DETROIT—Ford Motor Co. CEO Jim Farley declared that the 2022 F-150 Lightning was "just the beginning of a whole new era at Ford."
That new era may eventually mean an all-electric lineup in the U.S.
While the company hasn't set a target date as rivals, including General Motors, have, it's on that path, said Kumar Galhotra, Ford's president of the Americas and international markets group.
"I can easily see a point where we'd say, 'Here's the date where we'd be all-electric,' " he told Automotive News. "We're certainly working toward it."
Ford's electric vehicle plans will hinge on customer acceptance of the F-150 Lightning electric pickup, unveiled last week to wide praise from Wall Street analysts.
The auto maker hopes to leverage the reputation and scale of the nation's bestselling vehicle, along with its upcoming E-Transit van and the Mustang Mach-E crossover it launched at the end of last year to speed acceptance of EVs. To underscore its accelerating EV ambition, Ford last week agreed to a joint venture with SK Innovation to build its own batteries. The deal calls for two new plants to begin significant production by mid-decade.
Less than a year ago, under former CEO Jim Hackett, Ford was content to source batteries through suppliers, and its EV plans appeared less aggressive than many rivals'. It has since upped its electrification investment to $22 billion through 2025.
"Our product plans have changed dramatically," Hau Thai-Tang, Ford's chief product platform and operations officer, said while announcing the SK battery deal. "We have a new CEO, and part of our plan is to lead the electric revolution."
'A big test'
Ford has not yet placed a time frame on going all-electric in the U.S. because the environment is still undecided, Galhotra said. In Europe, where there are demands by governments to ban gasoline cars, Ford has promised to sell nothing but EVs by 2030, if not sooner.
"The two markets are in a very different place," Galhotra said. "As that market was maturing and moving in Europe, it was clear at what point we'd be all-electric. I suspect the same thing is happening here; we're just not at that point."
Ford's top brass hopes to have a clearer sense once the Lightning goes on sale next spring. GM says it aims to have a zero-emission light-duty lineup by 2035, while admitting that the pace of consumer adoption could change that.
The F-150 Lightning starts at $39,974 before an undisclosed shipping fee—far less than many on Wall Street had been expecting—and will come in four trims.
After the base model aimed at commercial fleets, the retail-oriented XLT starts at $52,974, and the lineup will top out at around $90,000.
The truck features standard four-wheel drive; the F-150's first independent rear suspension; an improved on-board generator that can power a house or worksite for three straight days; and the industry's largest front trunk, offering four power outlets and space for two sets of golf clubs.
Ford said the Lightning can outrun an F-150 Raptor, with a targeted 0-to-60-mph time in the mid-four-second range. Its dual electric motors are expected to produce 563 hp and 775 pound-feet of torque, making it more powerful than any F-150 before it, including the V-8 variants that previously bore the Lightning badge.
The standard-range battery is expected to get 230 miles to a charge, and an extended-range option promises 300 miles. The pickup also can tow up to 10,000 pounds and haul up to 2,000 pounds.
"We should all watch very carefully how this does in the market," Farley told reporters last week. "This will be a big test for a majority of customers because it's such a big segment and the price is so approachable. I think it will kind of show where EV adoption really is."
'No turning back'
The joint venture with SK, called BlueOvalSK, shows that Ford expects sizable EV sales by mid-decade, when it plans to reach annual production of about 60 gigawatt-hours worth of traction battery cells and array modules.
Executives say vertically integrating the most expensive part of an EV is necessary as the company introduces more models. Galhotra said it was important to stake a claim in the development process as GM, Tesla and other competitors do the same.
"The marketplace is moving very, very quickly," he said.
Batteries are "such a key part of the entire ecosystem that we believe it's time for us to be very much part of that ecosystem."
Ford has so far focused its EV strategy on its most iconic vehicles, believing that customers may be more inclined to buy an electric version of a nameplate they know well.
Executive Chairman Bill Ford last week called the company's initial trio of EVs "a showcase of what's to come."
If Ford sticks with the strategy, the upcoming Bronco SUV could be a prime contender for electrification. Hackett had said Ford would offer a hybrid version, and Farley hinted on Twitter this month that an EV model might be in the works.
Ford also is expected to offer a pair of electric midsize crossovers roughly the size of the Edge for the 2023 model year and to build an electric version of the Lincoln Corsair compact crossover in 2026, according to a forecasting firm.
Regardless of what comes next, Ford's EV efforts have already attracted one prominent fan: President Biden.
Biden drove the Lightning last week ahead of its unveiling, citing it and the $700 million plant that will build it as examples of what he wants to see from auto makers as the U.S. tries to position itself as the leading EV manufacturer.
"Thank you for showing how we win the competition for the 21st century," Biden said. "The future of the auto industry is electric; there's no turning back."