The ease with which next-generation electric vehicle companies Rivian, Lucid and Fisker raked in billions of dollars from investors in 2021–combined with Tesla blowing past a once-unthinkable market cap of $1 trillion–marked the shift to an automotive era that’s racing to kick climate-warming carbon fuels. In the year ahead momentum shifts to auto giants General Motors, Volkswagen, Toyota and Hyundai, which are upping their electric game–and Ford with a battery-powered pickup aimed squarely at the heart of the U.S. market.
The first deliveries of the F-150 Lightning, an electric version of Ford’s top-selling F-Series trucks, don’t start until Spring 2022. Yet the Dearborn, Michigan-based automaker quickly chalked up 200,000 reservations (requiring $100 deposits) and stopped accepting new ones for now. Though it may deliver no more than a quarter of those reservations next year, high initial customer enthusiasm suggests Elon Musk’s Tesla will finally start to see legitimate EV competition.
“This will be a watershed model release as Ford capitalizes on its entrenched position with customers on the EV front,” says Dan Ives, an equity analyst for Wedbush Securities. Along with the work-oriented Lightning, Rivian’s sporty R1T electric truck targeting outdoor enthusiasts will further expand the EV space (it was named MotorTrend’s “truck of the year in December). “Ford and Rivian coming out of the gates are the clear leaders in this EV pickup truck arms race which is a $1 trillion market over the next decade based on our estimates.”
Customer enthusiasm aside, neither Ford nor Rivian will be able to challenge Tesla as the EV volume leader in 2022 as they don’t yet have the capacity to build the hundreds of thousands of battery packs, electric motors and other components that are required. Meanwhile, Tesla may hit 1 million EV sales in 2021 and grow by a further 50% next year with the opening of new plants in Texas and Germany to bolster output from its Fremont, California, and Shanghai factories. The company may also launch its hard-edged Cybertruck in 2022, Musk’s idea of a futuristic pickup, though it’s far from clear how big a seller the wide, military-style vehicle that may tip the scales at over 8,500 pounds will be.
“This will be a watershed model release as Ford capitalizes on its entrenched position with customers on the EV front”
Like Ford, Tesla has said it’s got at least 200,000 reservations for the truck, though Musk has provided few details about it since unveiling the prototype two years ago. Certainly, Cybertruck is unlikely to be a top choice for the contractors, farmers and construction firms that buy Ford F-150s in droves. More likely it will compete in the same niche category as the $110,295 GMC Hummer EV that GM started buildng this month.
The Ford Lightning, unveiled in May 2021, starts with a base price of $39,974 (before federal and state incentives) and driving range of 230 miles per charge for a version aimed at commercial customers. Top-end models capable of going 300 miles per charge and more luxurious features will cost more than $90,000. (Though Musk promised that his “Cybertruck” would have a base price of $39,900 and range of 250 miles per charge, to date no Tesla model, from the 2008 Roadster through the 2020 Model Y, has ever come to market and sold at the low end of the Tesla CEO’s initial estimate.)
Rivian, backed by Ford and Amazon, has a starting price for its R1T of $67,500, ranging to more than $100,000 for a bigger battery pack and high-end features including an inductive electric stove. The company started building the pickup and R1S SUV at its Normal, Illinois, plant late this year and will expand production of those models and its EDV electric delivery van for Amazon throughout 2022. It’s also adding a $5 billion plant in Georgia that will give Rivian capacity to build an additional 400,000 vehicles annually when it opens in 2024–on top of the 200,000 units it wants to produce per year in Normal.
But it will be years before Rivian can utilize all that capacity, while big manufacturers like Ford may be able to ramp up faster.
“By all accounts, the Ford F-150 Lightning should be a sales success,” says Jessica Caldwell, executive industry analyst for auto market researcher Edmunds. “It’s priced significantly lower than most other EV trucks, and it’s backed by the Ford name and the success of the F-Series, the best selling vehicle for decades in the U.S. That type of brand awareness may not offer the cool factor of the Cybertruck, but it can’t be overlooked and doesn’t come easily.”
Lightning production is to ramp up throughout 2022 even as Ford works to meet rising demand for its other key electric model, the Mustang Mach-E that went on sale at the end of 2020. Global sales of the crossover may reach 50,000 units in 2021 and CEO Jim Farley said production is about to get a big boost in the year ahead.
“It’s hard to produce Mustang Mach-Es fast enough to meet the incredible demand, but we are sure going to try,” he said in a Dec. 10 tweet. “So starting in 2022 we are increasing production and expect to reach 200,000+ units per year for North America & Europe by 2023. That’s 3x our 2021 output.”
A combination of the fast-selling Mach-E and Lightning in 2022 and beyond would significantly strengthen Ford’s EV market position, even as it tries to match Tesla’s volume. And it’s not alone in seeking to do so.
“So far, Tesla owns the EV market and has successfully warded off competitors. None has made a dent in Tesla’s dominance,” says Michelle Krebs, executive analyst for Autotrader. “The Ford Lightning goes into production next year but its production is limited. Ford capped reservations at 200,000–and that is three years of backlog. … Production is the wild card.”
In addition to its high-end battery Hummer, GM is preparing to release the electric Cadillac Lyriq SUV and restart production of Bolt electric hatchbacks after battery pack glitches halted sales this year. Hyundai will soon roll out the stylish Ioniq 5 hatchback to take on Tesla’s Model Y, Nissan is coming out with the electric Araya SUV and Volkswagen is expanding sales of its ID.4 crossover. Even Toyota, slow to join the battery-electric vehicle race, will release the bZ4X SUV by mid-2022 and says it will have 30 electric models on the road by 2030. Lexus, Toyota’s luxury brand, will also go fully electric by the end of the decade, President Akio Toyoda said in Tokyo on Dec. 14.
Currently, EVs account for about 3% of global auto sales and may reach the 5%-level by the end of 2022, according to Ives. Based on current trends, that share of sales could double to 10% by 2025.
“We believe 2022 will be an inflection point year for the EV industry as the stage is set for massive consumer demand in the year ahead,” Ives said in a research note. “With auto stalwarts such as GM, Ford and VW now laser-focused on the EV revolution, we will see an unprecedented conversion to EVs as more consumers are attracted to the innovative designs, improved battery technology, lower price points and environmental backdrop of buying an EV.”