Ford warned some F-150 Lightning owners about separate EV battery issue before this month’s fire

Jessica Thompson

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Ford workers produce the electric F-150 Lightning pickup on Dec. 13, 2022 at the automaker’s Ford Rouge Electric Vehicle Center (REVC).
Michael Wayland | CNBC

DETROIT – A defective battery that caused a Ford F-150 Lightning in the company’s possession to catch fire earlier this month isn’t the only problem the Detroit automaker has recently experienced with its new all-electric pickup truck.

On Jan. 27, a week before the fire, the company issued a “customer service action” for a small group of vehicles to have parts replaced to “prevent performance degradation” of the high-voltage battery. Ford Motor said the problem only affected about 100 vehicles so far and is not believed to be connected to the Feb. 4 fire. Ford said it is monitoring the vehicles remotely and proactively contacting customers when the company spots the problem.

Despite the small number of vehicles 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 the costly, and complex, batteries of the vehicles, financial problems and serious safety concerns – specifically fires – can arise.

For Ford, the F-150 Lightning problems are part of ongoing quality and operational issues, as outlined by CEO Jim Farley to investors days before the fire occurred in a Ford holding yard.

We have deeply entrenched issues in our industrial system that have proven tough to root out,” he said Feb. 2 during a 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.”

Ford, which executives have said was the most recalled automaker for the past two years, is not alone in having problems with its newest EV launches.

Toyota Motor last year had to recall its first mass-produced global EV because of a risk the wheels could come loose. General Motors two years ago recalled all of its Chevrolet Bolt EV models due to fire issues. Others such as Hyundai, BMW and Volvo also have recalled electric vehicles, including plug-in hybrids, due to fire risks in recent years.

To be clear, fire concerns are not exclusive to EVs, they’ve historically been problems for the auto industry and continue to occur. Stellantis‘ Ram Trucks this week announced a recall of 340,000 large diesel pickup trucks to replace an electrical connector after reports of six fires.

Ford’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.

“This not a safety recall. This is a proactive investigation to help prevent customers of the identified vehicles from experiencing a degradation in battery performance and to obtain field parts for evaluation,” Ford spokesman Marty Gunsberg said in an emailed statement.

The amount of “customer service actions” Ford has issued for the F-150 Lightning since its launch in April 2022 was not immediately available.

Ford, as communicated to customers, is replacing “certain high-voltage battery module(s)” 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 provided by a “CXS, Ford Concern Team Battery Electric Specialist” to at least one customer.

Regarding the issue that caused the fire and prompted Ford to halt production and shipments of the vehicle early last week, Ford said it is unaware of any incidents or issues associated with vehicles already delivered to dealers or customers.

Ford said Wednesday it believes engineers have found the root cause of the fire. The investigation into the problem is expected to be completed by the end of next week, followed by adjustments to the truck’s battery production process that “could take a few weeks.”

The F-150 Lightning is being closely watched by investors, as it’s the first mainstream electric pickup truck on the market and a major launch for Ford. The company is in the process of nearly doubling production capacity of the vehicle at a Michigan plant to 150,000 units by fall 2023.

Ford does not release production data for the F-150 Lightning, however the company sold more than 2,200 of the vehicles last month. In 2022, Ford reported sales of more than 15,600 units of the vehicle.

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