Ford really needs its F-150 pickup to stay on top

Ford is beginning production on the latest version of its F-150 full-size pickup truck, which is the bestselling vehicle in the United States and a crucial product for the automaker.

Ford's F-Series lineup of full-size trucks is the industry's leading truck brand, and the F-150 makes up the lion's share of sales. It has been the bestselling truck in America for 43 years.

But it faces relentless challenges, mostly from American brands from rivals General Motors and Fiat Chrysler.

Ford is also facing broader struggles. It has shuffled its executive ranks several times over the past few years. Current CEO Jim Farley is the third to sit in the role since 2014. Longtime top operations executive Joe Hinrichs, who was considered a contender for the CEO role, abruptly announced his retirement in early 2020.

As of Oct. 15, Ford shares had fallen about 18% since the start of the year.

The latest version of the F-150 comes with some much-anticipated updates, such as a hybrid powertrain option that provides better fuel economy, a 12,000-pound tow rating and on-board power outlets for tools or electronics.

The truck is also the first pickup to offer over-the-air software updates, allowing Ford to make changes to the vehicle remotely.

There are other bright spots. Ford is scheduled to begin rolling out its Mustang Mach E electric crossover, its first real entry into electric cars and an expected competitor with Tesla models, particularly the Model Y. Its late-2019 rollout of the Explorer sport utility vehicle was rocky, but that nameplate is a strong seller. And the company is also reviving the Bronco SUV, which has garnered a lot of praise and preorders.

But the F-150 remains Ford's crown jewel, and it needs that truck now more than ever.

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