Why Ford CEO Jim Farley Risked Mustang and F-150 Brands on EVs

  • Ford’s first two electric cars came from its biggest icons: the Mustang and the F-150.
  • CEO Jim Farley targets “segments and markets where we are doing very well without even trying that hard.”
  • Ford begins research on the F-150 Lightning with Texas truck drivers.

Ford executive Ted Cannis embarked on a secret project in 2017: a global electrification strategy built around Ford’s icon and strongest segment.

Cannis, then global director of the battery electric vehicle company, quietly assembled a team of engineers and executives to work on their first project: an electric SUV that would simply but markedly improve the EVs of competitors such as Chevrolet’s Bolt and Nissan’s Leaf.

The car — Ford’s first fully electric mass market offering — will be based on the C-Max or Focus, both vehicles at the simple, family-oriented and affordable end of Ford’s lineup. Cannis and Jim Farley, then Ford’s COO (and now CEO), were looking for a way to breathe new life into the long languishing project.

Cannis and Farley told the electric vehicle team, later known as Tim Edison, to take inspiration from the Mustang, Ford’s iconic muscle car.

The more Mustangs the team added to the vehicle – horsepower, torque, technology, style – the further it strayed from its milquetoast predecessor. Finally, Farley made an executive decision: The electric SUV won’t just be inspired by the Mustang. It will be one.

Ford will put the Mustang name, a genuine pony car and a brand defined by American muscle, rumbling engine, and race car-like performance, on an electric SUV. It would be called the Mustang Mach E.

Cannis said it was a surprising move from Farley, a lifelong Mustang fan who had toyed with muscle cars in his youth.

“Not everyone is sure about that,” Cannis said. “Imagine going to a Mustang club and telling them this electric SUV is going to be a Mustang.”

Whatever the Mustang-puritans might think, Americans in general are digging heresy. In 2021, its first full year on the market, the Mach E is one of the best-selling electric vehicles in the US with over 27,000 deliveries. Ford leapfrogged Chevrolet, Nissan and everyone else to become the country’s second-largest EV seller, behind Tesla.

“It ended up being a great call,” Cannis said.

Now, Ford, under Farley’s leadership as CEO, is doubling down on the gamble with an icon far more valuable than the Mustang: the F-150. On Tuesday, the automaker will reveal its F-150 Lightning pickup truck.

Farley doesn’t consider taking a battery-powered take on America’s best-selling vehicle a risk.

“I’ve always had the philosophy that a company should only do what it naturally does well — and we’re really great at pickup trucks,” he told Insider. “I want us to be in segments and markets where we are doing really well without even trying that hard.”

However, a lot of work and research is being done on the Lightning, said Darren Palmer, vice president of Ford’s electric Model E division.

At one of the first planning meetings for what would become Lightning, Palmer said someone in the room casually asked, mouth full of candy, “Hey, does anyone want an electric truck?”

Greeted with a shrug, Palmer said they needed to start with real consumer interaction, and there’s no better place for that than Texas. They spent months in the field, talking to loyal F-150 customers about what they wanted to see in an electric pickup truck, and whether they wanted one at all.

Participants in one focus group met the idea of ​​an electric pickup with a laugh and a comparison of a small dog and a feminine drink. Then Palmer & Co. began to explain some of the things they hoped to include on the electric F-150: the greatest torque ever in an F-Series truck, 0 to 60 mph in under four seconds, pulling 10,000 pounds over 25% of the value as if it didn’t exist. attached. The room began to spin, Palmer said.

Then, they demonstrated the idea of ​​”funk”, a staple of many electric vehicles. Without a bulky engine to store, the space under the hood of an electric vehicle can provide extra storage. On an electric F-150, that would be big enough to hold a bag of golf clubs.

“In two minutes,” said Palmer, “the biggest and scariest Texan in the room stood up in his chair and said he had to have this truck.”

All of America seems to agree so far. Ford said it had nearly 200,000 orders and recently doubled its production target for the truck. Meanwhile, it has also doubled production of the Mach E, and now says it plans to produce 600,000 EVs annually by 2024.

“I know that our customers’ knowledge will be deep enough in icons that if we make a commitment to electrify them, we will innovate products in ways our competitors may not be able to,” said Farley.

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