Jim Farley is trying to reinvent Ford and catch up with Elon Musk and Tesla

Auto experts say the electric F-150, better known as the Lightning, must be a success if Ford is to thrive in the age of electric vehicles. Introducing this truck now is the equivalent of “betting on the company,” said William C. Ford Jr., the company’s CEO, a great-grandson of Henry Ford. “If this launch doesn’t go well, we could distort the entire franchise.”

The company has collected about 200,000 bookings for the trucks, but they can still get stuck. Production could be slowed by a global shortage of chips or rising costs for lithium, nickel and other raw materials needed for batteries. Software developed by Ford for the truck may be defective, an issue that has held back sales of new Volkswagen electric in 2020.

Ford and Mr. Farley have a few things going for them. Unlike many other electric cars, the F-150 Lightning is relatively affordable – it starts at $40,000. Tesla’s cheapest car is the compact Model 3 sedan, which starts at more than $48,000. The Lightning has tons of storage, including a giant front trunk that attracts families and businesses with large truck fleets. And it helps that Tesla won’t start making its own electronic truck until next year.

Ford is also already in the EV game with the Mustang Mach-E, an electric sports utility vehicle. It sold over 27,000 in 2021, its first year on the market, and garnered positive reviews.

Production of the F-150 Lightning is scheduled to begin next Monday. Competing models from General Motors, Stelantis and Toyota – Ford’s main competitors in pickups – are at least a year apart. Rivian, the newest manufacturer Ford has invested in, has begun selling an electric truck but is struggling to ramp up production.

“If the Lightning launch goes well, we have a huge opportunity,” said Mr. Ford.

In many ways, Mr. Farley checks most of the boxes when it comes to driving a major American automaker. Barra, CEO of General Motors, whose father worked on the Pontiac assembly line, Farley has family roots in the industry: his grandfather worked at a Ford plant. On his visits to his grandfather, he would tour Ford factories and other sites important to the company’s history. When he was 15, he bought a Mustang while working in California one summer and drove it to his Michigan home without a license. His grandfather nicknamed him “Jimmy Carr Kar”.

But like Mr. Musk, who is a South African and was the founder of PayPal and other companies, Mr. Farley has a diverse career and been involved in creating businesses. Farley was born in Argentina when his father worked there as a banker, and Mr. Farley, 59, was also living in Brazil and Canada when he was growing up. His career did not start in the auto industry but at IBM. He spent a long time at Toyota. He helped the Japanese automaker overcome its reputation for making boring, budget cars by working on its nascent luxury brand Lexus, which is now a powerhouse.

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