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Ford EV Problems Illustrate Issues Facing Auto Industry

The Ford Lightning story is a cautionary tale for the auto industry. The automaker halted production of the electric pickup due to battery fire issues and notified a handful of customers of other battery-related problems. While standard vehicles go through teething problems, the industry is rushing headlong into the electric universe. Their problems with electrics, like Ford's issues, are standing out right. They will get better but right now there are issues.
Posted: February 17, 2023 - 6:36PM
Author: Marc Stern

After the Ford halt to the production and delivery of its popular Ford F-150 Lightning pickup, one is tempted to ask why this is happening. Indeed, Ford’s action showcases what is going on with the auto industry.

Industry Investing Heavily In EV Technology

After all, the automaker – and other automakers -- has invested heavily in electric vehicle (EV) technology. For example, recently, Ford CEO Jim Farley told analysts during a quarterly financial call that the automaker has plans for another truck slated for its new plant in Tennessee. Meantime, Ford temporarily halted production of the Lightning, for which the automaker has more than 100,000 orders, due to a fire in a parking lot near the Rouge Electric Center plant where the Lightning has been rolling off its line.

While the most obvious issue facing Ford is the one-week production shutdown as the automaker’s engineering staff implements a fix for the problem, it isn’t the only issue facing the Lighting.

CNBC noted that only a week before the fire report, the automaker issued a “’ customer service action’ for a small group of vehicles to have parts replaced to ‘prevent performance degradation’ of the high-voltage battery.” A minimum number of vehicles – about 100 – has been impacted by the “service action,” which is also not thought to be related to the Feb. 4 fire that caused the shutdown. Ford noted that it is “monitoring the vehicles remotely and proactively contacting customers when the company spots a problem.”

All of this is part of the industry’s EV teething problems. CNBC believes that while only a “small number of vehicles is impacted, it adds to a pattern of problems Ford and other automakers are having as they invest billions in rushing electric vehicles to market. Many of the industry’s issues have been minor. But, when they involve vehicles’ costly and complex batteries, financial problems and serious safety concerns – specifically fires – can arise.”

CEO Outlines Problems Involving Quality Issues

In his call to investors, Farley outlined the problems involving ongoing quality control issues, which Torque News also discussed in a story yesterday.

"’We have deeply entrenched issues in our industrial system that have proven tough to root out,’ he said Feb. 2 during the company’s fourth-quarter earnings call."’ Candidly, the strength of our products and revenue has masked this dysfunctionality for a long time. It's not an excuse, but it's our reality. And we're dealing with it urgently.’"

And, while Ford is the automaker most uniquely slammed with the need to halt production right now, the automaker isn’t alone “in having problems with its newest EV launches,” said CNBC in a rather long analysis of the problem.

For example, Toyota recalled its first “mass-produced global EV because of a risk the wheels could come loose.” Meantime, General Motors “two years ago recalled all of its Chevrolet Bolt EV models due to fire issues.” And others like Hyundai, BMW, and Volvo also have recalled their EVs, including plug-in hybrids, “due to fire risks in recent years.”

Stellantis Has More Conventional Problems

CNBC emphasized that it wanted to make clear that “fire concerns are not exclusive to EVs; they’ve historically been problems for the auto industry and continue to occur. Stellantis’ Ram Trucks … announced a recall of 340,000 large diesel pickup trucks to replace an electrical connector after reports of six fires. The automaker urges owners to park outside until the problem is fixed.

A Ford spokesman told CNBC that the automaker’s “Jan. 27 notice was issued for a battery module problem, which can first show a ‘wrench’ warning on the dash before slowing down into a restrained performance mode or, at worst, becoming immobile by not shifting into drive.”

The Ford spokesman, Marty Gunsberg, told CNBC in an email, “This is not a safety recall. This is a proactive investigation to help prevent customers of identified vehicles from experiencing a degradation in battery performance and from obtaining field parts for evaluation.” According to CNBC, the number of “customer service actions” for the Lightning since its launch in April 2022 wasn’t immediately known.

In communicating with its customers, Ford noted that it is swapping out “certain high-voltage battery modules” from the vehicles with new parts free of charge to reconcile the issue. The time needed for the fix is one day,” according to information supplied by a “CXS, Ford Concern Team Battery Electric Specialist” to a customer who apparently shared the information with CNBC.

Ford Unaware Of Any Safety Issues

Ford, elaborating more on the issue that halted production and shipments, said it was “unaware of any incidents or issues associated with vehicles already delivered to dealers or customers.”

As noted on Torque News yesterday, Ford believes its engineering teams have “found the root cause of the fire.” The engineering teams continued that the “investigation into the problem is expected to be completed” next week. The investigation will be followed by adjustments to the truck’s battery production process that ‘could take a few weeks.’“

According to CNBC, the Lightning is an important vehicle that is “being closely watched by investors, as it is the first mainstream electric pickup truck on the market and a major launch by Ford.” By the fall, the automaker is trying to nearly double “production capacity to 150,000 units.

Ford Motor Photo.

Marc Stern has been an automotive writer since 1971 when an otherwise normal news editor said, "You're our new car editor," and dumped about 27 pounds of auto stuff on my desk. I was in heaven as I have been a gearhead from my early days. As a teen, I spent many misspent hours hanging out at gas stations (a big thing in my youth) and working on cars. From there on, it was a straight line to my first column for the paper "You Auto Know," an enterprise I handled faithfully for 32 years. Not many people know that I also handled computer documentation for a good part of my earnings while writing YAN. My best writing, though, was always in cars. My work has appeared in Popular Mechanics, Mechanix Illustrated, AutoWeek, SuperStock, Trailer Life, Old Cars Weekly, Special Interest Autos, etc. You can follow me on: Twitter or Facebook.