to have it running at an annual production rate of 150,000 by the end of 2022.

While Palmer said he’s optimistic Ford can achieve that goal, it’s far from certain. And one of the main reasons is that quantity is just one of the metrics Palmer has to meet. Quality is another.

F-150 Lightning - body and chassis marriage
Ford is working to ensure that the launch of the F-150 Lightning avoids the problems that other recent launches have endured.

Startup problems

Ford has an unsavory history of launching new products only to discover a number of manufacturing and design problems. The latest generation Ford Explorer offers one of the most dramatic examples. A botched rollout and subsequent production slowdown was a major factor in Ford’s 99% drop in 2019 revenue.

The Mach-E, Ford’s first long-range battery electric vehicle, has experienced several problems of its own. In June, nearly 49,000 were recalled to fix a defect that can cause the electric vehicle to suddenly lose power. At the same time, Ford briefly issued a stop-sale order, advising dealers to halt deliveries until a solution is found.

Later that month, a recall of 2,666 of the first Lightnings was announced due to a potentially faulty tire pressure monitoring system. However, only the handle had been delivered to the customers.

The Mach-E still outsells the Lightning, with Ford shipping 3,055 electric SUVs in October, compared to 2,436 for the pickup. But it will likely pass by the end of the year, at least if Palmer’s team can meet its goal.

Quality really must be “one job”

Ford Chicago assembly line 2019
If Ford repeats the problems with the launch of the new F-150 Lightning Explorer, it’s sure to hurt the EV image.

But with the Lightning serving as a true halo product in Ford’s electrification program, it’s imperative to ensure that “quality comes first,” Palmer said, echoing Ford’s tagline used to promote it.

“They can’t afford to mess it up,” said Sam Abuelsamid, principal auto analyst at Guidehouse Insights. “If they had multiple major recalls, it would certainly hurt the (Lightning’s) reputation, which faces a lot of competition over the next 12 to 18 months.”

There are already two competing battery electric pickups on the market: the Rivian R1T and the GMC Hummer EV, though both are relatively small-volume models. However, next year will see the launch of the Chevrolet Silverado EV, which Tesla says will finally bring its Cybertruck into production in late 2023. All-electric versions of the GMC Sierra and Ram 1500 pickups will be added in 2024.

So, Abuelsamid said, it’s worth losing the original volume to maximize the Lightning’s quality, rather than following Ford’s usual launch strategy of maxing out the volume as quickly as possible.

The slow ramp pays off

With multiple Ford sources telling that internal research shows the focus on quality is working, Lightning production is now ramping up.

2022 Ford Mustang Mach-E GT - Golden Gatebridge
Ford had to recall 49,000 Mustang Mach-Eds shortly after the vehicles were launched.

Ford clearly wants to dominate the market before these main competitors hit showrooms. And the demand is there, Palmer said, estimating we could have sold as many as 200,000 Lightnings if there had been production capacity this year.

The Lightning and Mach-E are Ford’s two retail EVs, with the automaker also selling a battery-powered version of its e-Transit large van. Last month, 770 were delivered, which is 71.5% more than a year earlier.

A “set of EVs” is coming.

But more all-electric products are in the works, backed by a $50 billion investment program through 2026. Ford has been tight-lipped about releasing details, but has confirmed that an Explorer-sized EV will hit showrooms next.

“We’re working on a suite of EVs,” Palmer hinted.

For his part, CEO Jim Farley also announced that a second all-electric pickup will debut early in the second half of this decade. It is produced in BlueOval City along with the second generation Lightning. It’s a huge new manufacturing complex that Ford is building near Memphis.

Jim Farley v2 3-2-22
Ford CEO Jim Farley says another all-electric pickup truck is coming, but hasn’t said whether it will be a compact or midsize model.

Even before the introduction of BlueOval City, Ford has set a goal of achieving an annual global driving rate of 600,000 electric vehicles by the end of 2023. That figure includes “one other small e-SUV in Europe,” Ford said in an email. to With the new Tennessee complex and other new online manufacturing operations, it is expected to reach 2 million electric cars per year by the end of 2026.

Moving beyond early adopters

The big question is whether there will be buyers for all the electric vehicles coming from Ford, as well as its competition. But the pace of growth is accelerating. While at the end of 2019, electric vehicles accounted for only 1% of the US new vehicle market, this share will increase to approximately 5% in the first half of 2022. According to initial industry data, it is currently over 7%.

“I’m not surprised,” Palmer said, noting, “We’ve been talking to (potential) customers for a long time.”

“People are realizing” the benefits of using electricity, he added. “Compare it to a smartphone. People didn’t know they needed it (until they tried it).

Although it’s still in the “early adoption phase,” Palmer said. But as new products hit the market, EVs are beginning to interact with mainstream buyers. And as with smartphones, it’s driving real growth.


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