A sharp drop in sales of its F-150 Lightning has forced Ford to throttle back production of its flagship EV pickup just as excitement builds over the impending arrival of Tesla’s Cybertruck.
The Detroit automaker this week confirmed a recent Wall Street Journal report that it was removing an entire production shift of 700 workers at its century-old Dearborn plant colloquially known simply as “the Rouge”—the heart of its global manufacturing network located just a short drive from headquarters.
The news comes just after Ford family patriarch and executive chairman Bill Ford emerged from the background on Monday to give a rare public statement directly from the site, making an emotional appeal to the UAW union and its leader Shawn Fain to end the strikes that only benefit non-unionized rivals like Tesla.
“We’ll lose factories like the one here we’re in today, and communities will suffer greatly,” he said in the brief speech at the Rouge, during which CEO Chris Farley was notably absent. “This is about the future of the American automobile industry.”
Cox Automotive, a market researcher that tracks EV demand in the United States, has warned of a so-called “trough of disillusionment” where the halcyon days of high double-digit growth were over.
Last week it predicted the U.S. was on track to hit 1 million new EVs sold for the year sometime during November, compared with roughly 800,000 for the whole of 2022. This is thanks in part to the introduction of more than a dozen new models.
But this growth comes as inventories have “dramatically increased” even as the average EV transaction price tumbled to $50,683 in September from over $65,000 one year ago.
“Product availability has grown exponentially, while consumer acceptance has grown in a more linear fashion,” it wrote.
When examining EV demand, most analysts focus on their sequential growth from one quarter to the next to better gauge the rate of adoption, rather than the conventional year-on-year metric used for vehicles relying on mature technologies.
Viewed through this lens, growth has lately trailed off, with Q3 industry volumes estimated to have grown just 6% over the preceding three months.
Uncertainty hangs over Elon Musk’s Cybertruck reveal
During Q3, F-150 Lightning sales actually dropped by a fifth compared to the previous quarter, according to Cox Automotive figures. If demand remains weaker than anticipated, it could be a cautionary tale as Farley looks to develop a new next-gen EV truck he dubbed in May a “personal bullet train”.
The slump in new orders of Ford’s EV truck is a sobering reversal of the company’s previous enthusiasm. In January 2022, it said it would nearly double line capacity at Rouge in order to build 150,000 Lightnings annually. That decision was made after 200,000 customers reserved their EV pickup in advance, enough at the time to book production out for nearly the next three years.
To keep its backlog manageable as more customers placed deposits, it even hiked prices from the base $40,000 sticker on the hood to $60,000, a hefty increase. Ford’s Farley subsequently liked to cite the Lightning as proof its EVs were just as desirable as Tesla’s and enjoyed similar pricing power.
But deposits are not the same as firm orders. It’s likely many customers had to cancel as their ability to afford the monthly financing payments dwindled amid soaring interest rates.
Others who had not yet gotten a prompt by Ford to confirm their interest with a fixed order for receiving delivery of their F-150 Lightning may now be on the fence as they wait at least to see if the hotly anticipated Cybertruck is a more attractive option.
That’s because Elon Musk has kept consumers in suspense until the final moment. Even after he teased in July what many believed to be the first Cybertruck built for customers, there has been no word of the official launch date, while final performance specs and prices remain a closely guarded secret.