Can Betting the Company on an F-150 EV Electrify Ford Stock?

Legacy automakers that have been building vehicles for a century or more face an uphill struggle. They are competing with upstarts that have bypassed the internal combustion engine in favor of either battery or fuel-cell vehicles. No U.S. automaker is under more pressure than Ford Motor Co. (NYSE: F), and nowhere is the struggle more apparent than in the Ford stock price.

Shares of Ford closed at $6.81 on June 10, and the company’s market capitalization barely topped $27 billion. Nikola Corp. (NASDAQ: NKLA), which came public last week and has yet to deliver a single vehicle, has a market cap of around $23.5 billion.

Tesla Inc. (NASDAQ: TSLA) closed at $1,025.05 per share, and it has a market cap of more than $190 billion. Tesla stock is up about 145% for the year to date, as of Wednesday’s closing bell, while the S&P 500 index is down about 1.3% and Ford is down more than 25%.

Clearly, the place to be is where Ford isn’t.

Ford, Volkswagen Getting Electric

Ford and Volkswagen announced Wednesday that the Germany-based automaker had closed on a $2.6 billion investment announced last July in Pittsburgh-based autonomous vehicle (AV) startup Argo AI. Ford invested $1.0 billion in the company back in 2017, and VW’s investment includes $1.0 billion in cash and $1.6 billion in the transfer of VW’s European AV unit by Argo.

Along with the completion of VW’s investment in Argo, the two companies announced a collaborative effort on commercial vehicles. It includes a city van created and built by Volkswagen, followed by a one-ton commercial cargo van engineered by Ford. The partnership expects to sell 8 million of the vehicles during their lifetimes. The cherry on top is a VW midsize pickup built on a Ford Ranger platform that is expected to be available for sale in Europe in 2022.

Ford also has agreed to build a new electric vehicle (EV) for Europe based on Volkswagen’s Modular Electric Drive (MEB) toolkit beginning in 2023. According to the announcement, the EV “could approach” multiyear sales of 600,000 units or more.

The All-Electric F-150 Is Coming

Ford’s F-150 pickup has been the best-selling vehicle in the United States for decades. The F-150 is getting a makeover for the 2021 model year. It’s that updated version of the truck that will debut as an EV in mid-2022, according to Chief Operating Officer Jim Farley.

That’s a little later than the original first-delivery date of “before 2022” suggested by Darren Palmer, the head of Ford’s Team Edison, when the electric F-150 was first announced.

The difference is important because Tesla expects to have its all-electric Cybertruck available by mid-2021, and privately held Rivian has pushed its first deliveries into 2021 due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Ford has participated in two rounds of funding for Rivian, investing $500 million early in 2019 and an unspecified amount in a $1.3 billion round led by T. Rowe Price and BlackRock in December.

When Tesla revealed its Cybertruck in November last year, the company announced pricing ranging from $39,900 to $69,900, depending largely on the number of drive motors. A Rivian R1T has a base price of around $69,000, but its quad-motor design is more comparable to the high-end tri-motor Cybertruck than to the entry-level Tesla truck.

Ford’s average selling price in May for all its vehicles was $43,847, the highest of any automaker tracked by Kelley Blue Book. The average price for a full-size pickup last month was $51,240. Given the demand increase for pickups, it’s a safe bet that Ford’s average F-150 sales price was north of $50,000. The company has not revealed pricing for the electric F-150, but an all-wheel-drive version is likely to be in the same neighborhood as the high-end Tesla and the R1T.

Is Ford Betting the Company on an Electric F-150?

Along with the electrified F-150, Ford also is planning to introduce an all-electric version of its Transit van in mid-2022. Ford’s first all-electric car, the Mustang Mach e, was scheduled for deliveries in Europe and the United States for late this year. Ford has revised its schedule for first European deliveries to early next year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. U.S. deliveries remain on track for late this year, but volumes are likely to be small.

Ford’s determination to get the Mustang Mach e out to U.S. customers as scheduled won’t make or break the company, but it does indicate how important EVs are to Ford. An electrified F-150 may be the vehicle that keeps the company going for another century. Whether intentionally or not, Ford is betting its future on a vehicle it won’t deliver for another two years.

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