Ford prevents customers from doing something highly unexpected. Here’s why it’s such a smart move

The all-electric Ford 150 Lightning truck began rolling off the assembly line on Tuesday. But if you buy one, you may have to sign a contract that prevents you from selling it for at least a year. It’s the latest twist in a highly anticipated launch that’s turned into something of a nutrition frenzy.

Twitter account @F150Gen14 posted a photo of the message in January and has since been posted Independently confirmed by media sources.

The letter warns merchants to demand additional fees from customers who have already paid deposits to pre-order the truck, warning them that any dealer caught collecting additional fees may find the truck’s supply cut. (Of course, as Motor Trend has pointed out, there’s no stopping traders from raising the price of Lightning well on their MSRP, thus taking advantage of the supply and demand mismatch a little differently.) It offers dealers the option to include a one-year no-resale clause in the sale, to prevent speculators buying the trucks and selling them to impatient buyers at a hefty premium.

It’s an amazing move, but not entirely unprecedented. In 2017, the company imposed a two-year no-resale clause on GT buyers. This was a highly specialized car, a two-seater sports car created to celebrate the company’s victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1966 (which is also the subject of the film) Ford vs Ferrari). GT had an MSRP of just under half a million dollars, and even if you had the money, it was very difficult to get one. Ford meant the waiting period for resale, too—when professional wrestler John Cena tried to sell his car, Ford took him to court. However, the temporary ban on GT resale affected only a very small number of buyers. Assuming that merchants are using the item (which is obviously meant to protect their interests) it could affect 200,000 people who have already booked the Lightning, as well as anyone else who wants one, potentially waiting over a year to get one.

Limiting resale in this way is an unusual move, but these are unusual times for both the auto market and the used car market. Ford is making a very big and very cheerful commitment to electric vehicles, having now made electric versions of both the iconic Mustang and its incredibly popular F150 pickup truck. CEO Jim Farley told The Verge that the chip shortage plaguing all automakers won’t limit production of the F150 Lightning — suggesting the company will pull chips from production of internal combustion engine cars if necessary. Indeed, many on social media have responded to Ford’s announcement that Lightning is leaving its factory with complaints about how long they’ve been waiting for the non-electric vehicles they ordered.

Some have criticized Ford for introducing a year-long ban on resale, and questioned whether it was smart — or even ethical — for the company to tell customers what they can and can’t do with their own cars after they’ve paid for it. But these critics are wrong. Ford has been in business for 118 years, and the company is well aware that if demand for its cars exceeds supply today, the day will come when the opposite is true. So Ford is very smart about protecting its customers from the fraud of dealers, dealers, and customers alike with cars like party-ticket rackets. Some seem to welcome the move.

Ford is also smart about making a big commitment to electric cars. The company first began promoting the F150 Lightning in 2019, at a time when gas cost less than $2.85 a gallon. Its leaders could not have foreseen the coming pandemic, or the changes in the auto market it would bring. Today, it seems prescient, as it created the first mass-produced electric pickup truck to hit the market at a time when gas prices exceeded $4, and sales of electric vehicles outpaced diesel sales in Europe. I am, admittedly, biased in favor of electric cars. But even their critics must admit that electric vehicles are the way of the future and that they will relentlessly take over the car market.

A few years ago, before he became CEO, Farley spent some time visiting companies in Silicon Valley and realized they were “going after our customers,” he told The New York Times. Cars these days are as much about software as anything else, something that helped give Tesla — which was founded in California and funded by US dollars — an early edge in the electric car market. (It must be said that the old US automakers’ disdain for electric cars didn’t help.)

Today, judging by the companies’ relative valuations, investors seem to believe that Tesla’s leadership is crucial and that the Big Three will never be able to catch up. The F150 Lightning, an electric version of the country’s most popular car with the full power of Ford behind it, might be enough to rewrite that future.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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