Next week, in a milestone moment for electric vehicles, Ford will unveil a fully electric version of the Ford F-150 pickup truck called the F-150 Lightning.
Companies like Tesla (TSLA) and Rivian have already unveiled electric pickups, but this is the Ford (F) F-150. This is the big time. Ford (F)’s F-series has been the best-selling truck in America for 44 years.
Ford has offered few details about the truck, which it will unveil on the evening on May 19. A short preview video showed the truck’s front lights, which include a long bar of bright lights running between the tops of the headlights. The design’s effect is reminiscent of the lights on the Tesla Cybertuck.
Long before unveiling the electric F-150, Ford had already started boasting of the vehicle’s outsized strength. In July 2019, the auto maker released a video of an electric F-150 driven by chief engineer Linda Zhang pulling a freight train weighing 1.25 million pounds. The train cars were filled with 42 internal combustion-powered F-150 trucks.
But that wasn’t a realistic example of the F-150’s expected use and even Ford said that the truck was “towing far beyond any production truck’s published capacity.” We still don’t know what the real production model’s towing and hauling capabilities will be, but electric motors powered by strong lithium-ion batteries can have immense power.
Rivian claims up to 11,000 pounds of towing capacity and zero-to-60 seconds acceleration under 3 seconds for its R1T truck. Tesla boasts of over 14,000 pounds of towing capacity from the most powerful version of its Cybertruck.
Ford will have to fight hard with competitors coming from all sides though, said Jessica Caldwell, an analyst with Edmunds.com.
“It does feel like the truck market is vulnerable because a lot more automakers are getting into it,” she said.
Besides Tesla and Rivian, a company called Lordstown Motors is also entering the electric pickup market, targeting commercial truck buyers specifically.
Ford’s truck will tend to appeal to a different sort of customer, though, said Caldwell.
“I think the Ford F-150 buyer base is definitely more vast,” she said. “I think there are certain types of people that are more interested in those up-and-coming startups than the F-150 which is the most famous and well-known vehicle, probably, in the country.”
Buyers who might otherwise be worried about making the step to an electric truck, the trusted Ford F-150 name could soothe their nerves, she said.
A shift from early adopter to mass consumer
Ford’s biggest rival, General Motors (GM), is further away from offering an electric version of its Chevrolet Silverado but that truck, too, is on the way. These are big steps toward making electric vehicles a part of everyday life in America.
“It’s a significant move,” said Autoweek executive editor Natalie Neff, “We’re talking about the shift from early adopter to mass consumer.”
It’s important, too, that both companies have chosen to retain the model names of their popular gasoline- and diesel-power trucks rather than introducing these electric models under new names. (GM has taken that route, as well, with the GMC Hummer EV pickup, which will share it’s basic engineering with the electric Silverado.
Ford executives have previously said they planned to leverage well-known existing brands, like Mustang and the F-150, to help consumers understand what these different electric vehicles are. They want these names to convey their unique capabilities.
The Ford Mustang Mach-E, for instance, is quick, responsive and fun to drive like the Mustang car, despite being very different in most other ways. It’s a four-door crossover SUV while the gasoline-powered version is a two-door coupe.
Likewise, the fact that Ford’s truck will carry the F-150 name implies that it’s powerful and capable. This time, though, the name has even greater reach.
“The Mach-E, as cool as it is, probably won’t touch as many people as a Ford F-150 does,” said Caldwell.
The future for Ford’s electric truck
Mind you, it isn’t as if all Ford F-150s from now on will need to be plugged in. Not even close. The majority of F-150s sold will have gasoline engines for the time being. But the fact that customers will be able to buy an F-150 with an electric motor instead of a gasoline engine is a major milestone.
The most likely buyers for electric pickups will be companies rather than individuals. Fleet buyers tend to focus more on cost of ownership rather than initial purchase price. Also, commercial work trucks are unlikely to be used for interstate family road trips where driving range and access to fast-charging stations become more of a hurdle. Corporate owners can be confident their trucks will return to a charging station each night.
When announcing the company would make an electric Chevrolet Silverado with more than 400 miles of driving range, GM president Mark Reuss said commercial fleets would be a particular focus for marketing efforts.
Ford may have missed an opportunity to offer a plug-in hybrid F-150, which would have provided something between a gas-powered truck and an all-electric one, said Chelsea Sexton, an analyst who covers the electric vehicle market. A plug-in hybrid with significant electric driving range plus the ability to drive on gasoline, as well, could have eased more truck buyers into the EV experience, she said.
“Data proves folks overwhelmingly stay with [plug-in vehicles] and move into increasingly-electrified models from there,” she wrote. “So for the group that is currently least likely to believe an EV will work for them, a really good [plug-in hybrid] is likely to be an excellent recruiting tactic.”