Ford F-150 Lightning owners aren't like traditional pickup buyers: What they do differently
People tend to stereotype pickup truck drivers as men who listen to country music, brag about their gun collections and live in the Bible Belt. But that image may begin to change soon.
Ford Motor Co. says it has noticed a dramatic shift in that buyer profile since the all-electric F-150 Lightning went on sale.
Based on new customer survey data collected by the automaker, and anonymized to protect the privacy of its buyers, Ford has learned the longtime pickup owners use their gas-powered trucks differently than the newcomers who have opted for the battery version.
And it's not what Ford expected.
The most notable tidbit: Lightning owner uses the truck bed (also called the "box") way more often than the gas-powered F-150 owner, doing more hauling and camping and home projects.
Remember, Ford isn't new to this rodeo. The company has helped shaped the pickup truck market with its bestselling F-Series for 46 years in a row. But this latest tidbit shocked even industry analysts who have studied the market changes as companies electrify their offerings.
While Rivian was the first to sell an electric pickup truck, Ford is the first to produce and sell volumes that begin to meet mass market demand — despite a long waiting list.
Ford also interviews shoppers who went with competitors to find out why, and has for decades.
"It's a good way to get some insight into what motivates folks," Jason Mase of Royal Oak, Michigan, Ford's marketing general manager for electrified trucks, told the USA TODAY Network.
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More than 3,500 buyers returned their digital surveys between September 2021 and October 2022. The Lightning deliveries started after April 2022, Mase pointed out.
Drilling down on the difference between the internal combustion engine (ICE) buyers and electric vehicle (EV) buyers is key to learning more about the market as it evolves. It appears that the electric vehicle is not just attracting a new crowd that values zero emissions but also a crowd that's using their pickup truck differently.
People who may have wanted a pickup in the past seem to feel that having an electric option like the Lightning has given them permission to buy one, so now they haul muddy stuff that could have ruined a sport utility vehicle or something without a big truck bed, which can be hosed down, Mase said.
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How the truck is used
These are key highlights of Ford truck buyers, based on survey data and follow-up phone calls:
- Lightning owners say they are using the pickup bed more frequently than the ICE owner.
- 74% of the Lightning owners are using their vehicle once a month for home projects — moving things such as mulch, dirt and flooring and drywall — once a month whereas 51% of the ICE owners say they're using the truck that frequently for such projects.
- 27% of the Lightning buyers are using the truck bed for home project hauling once a week versus 14% for F-150 buyers.
- 48% of Lightning owners go camping once a month, hauling bikes, tents, kayaks and cooking stoves. About 40% of the F-150 (ICE) owners camp as frequently. Both vehicles are available with Pro Power outlets in the bed that can supply electricity.
- More than half the Lightning buyers are coming from a non-pickup, compared with roughly 33% for F-150.
"These people finally get their first pickup and they're excited. They use it like crazy," said Mase, who has been with the automaker more than 25 years. "They have the freedom to have wet and dirty storage in the bed and use dry storage up front (in the front trunk) which is massive. I coach baseball and throw dirty gear in the box and groceries and nice things in the frunk."
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He laughed and said of the surveys, "I like to dig into the data and geek out a little bit."
'Hard to believe'
Karl Brauer, executive analyst at iseecars.com, a car listing and data site, said, "If you're buying an electric truck like the F-150 Lightning, my thinking is, you're probably not as serious of a truck person. You're not pulling or hauling heavy loads regularly."
Michelle Krebs, executive analyst for Cox Automotive, initially told the Free Press she found it "hard to believe" that Lightning owners use their truck beds more often than traditional F-150 owners. But then she said the Ford survey data seemed to answer the big question about whether the Lightning appealed to truck owners who decided to go electric or a whole new group of pickup buyers attracted by an electric option.
"Maybe if they've never had a truck before, maybe (the survey responses) shouldn't be surprising," she said. "It's like, 'Oh wow, look what it can do! Look at all the stuff I can haul around!' "
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An electric option does appear to be drawing new pickup buyers making new discoveries, Krebs said. "We know that, traditionally, truck buyers lean more red politically and are more in the middle part of the country, including Texas, and yet electric vehicles appeal to the opposite and tend to be more liberal-leaning politically."
Who buys Lightning versus traditional F-150
- More than 60% of the Lightning buyers are Millennials or GenX — under 50.
- 70% of Lightning owners have a bachelor's degree versus 42% for ICE owners.
- 33% of the Lightning owners have graduate degrees versus 14% for ICE owners.
- A majority of Lightning owners use Apple versus Android phones.
- Lightning buyers tend to be early adopters of technology.
- 90% of Lightning buyers are coming from a non-electric, non-hybrid, non-plug in vehicle.
"We made a conscious decision with electrified icons," Mase said. "We purposely started with F-150 and Mustang (Mach-E). You get people to ... start with a nameplate they trust and recognize. Non-truck owners are coming in for the first time. And people who have never had a battery or electrified propulsion before are coming in, too."
Ford sold 3,600 Lightning trucks during the first two months of this year. It sold 15,617 trucks in 2022.
Adding shifts, updating factories
Ford plans to meet demand for its Lightning, Mach-E and other vehicles by continuing to ramp up production at sites around North America, the automaker said Friday.
- Ford continues to work to increase production at the Rouge Electric Vehicle Center that builds the Lightning factory, as well as the Dearborn Truck Plant to make gas and PowerBoost hybrid F-150 trucks. The Lightning is expected to triple its production this year, targeting an annual run rate of 150,000 by the end of 2023.
- The Kansas City Assembly Plant in Claycomo, Missouri, will add a third crew in April to build its Transit and E-Transit vans. The U.S. Postal Service just ordered 9,250 electric vans. Ford is targeting an annual production increase of 38,000 and adding 1,100 UAW jobs as part of the production increase.
- Production of the Mustang Mach-E ramped up last week with the completion of factory updates, allowing Ford to nearly double its hourly production and bring its annual manufacturing run rate to a targeted 210,000 units by the end of the year.
Ford has said it plans to get Lightning production restarted, along with shipments, by March 13 after a complication with battery material supplied by SK On that resulted in a battery fire on Feb. 4 in a Dearborn holding lot. Shipments to dealers were put on hold while the automaker worked with its supplier to figure out and fix the issue.
“We have had a strong start to 2023 and we are moving to fast-track quality production,” Kumar Galhotra, president of Ford Blue, said in a news release Friday.
Contact Phoebe Wall Howard: 313-618-1034 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read more about Ford. Follow her on Twitter @phoebesaid