Ford Can't Afford Any F-150 Launch Mistakes

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Lessons have been learned from the Explorer debacle.

The latest generation Ford Explorer and its corporate luxury twin, the Lincoln Aviator, experienced some major launch issues. The Chicago Assembly Plant was completely retooled in only one month at a cost of $1 billion to prep for the new SUVs, and the rush job was a disaster. If you recall, the first Explorers and Aviators off the line were plagued by quality issues. They simply couldn't be sold as-is and were shipped to Ford's Flat Rock, Michigan facility to be fixed one by one.

It was a grueling process that resulted in Explorer sales falling nearly 15 percent that quarter. Needless to say, this can't happen with the all-new 2021 Ford F-150. Speaking with Automotive News, the automaker's product development and purchasing boss, Hau Thai-Tang, expressed full confidence that nothing will go wrong with the launch of its new truck.

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"We are laser-focused on outstanding launch execution," Thai-Tang said. "The F-150 launch will be very different than what we experienced with Explorer."

One reason why is the fact that Ford doesn't have to completely overhaul the Kansas City, Missouri assembly plant the F-150 calls home. The second F-150 plant, located in Dearborn, Michigan, is only scheduled to undergo routine downtime in September to prepare for the regular model changeover. Neither facility requires anywhere near the amount of work Chicago did. Even if they did, Ford would have been prepared.

For example, Kansas City has a unique two-plant system enabling both current and new F-150 generations to be built at the same time. This provides a so-called hedge against any early problems.

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Also, the first-ever F-150 hybrid will see a staggered launch, meaning production will initially be slow in order to help reduce the risk of something going wrong. While Ford managed to recover (though not easily) from the Explorer debacle, it would face far more serious consequences if the new F-150's launch had the same or similar issues. It simply can't afford any screw-ups this time.

The F-150, and the F-Series in general, is a huge money-maker for the Ford. Last year, nearly 900,000 F-Series trucks were sold in the US alone. That totaled about $42 billion in revenue. Failure is not an option in this case.

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