DETROIT, Aug 1 (Reuters) – Ford said Tuesday it has restarted assembly of its F-150 Lightning electric truck and is now driving to triple the production rate, setting up a multibillion-dollar test of whether mainstream U.S. truck buyers are ready to switch to an EV.
Ford officials said Tuesday the Dearborn, Michigan, assembly operation that builds Lightnings could hit a 150,000-vehicle annualized production rate by October, the end of the current quarter. Ford has added 1,200 workers to the Lightning assembly system and plans to run it on a three-shift work rotation.
As the Lightning factory ramps up, Ford and its dealers will be under pressure to boost monthly sales by three-fold or more from the roughly 4,000 a month the automaker sold earlier this year.
The acceleration of Lightning output comes as U.S. EV market leader Tesla (TSLA.O) is ramping up output of its electric pickup truck, the Cybertruck, and Detroit’s General Motors (GM.N) is slowly launching production of its Silverado electric pickup, a direct rival to the Lightning. Startup Rivian is also accelerating deliveries of its electric pickups.
As one of several new moves to boost demand, Ford said individual retail customers can now order the least expensive F-150 Lightning Pro, a $49,995 version of the truck originally designed for commercial customers only.
Half of new orders for the Lightning are for the XLT model, the middle of the vehicle’s lineup starting at $54,995, Marin Gjaja, chief customer officer for Ford’s Model-e electric vehicle business, said during a conference call.
To support increased Lightning production, Ford will focus sales efforts on “attracting more traditional customers, or the early majority,” Gjaja said.
“Challenges still remain around customer awareness and acceptance” of electric vehicles among mainstream buyers, he said.
Ford said last week its electric vehicle operations are on track to lose $4.5 billion this year, a 50% wider loss than previously projected. Chief Executive Jim Farley told investors the automaker will slow the pace of EV capacity expansion overall.
But he did not back away from plans to triple the production pace of the Lightning to 150,000 vehicles annually by the end of this year.