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Ford F-150 Lightning electric pickup begins crucial product launch

By Chris Isidore, CNN Business

The first all-electric Ford F-150 Lightning rolled off the assembly line in Detroit on Tuesday, with a great deal riding on its launch for both the company and electric vehicles overall.

Interest and demand in the vehicles have been very strong, with Ford taking 200,000 preorders for the electric version of the pickup that has been the nation’s best-selling vehicle for nearly a half century.

But despite the interest from buyers, it’s not a given that Ford will be able to pull off the launch without problems.

The automaker has had repeated issues in recent years with the launch of new versions of its most popular vehicles, most notably the 2019 launch of the Ford Explorer SUV. Quality problems with that launch cost the company billions and played a big role in the departure of two executives.

“There’s a lot riding on it,” said Michelle Krebs, executive analyst for Cox Automotive. “Ford has had its troubles with launches and now added to that there are all of these supply chain issues.”

Virtually all automakers have had to scale back production of new vehicles due to a shortage of computer chips and other parts and materials, often temporarily shutting factories. Those production bottlenecks have led to limited supply of vehicles, which in turn has resulted in record high car prices for consumers.

Bill Ford, the great-grandson of the company’s founder and the executive chairman of the automaker, compared the importance of the F-150 Lightning to the most important vehicle in the company’s history.

“The Model T over 100 years ago brought cars to everybody. Well, this vehicle will bring electric vehicles, particularly electric trucks, to everybody,” he told CNN’s Richard Quest Tuesday.

Krebs said she think that’s overstating the importance of the Lightning, but she agreed it is a breakthrough vehicle for the shift to electric vehicles on which Ford and other automakers are betting tens of billions of dollars.

The Lightning is not the first electric pickup to hit the market. Upstart Rivian, which makes nothing but electric vehicles, started production of its R1T pickup last fall, but has built only about 3,500 in its first six months of production. And General Motors has started production of the GMC Hummer EV pickup, but has sold only 99 of them in the first quarter of production.

The F-150 Lightning has beat both the Tesla Cybertruck and the Chevrolet Silverado EV, two of its main competitors, to market by a year or more.

And if Ford and major automakers in the US market are going to succeed in transitioning from gasoline-powered vehicles to electric, as they say they intend to, they’re going to have to get American truck buyers comfortable with the idea of electric pickups, Krebs said.

“It’s really going to test the waters. Is there a market for electric pickups? How big it is?” Krebs said.

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