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Ford cuts two-thirds of employees working on F-150 Lightning at Michigan plant

Ford is scaling back its F-150 Lightning production again, cutting two-thirds of its employees who assemble the trucks at its plant in Dearborn, Michigan, just two months after it moved 1,400 workers away from the facility. 

Ford bet big on the F-150 Lightning after its 2022 launch, but the Michigan-based automaker has been forced to roll back its production targets as sales have lagged behind projections. Ford said in 2022 that it wanted to scale up F-150 Lightning production to 150,000 per year, but sold just 24,000 of the cars last year

The Lightning is still the country’s best-selling electric pickup, but last December, Ford announced it would be lowering its weekly F-150 Lightning production by half, from 3,200 to 1,600. This most recent round of employee cuts is another signal that Ford’s EV rollout is falling behind expectations.

Ford will keep around one-third of the 2,100 employees who were working at the F-150 Lightning plant as of earlier this month. Ford clarified the employees cut from the plant will either relocate to different manufacturing facilities in Michigan or take a voluntary retirement package.

Are Ford EVs losing steam?

Ford was optimistic about its Model E EV line, which includes the F-150 Lightning, in its proxy statement filed Friday. It noted that Ford finished at the number two-selling EV brand in the U.S. for the second consecutive year, posted double-digit sales growth, and “made significant progress in building out our EV industrial capability,” which included building new plants to build EVs and batteries. 

But while Ford, along with the rest of the auto industry, has grown its EV sales, that growth has lagged behind preliminary expectations. Indeed, 2023 sales fell about 20% below projections, prompting Ford competitors such as Tesla to drop prices in an effort to attract new customers. (There are only a handful of EVs that retail for less than $50,000 in the American market.) And Ford isn’t the only manufacturer to cut EV jobs as it scales back production. GM laid off 1,300 workers last December, and Rivian cut 10% of its staff last month.

“Demand is much lower than the industry expected when it comes to EVs,” Ford CFO John Lawler said at the Bank of America Securities Auto Summit on March 26. “We’re in the transition between the early adopters that were much more willing to deal with some of the ancillary items that come with EVs: charging, range and things like that … We think that the first real inflection point is going to come when some of the lower-priced EVs come online.”

How emissions rules will affect EV production

The EPA gave Ford and other automakers some breathing room when it finalized its emissions rule last week, which sets environmental standards that will require manufacturers to shift most of their production to EVs by 2032 but slows down restrictions over the next few years.

“The agency’s final rule is ambitious and challenging, and achieving its requirements will take close public-private cooperation,” Ford wrote in a statement responding to the rule. “Ford will continue to lower emissions while offering our customers choices across hybrid, plug-in hybrid and fully electric vehicles that are highly functional and fun to drive – including America’s best-selling hybrid and fully electric trucks.”

Ford and some of its competitors have recently pivoted away from pure EVs and toward hybrid and plug-in hybrid vehicles, which offer most of the emissions benefits of EVs while addressing customer concerns about range and charging infrastructure. Ford reported earlier this month that 20% of its 2024 F-150 orders were hybrids, and that it plans to double its hybrid F-150 production.

“One of the things that is important for us is that we continue to have hybrid technologies,”  Ford CFO Lawler said. “We continue to invest in them … We see that as an important part of that bridge in that [EV] transition over the next, let’s say, five years.”

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