That’s right, kids: it’s been exactly ONE YEAR since Ford officially unwrapped its all electric F-150 Lightning pickup. It was on that day that electric cars smashed their way into the mainstream, with America’s best-selling truck — no, the world’s best-selling truck! — winning hearts and minds not with messages of reduced emissions and pushing back climate change, but with a whole suite of capabilities that internal-combustion vehicles simply couldn’t offer.
More power, more performance, and more capability is what set the F-150 head-and-shoulders above the competition … and we know, now, that Ford has delivered on the lofty promises it made a year ago. That said, I think it’s worth looking back at some of the questions that many, including David Reichmuth from the Union of Concerned Scientists, asked on that day — and check those answers for ourselves.
David’s original article appears below in its entirety. My notes and answers are indented and italicized, with source links in the content where appropriate.
Ford Motor Company will be releasing details Wednesday evening about an all-electric version of its F-150 Lightning pickup truck, just a day after a high-profile sneak preview for President Biden. We’ve seen many big press events in past years around new electric vehicles, but this might be the most important yet. The Ford F-150 is not only Ford’s biggest seller, but the F-series trucks are the top-selling vehicles in the US. One in every 20 passenger vehicles sold in the United States is a Ford F-150, so switching it from gasoline to electricity has the promise to push plug-in vehicles squarely into the middle of the vehicle market. We certainly won’t get all the details on Wednesday, but here are some of the questions that we hope will be answered.
1) Will the Lightning be a mainstream product or niche variant?
F-150 is the largest volume vehicle for Ford, but that’s in part because it comes in a bevy of configurations (2-wheel and 4-wheel drive, bed length, cab size, etc.). A vital question to be answered is will Ford position the electric F-150 as a high-volume vehicle with many configurations or will it be a niche product?
This has important implications for both the EV market and the efforts to slow climate change.
In 2019, Ford sold over 830,000 F-150s in the US. Based on average driving behavior, over 5 million metric tons of carbon pollution are generated each year from using the F-150s sold in 2019 alone. We don’t know what the efficiency of the electric F-150 will be, but based on other large electric vehicles, it is likely that switching from gasoline to electricity will mean a reduction of a half to two-thirds in global warming emissions based on electricity generation emissions in the US. If the electric truck is used on a cleaner electricity grid (like California or upstate New York), it’s possible that the electric truck will have 80% lower climate-changing emissions than the average new gasoline F-150.
We’ll have to wait to see how Ford positions the electric F-150 in its lineup when it goes on sale, but we can get some indication from the pricing. In March 2021, the average full-size pickup was sold for over $55,000. Performance models of the F-150 like the F-150 Raptor can have suggested retail pricing over $65,000. Given that Ford’s electric vehicles are still eligible for the $7,500 federal tax credit, an electric truck price in the $60,000–$75,000 price range would put the upfront cost consistent with gasoline equivalents, while providing considerable performance gains and fuel and maintenance savings. For example, based on average residential electricity prices and a 20-mpg conventional F-150, fuel savings alone could be well over $1,000 per year.
In 2020, US EV sales were just over 300,000, less than half of F-150 sales during the same time. If Ford can offer this truck at a competitive price point and at volume, the truck could significantly accelerate EV sales.
We now know that the Ford F-150 Lightning is, indeed, a “mainstream” electric vehicle that will be built in the tens and, eventually, hundreds of thousands. What’s more, its starting price tag wasn’t nearly as high as the $60–75K that David projected. Instead, it came in at a relatively bargain-basement $39,974. That number that was so much lower than most people expected that it drove our own Zachary Shahan — normally calm, reserved, and logical — to call it, “Wow to the moon!”
What’s more, Ford’s initial range estimate — 200 miles on a single charge for the “base” pickup — were beaten when the EPA gave it an official estimated range of 220 miles. As wild as the claims Ford made on its debut might have seemed, the reality of this in-production electric supertruck is even wilder!
2) Will other automakers follow with electric pickups in volume?
The Ford electric pickup truck isn’t the only plug-in truck that is scheduled to go on sale soon. General Motors has announced both a high-end Hummer pickup and a later-arriving Silverado promised at a lower price point. And startup automaker Rivian is poised to have the first mass-market electric truck this summer.
However, even with these models, there remains uncertainty over the volume of electric pickup trucks that will be available. In 2020, pickups were 20% of all passenger cars and trucks sold in the US, with nearly 3 million new trucks rolling off dealer’s lots, despite the pandemic. And there are close to 40 million pickups on the road in the US, so if we want to reduce emissions, we’ll need a lot of EV pickups rolling off assembly lines as soon as possible. We’ll also need automakers to put their marketing muscle behind selling EVs by convincing buyers that performance gains and reduced fuel & maintenance costs are worth learning how to charge an EV at home and on the go.
Man, did this chart age badly! For starters, the Tesla Cybertruck is nowhere to be seen, with no firm production date and even the most optimistic estimates putting its in-production date somewhere in 2023. GM has backed away from its investment in Lordstown motors, the Endurance pickup remains in a sort of weird, pre-production limbo, and even the Lordstown, Ohio-based factory that gave the company its name is sketchy, seeing as how it’s now owned by Foxconn and contracted to build low-priced electric hatchbacks for Henrik Fisker. Bollinger, meanwhile, is in even worse shape.
Even Rivian, who, at the time of the Lightning’s launch, was enjoying billions of dollars of investment from Ford and Amazon, is in trouble. Ford is selling Rivian stock as fast as it legally can, it seems, while the latest rumors in the automotive world have suppliers walking away from the fledgling brand, putting its deal with Amazon at risk.
THAT SAID, we have begun to see other car brands begin to commit to electric pickups in a big way, with the Ultium-based Silverado and a new, compact electric pickup being co-developed by Ford and VW coming soon.
3) Will the F-150 Lightning signal a shift to investment in EV manufacturing and infrastructure in US?
With President Biden’s visit and his American Jobs Plan, there is clear interest from the current administration in investments in clean vehicle jobs and infrastructure. Ford is building the electric F-150 Lightning in Dearborn, Michigan, and an aggressive move to electrification by Ford could help show the value in investing in electric vehicle manufacturing and infrastructure in the US. As Congress writes the infrastructure bill based on the American Jobs Plan, UCS has strongly advocated that it must include strong support for domestic manufacturing for vehicles and their components and pro-worker policies.
In a word: yes!
Over the course of the last year, Ford and GM have committed billions to develop new battery manufacturing facilities, reinvested in their North American factories, and made massive structural changes to the way they do business. Not much has come of Biden’s proposed plans, to be honest, but the industry is moving in the right direction regardless. It has been a great year for EV enthusiasts!
All the American car brands need to do now is get their sketchy dealers under control and they’ll be able to look forward to a rosier — and greener! — future.
4) How long can the auto industry claim emissions standards are too tough while also promising next-generation vehicles
Ford is announcing that it will electrify its best-selling model. GM is “aspiring” to go all electric by 2035 and other carmakers are making similar statements. It is clearly possible for automakers to electrify their offerings over the next decade. At the same time, both the federal government and California are working towards vehicle emission standards that will put us on the path to greatly reducing air pollution and carbon emissions. In the past, both automakers and their trade group have sought to limit regulations that would ensure these promises of cleaner cars and trucks become a reality. So where will companies like Ford and GM invest their lobbying and advocacy efforts? Will they support industry trade groups to fight zero emission vehicle targets and strong federal standards on their behalf? Or will they change tactics and support the changes we need to be on a path to avoid the worst impacts of climate change?
We won’t get all the answers to these questions on Wednesday, but hopefully the electrification of the highest-selling vehicle in the US will help accelerate the transition to cleaner cars and trucks.
I mean, the auto industry is always going to cry foul whenever new standards are announced, Lightning or not. It’s in their nature, and Stellantis’ new CEO has even come out as seemingly against EVs, claiming that the company is being “forced” into building them by politicians, rather than the demands of consumers. Which, frankly, I’m fine with (that’s just an opinion, guys … you’re allowed to disagree).
Hilariously, there’s currently a lawsuit from “state’s rights” GOP lawyers pushing to abolish the State of California’s state’s right to issue its own emissions standards. But, hey, fascists gotta fasc, I guess?
What do you guys think — was the F-150 Lightning the watershed EV that so many of us think it was (or, rather, is)? Scroll on down to the comments and let us know. While you’re there, feel free to ask any other EV questions that come to mind, and we’ll do our best to answer them. Maybe a bit snarkily, but sincerely.
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