A crowd of hundreds that included Ford hourly workers and customers cheered throughout a 30-minute launch celebration of the 2022 F-150 Lightning electric pickup in Dearborn on Tuesday afternoon.
"Sweet Jesus!" yelled Pam Gegesky in a video that showed her riding in the electric truck driven by her daughter, Megan.
Megan Gegesky, an engineer, opened the event from a stage under big video screens at the Rouge Electric Vehicle Center that builds a vehicle already so popular that new orders aren't currently being accepted.
She talked of her family history as a fifth-generation Ford employee and people who have poured their hearts and souls into the work of the 118-year-old automaker over the past century.
Then Gegesky turned over the mic to executive chair Bill Ford, the great-grandson of the founder of Ford Motor Co.
"This is history in the making," he said, proud that the historic factory site is where Ford decided to bet on the future with UAW members in Detroit.
It was an "old, polluted tract of land — some executives said we should shut it down and walk away," Ford said. "This is a plant that defined manufacturing in America and is defining it all over again."
No one wore hard hats or protective plastic eyeglasses or reflective vests as the factory was shut down for the event, though plenty of newly built trucks were driven and on display.
Ford CEO Jim Farley told the crowd, "Whenever the world needed us, we met the moment with American ingenuity."
'A power plant on wheels'
This moment is especially significant, he and Bill Ford said, because the Lightning starting price around $40,000 means electric vehicles may be owned and driven by "the many, not just the few."
Farley said this product is not about vanity or public relations or Wall Street. He said it's about taking the U.S. in a new direction at a time when people and the planet need more sustainable vehicles.
"The ride is so smooth, you'd swear this is a Lincoln," Farley told the crowd. "It's a 10-kilowatt power plant but on wheels."
It has a total of 11 plug-in outlets in the cab, the frunk — the front of the truck where the engine would go in gas-powered vehicles — and the truck bed, he noted.
"How about ripping 20,000 sheets of plywood on a single charge?" Farley said. "It can even charge other EVs for your friends who own Teslas."
Beer and technology
He paused and added, "Hell, you tell me how many beers you can fit in that frunk during a tailgate."
While highlighting the truck's technology, Farley said, "It's like a smartphone that can tow 10,000 pounds."
He emphasized, "Today is as much about who we are as where we're going."
By the end of next year, Farley said Ford would be making 600,000 electric vehicles annually. He alluded to the delay of the Cybertruck, which was introduced in 2019 by Tesla CEO Elon Musk and has been pushed back to 2023 now, according to Car and Driver.
"We plan to challenge Tesla to become the top EV manufacturer in the world," Farley said.
After the event, Farley told reporters that workers have built an estimated 2,000 Lightning full-size pickups within the past week and a half or so, more than twice what competitor Rivian built during 2021, as Benzinga reported March 10.
Ford is working "tirelessly" to lock down battery supplies and needed minerals to prevent ongoing supply chain disruption, Farley said. He said the company is planning "an all new truck" in addition to the Lightning that will come out of its Tennessee plant but declined to provide details.
"This is not our only truck," he told reporters.
Lightning Chief Engineer Linda Zhang was up until 2 a.m. preparing for this event, and overseeing production, Farley told reporters. The Lightning's launch has been intense for all involved.
Ford plans to begin to ship Lightning trucks in coming days, starting with the most affordable Pro series, which is largely for commercial use.
These were actually used, along with generators, to run the launch event when power was disrupted. Power was eventually restored, but it was spotty and Farleyplugged in a truck to get electricity for an interview with Yahoo! that was cut short. After aides ran around plugging in cords, he explained that they wouldn't be disrupted again. The outage was not acknowledged until after the event.
The 2022 Lightning is sold out. Farley told reporters that order banks wouldn't likely reopen for at least a year, though he noted that the factory is expanding capacity as quickly as possible.
"It's a new beginning," Bernie Ricke, UAW Local 600 president since 2009, told the Free Press after the event. Ricke represents more than 30,000 active and retired members at various sites including the historic Ford Rouge Complex.
"I don't think people really understand how quickly it will transition. You see with the orders for the Lightning. I mean, they're sold out. So the initial demand is very high and we think that's going to continue once people drive the product. Interest is going to mushroom."
Ford executives thanked factory workers repeatedly during the event, in person and in highlighting their efforts in the short film.
Laura Dickerson, UAW Region 1A director, spoke to the crowd between Ford and Farley and praised factory workers who are meeting the demand to ramp up production.
She told the Free Press after the event: "We're going to be building this vehicle right here, made in America. Electrification is coming. It's best that we understand it, we embrace it and take hold (of) it."
Jesse Toprak, chief analyst at Autonomy, an electric vehicle subscription company, told the Free Press that this moment is transformative for the whole industry.
“Ford F-150 Lightning is the most significant introduction by the automaker in 124 years," Toprak said. "Model T mass production changed transportation forever. Lightning will do the same for a new era in EV adoption."
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Ford CEO Jim Farley touts F-150 pickup as electric truck to beat