There were plenty of skeptics when Ford made the switch to aluminum for the 2015 F-150. Would buyers go for the unproven architecture, or would it be the move that finally unseated America’s best-selling vehicle after a 33 year reign? Well, it turns out America likes the new F-150 even more than the old one. The new truck is 700 pounds lighter than the late-model steel version, offers a best-in-class 26 miles per gallon, and earned a five-star rating from the NHTSA. Along with providing the ruggedness and durability that millions have come to expect from Ford’s trucks, the new F-150 is a real hot commodity, with Ford selling 240,139 trucks through April.
And that’s been both good and bad news for Ford. In March, it was reported that F-150 sales were down due to the company’s inability to keep up with demand, even during the winter months when auto sales are generally down. At the time, Ford’s Kansas City plant was just coming online with the $1 billion worth of upgrades necessary to build the aluminum trucks, and the company predicted that dealerships would be fully-stocked by the end of June. Now, as car sales heat up going into the summer months, Ford may be facing another round of shortages.
For the last two months, the F-150’s production has been slowed by a shortage of frames. In a message on Facebook last week, Todd Hillyard, the UAW Local 249’s bargaining chairman at Ford’s Kansas City Assembly Plant, wrote “Demand for our F-150 is sky high. Frames continue to hold both truck plants back from running overtime days on the weekend.” As a result, Ford has been forced to suspend overtime shifts on weekends even as demand for the F-150 increases.
At the root of the shortage is a Metalsa plant in Elizabeth, Kentucky that has builds the frames, and so far, the effects of the shortage have been very real. In the first quarter of 2015, Ford announced that F-150 production was down 40%. Combined with the slow ramp-up time of the new Ford Edge crossover, Ford’s Chief Financial Officer Bob Shanks estimated that the slowdowns have cost the company at least $1 billion in profits.
As of May 1, the company announced that it had a 77 day supply of F-Series trucks. But this number can be misleading, as the best-selling F-150 is the only truck affected by the shortage, and it’s Ford’s sales bread and butter. According to Automotive News, production at the Dearborn plant in April was down 9.2% compared to last year, and the Kansas City plant’s production was down 28% as work finishes on the plant.
General Motors and Chrysler smell the blood in the water, and have continued to offer discounts on their full-size pickups in hopes of capitalizing from Ford’s misfortune. The irony here is that it isn’t the new technology that’s keeping the F-150 out of the hands of customers, it’s that Ford just can’t build them fast enough. The good news is that the new F-150 is a runaway hit. Unfortunately, Ford can’t make money off of a truck it can’t sell.