Ford customers clamor for new F-150s — but are forced to wait amid shortage

Phoebe Wall Howard
Detroit Free Press

Brendan Seguin of Warren — a retired MMA fighter known to fans as "Caucasian Devastation" — took home his new 2021 Ford F-150 in early August. He wanted to replace an old F-150 for his new career as a real estate agent.

"I love the body style. I love the large screen in the interior. I love how it handles. And it gets good mileage," said Seguin, 45, of Warren, who is still widely known for his 12 years in sports entertainment that he described as a hybrid of boxing, wrestling and jujitsu. Mixed martial arts is combat sport often referred to as ultimate fighting or cage fighting.

His F-150  experience is a highlight for Ford, which, along with other automakers, has struggled for months to meet demand. 

Brendan Seguin of Warren, better known as “Caucasian Devastation” before retiring from his career as a professional MMA fighter, now drives a 2021 Ford F-150 in for his role as a real estate agent.

The same month that Seguin took home his pickup, Ford Motor Co. saw 41,000 new orders come in for vehicles — four times higher than a year ago and up from July.

But despite the increase, Ford has seen a nearly 33% drop in sales from a year ago, which was grim. And the dip includes trucks. Ford sold 124,176 vehicles in August including 73,610 trucks. Sales reflect customer deliveries of vehicles. The 41,000 orders are not included in the sales; they're in the system to be built and sent.

Economic uncertainty, pandemic life changes and a semiconductor chip shortage has paralyzed the automotive and other manufacturing industries, but consumers still want their pickup trucks.

Ford released its August sales results on Thursday, powered by the 2021 F-150 pickup.

"The online traffic in our showroom continues to be very strong. Most customers don't walk in anymore. They reach out to us online, using chat online or sending us online messages. Salespeople are literally in communication via text, video, chat, email and messaging all the time. Traffic is super active," said Thad Szott, whose family runs Szott Auto Group in Holly.

"Inventories are still very tight but we are solving most customer needs with custom orders. Most manufacturers are prioritizing sold orders. Many Jeep orders are arriving in three weeks and Ford is even offering a $500 rebate," he said. 

There is no end in sight for the inventory shortage, Szott said.

Thad Szott, seen here taking a break from selling cars to fish on Otsego Lake in Gaylord, Michigan with his dog Nicki on Saturday, August 22, 2020, said customers are flowing steadily and connecting mostly online now. He runs a Ford dealership in Holly.

Industry analyst Jon Gabrielsen said, "The fact that any automaker like Ford would be down 33% from last year when we were in the depth of COVID-19 economic impacts is clear evidence of just how brutally the chip shortage is pummeling the auto industry.” 

'It has been a mess'

Ford alerted UAW employees this week that it would be cutting shifts at the Kentucky Truck Plant and reducing shifts the weeks of Sept. 6 and Sept. 13, resulting in layoffs. Additional cuts have been made during the same time period at Dearborn Truck and Kansas City Assembly, both plants building the F-150.

"Behind the scenes, we have teams working to maximize production," John Savona, Ford vice president of manufacturing and labor affairs, wrote in an internal memo to workers dated Sept. 1 and obtained by the Free Press. "Our teams are making the most of our available semiconductor allocation."

More:Ford to replace all 2021 Bronco hardtops after extreme water, humidity change appearance

Due to the parts shortage, Louisville Assembly Plant has also canceled factory shifts this week, according to labor bulletins obtained by the Free Press.

This week, Herb Hibbs, UAW building chairman at Louisville Assembly Plant, posted a memo dated Sept. 1 that said, "We are having trouble with our suppliers getting material delivered on time and in a quality condition. ... Meetings have been going on around the clock. Checking with vendors, verifying counts on shipped products, GPS tracking and timing to the plant. It has been a mess to say the least."

Foreign and domestic automakers, including General Motors, have said they're cutting production to try and cope with the squeeze.

Filling orders

So now Ford and its competitors find themselves building vehicles to fill orders rather than fill dealer lots. It's more efficient for companies compared to having vehicles sitting on dealer lots waiting for customers.

And this situation, while not ideal, allows Ford to put chips in F-Series trucks that have been built and held waiting for chips and ship them directly to customers.

More:People are clamoring for Ford F-150s now trapped in Detroit parking lot

More:Ford could start shipping unchipped vehicles to dealers later this year

"These are customers who are waiting for vehicles rather than vehicles on lots waiting for customers," Erich Merkle, U.S. sales analyst for Ford, told the Free Press. "It’s not a detail typically shared but it is important data point because it says vehicle demand is strong as Ford production and inventory showed strong improvement in August relative to July."

While Ford sold around 57,000 F-Series in August, the number would usually be closer to 70,000 or 80,000, he said.

Ford is the only Detroit Three automaker who shares monthly sales data. It is part of a shift toward increased transparency advocated by new CEO Jim Farley when he took the helm of Ford on Oct. 1, 2020.

While August remained challenging, sales suggest there may be hope for the future: 

  • Ford retail sales were up 6.5 % in August compared with July, as both production and inventory improved. 
  • Ford production was up 80% in August over July
  • Ford inventories were up 34% in August over July
  • F-Series retail sales grew 11% in August relative to July
  • All-electric F-150 Lightning reservations surpassed 130,000

What the data shows is that demand for vehicles continues and Ford is working to fill these orders as quickly as possible. 

"Everyone is down because of the chip shortage," Merkle said. "This is sequential growth. It indicates recovery and improvement from a bottom. For the industry, that doesn't appear to be the case. But for Ford, August was a good month relative to July."

Big F-150 sales pay for research and development of electrification. It's all connected.

"F-Series is a priority for us," Merkle said. "We're working to produce to the best of our ability under the circumstances and last month we improved our inventory position with our sales responding accordingly. Overall, industry inventory declined in August relative to July. At Ford, our inventory improved."

June and December tend to be huge months for truck sales for everybody, so seeing strong activity in August is notable, Merkle said.

"Of our retails sales, 30% were directly filling customer orders in August," he said. "At this time last year, it was 6%. What does that mean? It gives you real efficiency. Vehicles are not waiting on customers."  

William and Michelle Teears with their children Gage, left, and Kieran, right, at home in Green Cove Springs, Florida in 2021. They recently traded a Chevrolet Silverado for a 2021 Ford F-150 to use to pull their family camper.

William Teears, a mortgage broker from Green Cove Springs, Florida, didn't need to wait.

He traded a Chevrolet Silverado for a 2021 F-150 in August because he preferred the interior design and the improved towing capacity needed to haul the family camper. 

"It’s just family outings that we are doing a lot," Teears said. "That's something that's important to us that we do as family."

Contact Phoebe Wall her on Twitter@phoebesaid. Read more on Ford and sign up for our autos newsletter.