We’re going to get more details on the fully electric Ford F-150 Lightning later this evening, but there’s no doubt about it: Ford isn’t electrifying its two biggest nameplates without caring how they turn out. I think that Ford executives, like executives at pretty much all major automakers, know that the future of the automobile industry will be electricity. They’re not going to electrify their hottest, most iconic, best selling models with soggy-chip entrants that embarrass the history of those champions.
With Ford, even before getting details of the F-150 Lightning, we have the Mustang Mach-E as an informative teaser. While it may be controversial, I think it’s a positive sign that Ford made it a crossover/SUV. People want to buy crossovers/SUVs, and designing the Mach-E in that body style prepared it for the future. It was a bold, brave step and I think buyers and early reviewers are appreciating it. Of course, Ford was able to get Mustang driving fun into a crossover/SUV specifically because of the benefits of an electric powertrain.
Also, Ford didn’t just create one lame version of this vehicle. The company created several different versions to amp up different potential strengths. The Mustang Mach-E GT is quick as a rocket. The Mustang Mach-E California Route 1 offers long range. The Mustang Mach-E Select offers lower cost of ownership that competes with an Escape (a much worse vehicle in many respects). Production capacity in 2021 may be limited to 50,000, but given the high demand, I hope to see Ford ramp that up for 2022 and beyond.
But let’s get back to the F-150 Lightning. Ford is again using the benefits of an electric powertrain to make a hot, fun, exciting electric version of one of its most notable models. In fact, yes, this is the best selling vehicle in the United States. Making a truly compelling electric version of this top seller means it will immediately have a humongous pool of potential buyers looking at it and considering whether it will be their next truck. If it is the quickest F-150 ever (utilizing the immense instant torque of an electric powertrain that electric drivers know well), it will immediately have people’s eyeballs glued to it and have people’s brains reorganizing themselves as they consider whether they actually are ready to go electric. And if Ford is going to electrify its iconic F-150, why not make it as powerful as possible and perhaps competitive with a Tesla Cybertruck.
And that brings us to Tesla, which some may be confused to see in the headline. If you’ve been following Tesla for a little while, you know what it’s mission is — to accelerate the transition to electric vehicles and clean, renewable, sustainable energy. Elon Musk initially thought that Tesla could inspire and pressure Big Auto to build compelling electric vehicles and mass produce them, and that there was a very high chance they would do so and quickly put Tesla out of business. He has since lamented that it has taken much longer than he hoped for legacy automakers to jump onto the wave, but it remains a core part of Tesla’s mission. I’m yet to meet someone at Tesla who doesn’t want other automakers to bring good electric vehicles to market and try hard to sell them. Unfortunately, the vast majority of electric vehicle models have been “compliance cars,” vehicles electrified and sold in low quantities just to satisfy (with an attitude) regulatory requirements. The F-150 Lightning, though — I have bigger hopes.
If Ford has made the F-150 Lightning a compelling electric pickup truck and is going to try hard to produce a lot and sell a lot, then that will be one of Tesla’s biggest successes, as odd as that sounds. That could be one of the best and most popular electric vehicles on the market. It could be a Tesla-inspired vehicle that acts as a sort of external trophy for Tesla, a stamp in the pages of its world-changing passport.
Also, sure, the F-150 Lightning will compete with the Tesla Cybertruck for buyers to some extent. However, much more so, it will be a Cybertruck ally. The Cybertruck and the F-150 Lightning have very different designs. They appeal to very different buyers (with some overlap of course). I’m not going to lay out the design differences and consumer cultures in detail, but it’s obvious that more traditional, mainstream Americans are going to be drawn to the F-150 Lightning than the Cybertruck, and more cutting-edge, techie, jump-into-the-future-feet-first consumers are already considering how they plan to wrap their Cybertruck — or if they will just stick with the unique, eye-catching stainless steel. The important thing, though, is that both will pull buyers away from traditional fossil-fueled trucks. Most of the sales will lead to one more pollution-powered pickup truck being retired or benched.
We still have some big remaining questions about the Ford F-150 Lighting, and about Ford’s desire and willingness to go electric quickly. But I personally think it’s a great sign that Ford is electrifying its two top nameplates, is putting a lot of hype behind their launches, and is trying to get onto the same playing field as Tesla. Sure, people in both companies and supporting both companies may see their electric players as being on different teams, but if you step back and look at the big picture, it’s more a case of the Ford F-150 Lighting and Tesla Cybertruck putting on the same jersey and running full speed toward the end zone of the particulate-, NOx-, and SOx-encrusted fossil competition from Ford, RAM, and GM. Good luck, oldies!
Don’t agree with me? Think Ford invited Biden to Detroit to hype this reveal party up for no good reason? Think Ford is all bark and no bite? Let’s see what is shown later tonight and then reconvene here to discuss. I will also publish an interview with Darren Palmer, head of BEVs (fully electric vehicles) at Ford, once the news hits and will embed it here. So come back for that once the party starts.
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