Here’s What Ford’s Executives Told Engineering Firm Munro & Associates About The Ford F-150 Lightning

Farley Interview Resize Topshot

Let’s talk a little bit about the pickup truck of the moment, the Ford F-150 Lightning. Sandy Munro and Cory Steuben of automotive benchmarking/engineering consulting firm Munro & Associates recently got the chance to sit down with Ford CEO Jim Farley, F-150 Lightning Chief Engineer Linda Zhang, and Chief EV Officer Doug Field for a long-form interview. There’s a bit of ceremony at the beginning with Ford’s team rolling up to Munro & Associates to hand over an F-150 Lightning shop truck, but the interview soon picks up with some delightful tidbits about the Lightning’s development and Ford’s vision of the future.

The Demand Is Much Higher That Expected

Believe it or not, Ford didn’t expect the Lightning to be massively successful, initially expecting production to be a small sliver of current demand. As CEO Jim Farley said, “We started with, I think, 40 [thousand units], then we went to 80, now we’re breaking one side of the whole building down to expand the final assembly space that we can get to 150.” Given that the early range estimate for the Lightning was similar to that of a compliance car, I can see why Ford’s initial production targets were so low. “I think the first range estimate we did was like 100 miles,” said Farley. “That was with the old carryover frame…we weren’t problem solving. It was just like oh, it’d be 100 miles, it’d be a Focus Electric, why?”

Hey, a Focus Electric reference! While Ford’s plug-in Focus wasn’t exactly a long-range EV, it was a smart little early effort in the EV revolution. While Ford’s clearly learned from that early effort, the stigma of a compliance car apparently weighed heavily on the Lightning project in its early days. Farley said, “There was no market data that said go do this, so there was naturally people going ‘hmm, really?’”

Changing The Motor Was A Big Technical Challenge, Ford’s Aluminum Strategy Is Really Paying Off

F150 Lightning Rouge Plant
Photo credit: Ford

Still, Lightning development forged on, even through challenges like significantly altering the powertrain. “At one point in the program, we did have to resize the motor, and I think that was probably the biggest technical issue that we ran into,” said chief engineer Linda Zhang. While we don’t know which motor was resized, Zhang cited towing, durability, and longevity targets as the reason for the change.

While motor changes helped with towing, experience in making the standard F-150’s aluminum body was apparently a real boon for almost everything. Weight is hugely important in the EV and truck markets, as lower weight requires less energy to move, meaning improved efficiency and capability. As Zhang stated, combining aluminum body construction with strategic weight optimization really helped boost payload capacity. “Between last year and this year, we actually dropped 285 pounds, said Zhang. “That’s really what you’re seeing in the payload increase.”

While the Lightning has caused a sensation in the full-size pickup truck segment, pricey electric vehicles are far from the final frontier. Chief EV and digital systems officer Doug Field noted that Ford eventually wants to play in the $25,000 EV space, although he admitted that the feasibility just isn’t there right now. “The good news is that software doesn’t add a lot of cost to a car, so you can make a $25,000 car to be a really great experience if you’re paying attention to the digital. The challenge is in the cost of the propulsion system,” said Field.

Farley Is Impressed By Fast EV Adoption Rates

2021 Ford Mustang Mach E
Photo credit: Ford

Munro expects EV acceptance to be like Moore’s law, in the sense of doubling every year. While this is a bullish stance to take, it’s one that Farley seems to agree with. “It’s gone so much faster than people think. So much faster than the charging experience, so much faster than the purchase price, so much faster than you would’ve predicted, so it seems like it’s not a linear curve so far.”

Indeed, EV acceptance is growing so quickly that Ford is targeting a production goal of producing two million electric vehicles per year by 2026, something that Farley claims is keeping him up at night.

“That burden is on us to have the raw materials, the battery capacity, all the capital allocation for the engineering. All of that stuff line up to get to two million units, and then go back to the basics to nail the product.”

However, with more EVs on the road comes increased demand for charging. While Ford is already in the home charger space, there’s still lots of room for the company to move into the charging network arena should it ever want to. “Personally, it’s probably the biggest lesson I’ve learned in this first cycle product is how much work we have to do on charging,” said Farley. “We have a lot of work to do to live up to the customer’s experience that we’re targeting.”

Ford Is Doing Well In The Electric Commercial Vehicle Space

National Grid 1
Photo credit: Ford

While investment in consumer charging networks would be nice, it seems like Ford is largely focused on commercial charging solutions for now, with Farley admitting that “The retail side’s kind of way down the road now.” That may sound strange, but the commercial focus makes sense when you take a broader look at Ford’s ecosystem. “All these small business want to go electric. They have to install this very expensive equipment, and we have a finance company so we can finance it for them,” said Farley. Believe it or not, this investment in commercial charging really seems to be paying off. As Farley claimed, “The percentage of people buying E-Transit and Lightning Pro who buy our chargers and our software…is 50 percent, commercial.”

As for other vertical integration opportunities, Ford isn’t as bullish on chip production as it is on commercial charging and software. Doug Field said that software is “Maybe the most important vertical integration right now.” Indeed, vertical software integration brings up perks and pitfalls for automakers and consumers alike. Digital locks that could enhance cybersecurity may also lock out the aftermarket, while detailed access to consumer data is a boon for automakers but a downside for consumers. It all seems a bit snakes and ladders, right?

Ford’s CEO Is Loving Hyundai And Kia’s EV Efforts

Since the EV world is full of aggressive competition, it’s nice to see that Farley had some very kind words for Hyundai. “So impressive. Not just the number of models but the execution, the excellence in the execution.” Farley later noted that “Kia [and] Hyundai are doing a great job, we really like and admire everything they’re doing.” Automaker-to-automaker praise, you love to see it.

Ford’s Near-Term Goals For Autonomous Driving Seem Realistic

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Photo credit: Ford

In addition to electrification, Ford sees huge value in the autonomous car race. While development of fully-automated cars with Argo AI will continue, Level 5 autonomy doesn’t appear to be Ford’s only way forward. Field explained that while Ford is certainly pursuing Level 5 autonomy to some degree, he sees real value in Level 3 and Level 4 autonomy provided adequate hand-off is part of the experience.

“You don’t have to solve the whole problem and get the steering wheel out of the car in order to give people back a ton of time. You just have to do it right and you have to make the experience right, make the transitions right, and we’re really serious about that.”

Indeed, Jim Farley also seems more focused on saving overall time rather than eliminating the driver outright across the lineup. The true value of Level 3 and Level 4 autonomy really seemed to click with Farley when he sold his Prius after leaving Toyota.

“I had the HOV sticker and it saved me maybe five minutes a day on the 405 to get home from Torrance to Santa Monica,” said Farley. Five minutes a day doesn’t sound like a lot, but Farley was in for a shock when he learned upon trading in his Prius how much people valued five minutes a day. “When I traded in my car, I actually had bought it from Toyota, my Prius was worth $5,000 more than a Prius without the sticker, and I was like ‘Really?!’” Farley then asked if all Priuses with valid HOV lane stickers carried that premium, which the sales rep reportedly confirmed. Relating that to autonomous driving, Farley said, “So that’s the cost that people are willing to pay for five minutes a day? And what if we give people 45 minutes a day? Holy smokes!” Yeah, holy smokes indeed.

Lightning Job Site
Photo credit: Ford

Overall, I’d recommend giving the interview a listen. It’s a long video with a run time of just over 50 minutes, but it’s well worth your while. While at about 17:45 Munro does say something about Tesla’s charging stations not fading (and I’m still waiting to hear back from the company on what Sandy meant by that), his discussions with Farley, Zhang, and Field definitely make the interview worth a listen. Sometimes the ideas that shape the future of the industry aren’t explicitly stated in a public relations deck, and that’s where the value of a good interview comes in.

Lead photo credit: Munro Live

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46 Responses

  1. The Ford F-150 Lightning is very attractive on paper but I looked at a Ford F-150 in the parking lot at the local Home Depot and they are ludicrously large. I would always be getting stuck at the ends of narrow driveways, be unable to go around sharp corners etc. It’s not like it’s a fire truck where the people whose fences you knock over and flowerbeds you drive through and trees you hit are so happy to see you that they don’t care of you wreck their property.

    I really don’t get the utility of vehicles with such limited mobility.

    1. Wow, if what you’re saying was actually true and not ridiculous nonsense, you think we’d see an epidemic of trucks crashing into fences and flowerbeds.

      Trucks compensate for their large size with generally excellent visibility. I find F350 (which is larger than an F150) no harder to drive than most cars, and easier to park than my Viper for example.

      1. These are location specific complaints, for sure, but there are plenty of places that just aren’t designed for trucks the size of what some people are daily driving. Maybe not quite at the level of people getting their hummers stuck in the drive thru lane like happened twenty years ago, but seeing, for instance, current gen Yukons pulling 47-point turns around my (not dense urban) area is an endless source of wonder

      2. Isn’t the F-150 the most popular car in the US? I’m guessing that the roads there are big enough.
        Here in Europe on the other hand, they really are too big for some roads, and an F-350 is literally wider than a bus.

        1. Yeah, not really.

          Again, I own a couple cars that are tougher to maneuver in tight spaces or see around the immediate area than my F350. Properly adjusted mirrors and cameras plus large windows all around make it a lot easier than you think.

          1. What I think is: I’ve driven an F350. And you see a lot, but you miss a lot despite the mirrors and windows (one I drove had no camera). I’m not sure why you’ve chosen this hill but you do you.

            1. Congrats on driving one once?

              I’ve owned full size trucks my whole driving life. Is it possible I might know what I’m talking about a bit more than someone who drove one once?

              The idea that there’s an epidemic of people crashing trucks into fences or whatever is ridiculous on its face. But any time there’s a chance to pile on trucks for being “ZOMG too big” everyone comes crawling out of the woodwork. I was perhaps naively hoping we had left that attitude at the old place.

      3. except the Viper is a hilariously terrible car to drive, so not much in the way of a mind changer in this context. but yeah, this is an odd boomer viewpoint regarding flowerbeds and fences. Perhaps he is just too old and need that self driving level 5 to get into his driveway.

        1. “except the Viper is a hilariously terrible car to drive”

          Any time people say this, I wonder what their frame of reference is, or if they just think every Viper is a Gen 1 without windows or airbags.

          All I meant was visibility at the corners isn’t great; a fairly unavoidable consequence of being a low slung sports car with a long hood and small rear window.

  2. I really like Ford’s approach here. It’s very practical, they are gathering data and adjusting their projections based on that new data.

    Personally, I’d like an Expedition on the lightning platform, or even an all-electric minivan.

    Did I just say that out loud? Damn, having that second kid warped m’brain.

  3. “Farley said, “So that’s the cost that people are willing to pay for five minutes a day? And what if we give people 45 minutes a day?”
    No, that’s not the same thing at all!
    The HOV sticker reduces the time you’re in traffic and gives the priceless satisfaction of passing everyone.Level 3 or 4 has you stuck in traffic with more time to think about it

    1. It’s not about spending less time commuting, but freeing up commuting time for other things. Would you rather spend 45min commuting to work in a robo-taxi, free to do whatever you want or spend 40 min having to drive in traffic?

      1. I’d definitely rather be able to spend that 45 minutes doing something else but that’s a pipe dream at this point in time. Autonomy isn’t capable of full driving, if the vehicle crashes the driver is still responsible. Which means you don’t have any ability to do something else.

        1. I agree that full autonomous is currently a pipe dream. Driving has too many unique and unexpected situations. Maybe the full 45 min commute can’t be automated, but how about that 15 min section on the freeway or that unexpected 30min traffic jam? This is just the beginning and automated driving will get better and better.

          1. For sure, I totally agree it’ll get better. Thing is if I get to a traffic jam on my way to work, I can’t just pull out my phone and watch YouTube or play Pokemon GO while the car does its thing. If a cop saw I’d get a ticket, and if something happened I wouldn’t be able to react quick enough with my focus somewhere else, and then I’d be at fault. So I’d just be sitting there wishing I could do something else but knowing I can’t really.

            I believe in the dream though, I’d love nothing more than to have an EV pickup truck that could tow my track car to and from the track while I slept in the back. But for me the current tech just isn’t going to positively affect my life.

      2. Isn’t that essentially what a bus or train can offer? Is the appeal that we can do it in our own vehicle away from the poors?

        I’m not against self-driving vehicles. I think there are a lot of potential benefits in safety, time, etc., most of which are a long ways off before being mostly realized.

        I also see a lot of issues. Self-driving vehicles enable many issues to continue: classism, noise pollution, pollution and materials waste… everyone having a brand new vehicle every year is seriously inefficient. Yes electric improves on pollution, but it’s arguably worse for resource consumption in many areas.

  4. Good luck to Ford’s EV efforts. Nice to see more viable EV options from real car companies run by adults. Also, learning from mistakes is something GM certainly refuses to do 😀

    However, still fuck them for killing off the Focus and Fiesta. They should still sell them, and the Figo, here too. Ford needs to own up to fucking up with the PowerShit.

  5. The biggest issue with the lighting thus far is that they are unobtanium, both with regard to stock available to buy, but more importantly the Fleet only PRO options which give you the long range battery with less frills for around $45K. That is the proverbial Shuck and Jive, being able to show a low priced 300 mile option but only to certain few….just a few ten thousands dollar more and you can have this one, but with Carpet! woohoo

    1. I’ve heard of individuals being able to odrder the pro version, maybe there was some trickery of getting it through their employer or knowing someone at the dealer. I too would prefer the fleet version.

  6. So Ford basically admits that electric charging infrastructure is currently crap and the future is concerning. The biggest issue is less number of installations than actual availability and accuracy of the online information. You would be pretty pissed to drive 30 miles off-route only to find a broken charger. The major chains like ChargePoint and Electrify America have terrible uptime records. It is unclear if it is an equipment quality, maintenance, or vandalism/misuse problem. Tesla superchargers perform much better but are demand limited in some popular places like California.

    As EV sales accelerate, the charger bottleneck, along with the grid that feeds them, must be addressed or all those shiny new F-150 Lightnings are going to be unsellable.

    1. I’ve owned EVs since 2016 (2013 Nissan Leaf then 2014 Tesla Model S, both purchased used). The fast charging infrastructure for the leaf was very poor. The stations were often broken and the passively cooled battery did not charge very fast. Tesla’s fast charging infrastructure has been great. I did a 3,600 mile trip recently and only had to wait to charge 2 times. Hopefully Ford and others will build out a fast charging network as they sell more EVs.

  7. “Weight is hugely important in the EV and truck markets, as lower weight requires less energy to move, meaning improved efficiency and capability.”

    Isn’t weight actually *less* important with an electrified vehicle? On the efficiency side, I thought (H)EVs actually aren’t as affected by weight because they recover a portion of that energy when slowing back down. Higher weight=more momentum=more regen, which partially makes up for the increased energy of acceleration. Unlike in a full-gas vehicle where you spend extra energy accelerating the increased mass, and get nothing but more brake pad wear when slowing it back down.

    Then for handling and payload, an EV is no different from any other fueled vehicle.

    1. More important. When you’re limited to how much battery you can put in due to costs and packaging, mass becomes important. Doubling the mass increases energy usage by 40-60%. The more proportion of the vehicle weight you can dedicate to the battery, the more range you can get.

      1. This is why a lot of the first generation of EVs have been large sedans and SUVs (aside from the expensive of the powertrain). The weight of a large battery pack is proportionally less than it would be in a smaller car, so the efficiency is better.

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