Why Ford is slowing down electric F-150 Lightning for ICE Bronco

Ford Motor has announced it will slow down production of its F-150 Lightning electric pickup truck to one shift at its Michigan Rouge Electric Vehicle Center, starting in April, to adjust to a slower uptake expected in 2024.

Meanwhile, Ford will add a third crew at the Michigan Assembly Plant to increase the popular Bronco and Bronco Raptor production with classic combustion engines. “We are taking advantage of our manufacturing flexibility to offer customers choices while balancing our growth and profitability,” said Ford CEO Jim Farley.

Lull in EV growth

The slower-than-anticipated rate of uptake of EVs doesn’t mean EV sales aren’t growing in the US. Ford sold 24 165 F-150 Lightning trucks in 2023 in the United States (+55%), but that compares to roughly 725 000 F-150s with a combustion engine. After all, the F-150 has been the world’s most popular truck for years.

But there is an apparent ‘lull’ in the growth of EVs, also with other US manufacturers, as General Motors announced in October it would hold back for a year on opening a new $4 billion electric truck plant in Michigan. At that time, Ford winded down production at its Lighting plant for the first time from three to two crews, now going to only one on April 1st.

Losing money on each EV

Ford also said it had lost an estimated $36 000 on each of the 36 000 EVs it delivered to dealers in the third quarter. This contrasted sharply with claims just the year before, in 2022, when Ford still believed the sky to be the limit and that it could put out up to 150 000 Lightnings in Michigan and double production.

The carmaker now says it will rely on a mix of gasoline-powered, hybrid, and electric vehicles for ‘optimizing financial returns’. Even more than Europeans, Americans see high purchase prices and range anxiety as the major hurdles to going electric.

EV prices are going up

A study by Harvard Law School of 13 years’ worth of electric vehicle prices in the US shows that when calculated in inflation-adjusted dollars, the average cost of an EV is going up, not down, in the US. Differences of $15 000 and $20 000 with the ICE siblings of the EVs offered aren’t uncommon in this way.

For example, Ford is ‘adjusting pricing, production, and trim packages’ for the 2024 Lightning, which is becoming $5 000 more expensive in its base Pro trim version ($49 995 to $54 995). The XLT 311A adds even $10 000 to its former $54 995 price tag. On the other hand, the most expensive F-150 Lightning saw its price lowered from $97 995 to $92 995.

The median yearly income for a US family of four is around $70 000, while the average EV on offer there retails for over $60 000. There’s a federal subsidy of $7 500 on the purchase price to some extent, and several states offer an additional credit between $1 000 and $7 500. But that’s not enough to close the gap. Even eight states charge electric car owners an extra $200 tax.

Early adopters have their EV

Booming EV sales in former years, Ashley Nunes, a senior research associate at Harvard Law School, told the BBC, were led by early adopters – people for whom an EV was an easy sell. “Now, most people interested in owning an EV already do. Middle-income Americans ought to be the next target group of buyers, but he believes companies have failed to engage them to jump into the market.”

In Europe, where price differences between EVs and ICE are comparable, several studies show that when considering the Total Cost of Owernership, the average mid-sized EVs are already on par or cheaper than their gas-guzzling counterparts. The cost of energy (gasoline or electricity) is a determining factor.

Different fuel prices

But fuel prices are generally far lower in the US, which has become the world’s biggest oil exporter. Today, an American ICE driver pays $4,68 per gallon or $1,2 (€1,10) per liter in California, where regular gasoline is at the US second highest (after Hawai) to $2,58 per gallon in Oklahoma ($0,68 or €0,62 per liter) at its lowest.

In Europe, the Dutch pay the most, with €2,09 per liter, and Belgians pay an average of €1,68, compared to €1,41 in Romania or €1,37 in Andorra. To compare: in Turkey, regular gasoline lists at €1,12, and Russians only pay €0,56 per liter.

Range anxiety

Then there is the inevitable range anxiety, fed by the poor EV charging infrastructure that can’t keep up with the growing number of EVs. Generally, distances covered by car are longer than in densely populated European states, which adds to the need for fast recharging.

And even when the charging infrastructure is there, like in California, it is often unreliable, as a study by Berkeley University showed in 2022. One-quarter of public chargers in the San Francisco Bay Area didn’t work due to “unresponsive or unavailable screens, payment system failures, charge initiation failures, network failures, or broken connectors”.

According to research from JD Power, one in three EV buyers in America doesn’t have access to home charging. Many Americans don’t even have driveways to add a wallbox at home.

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