On May 18, President Joe Biden visited Dearborn, Michigan to tout the new Ford F-150 “Lightning,” the highly-anticipated all-electric pickup truck.
There are dozens of different electric vehicle models, a list that is expected to grow lengthier in the next few years as automakers roll new versions off assembly lines. But as the most popular vehicle in the country for the past forty years, the significance of the F-150 surpasses all others, and the pace of electrification in the U.S. to a large degree hinges on the truck’s success.
Ford Debuts the F-150
President Biden’s speedy test drive of the new all-electric F-150 on Tuesday made headlines, but a day later, Ford unveiled many of the details of the new truck, which sparked even more interest.
Starting with the price tag, the Lightning would debut at $39,974. While more expensive than its gasoline counterpart, after the $7,500 federal EV tax credit, the cost comes down and puts the new F-150 squarely in the range of cost competitive EVs. Some states also offer additional incentives to defray costs.
However, in reality, the price goes up quite a bit from that starting price point once various features are added, likely making it too costly for many Americans, at least at the outset. One option is a model with 230 miles of range, a more costly option includes 300 miles of range, but that one will be priced in the mid-$50,000s.
Beyond the price, however, are other features that arguably make the electric model far superior to its gasoline-powered cousin. Lacking an engine, the front hood has a “frunk,” or a front trunk, for added storage space. The truck is intended to be utilitarian, so additional storage in the front allows the truck to do more, haul more, and store more than its traditional counterpart.
Perhaps the most intriguing feature is the array of power outlets in the new truck, nearly a dozen in total. Tools or appliances could be plugged in and powered straight from the truck’s battery.
Even more impressive is the fact that Ford says that if the power goes out at your house, the Lightning could provide backup power for as long as three days if its battery is fully charged, and up to 10 days if power use is rationed. In the wake of the massive blackouts in Texas in February, backup power would surely be immensely desirable. As climate disasters grow more severe and more frequent, concerns about backup power will also rise.
Ford teamed up with Sunrun, the nation’s largest solar panel installer, to be its preferred installer of charging station at a customer’s home. Sunrun would then be able to upsell its solar panels and battery packs. The partnership can “bring energy resilience to millions of Americans across the country,” said Lynn Jurich, co-founder and chief executive at Sunrun.
The significance of the F-150
The pace of transitioning the transportation sector to EVs will depend quite a bit on the success of the F-150. Pickup trucks took all of the top 10 spots in terms of sales in 2020. “It was a remarkable year for trucks,” Jeff Schuster, LMC Automotive president of the Americas, told CNBC in January.
Pickup trucks are popular in general, but none is as popular as the F-150, which took the top spot in sales in 2020 for the 39th year in a row. Ford’s traditional gasoline-powered F-150 has sold more than 900,000 trucks annually in recent years. The Chevy Bolt, GM’s top electric model, only sold 20,000 last year.
The Lightning is also important for what it symbolizes. To cut greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector, experts say we need massive investments in high-speed rail, public transit, housing density, and biking and walking connections. But for much of the country, pickup trucks are not going away, for a variety of logistical, infrastructure-related, geographic, and cultural reasons. There is no way around the need for an all-electric pickup truck, regardless of how much public transit is expanded in dense cities (which also needs to happen).
“This is a signal about how serious we are about electrification.”
In that sense, the F-150 has a chance to break through culture wars, as some have noted, and accelerate the push for electrification. “We’re not just electrifying fringe vehicles,” said Ford’s chairman, William Ford Jr., according to the New York Times. “The Mustang and the F-150 are the heart of what Ford is, so this is a signal about how serious we are about electrification.”
The costs remain a hurdle, but is expected to change over time. Battery costs continue to fall, and EVs are expected to reach cost parity with the internal combustion engine in the next few years – perhaps as soon as 2023, according to BloombergNEF.
But policy has a massive role to play. Governments are beginning to call for the phaseout of sales of the internal combustion engine, with 2035 as the most common deadline. In addition, the same day that Ford unveiled its truck, the International Energy Agency said that to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, new coal, oil, and natural gas projects should come to an end. The pressure is building to accelerate the transition.
In the near-term, EVs of all types could receive a gigantic boost if President Biden’s proposed $2 trillion infrastructure package is passed, a proposal that calls for $174 billion for EV subsidies and recharging stations. The Biden administration is also looking at turning some of the tax credits for EVs into rebates at the point of sale, which would make purchases much more attractive and would benefit many more middle- and lower-income Americans who cannot afford the upfront price tag even if they receive a credit later on.
The infrastructure bill was the backdrop to President Biden’s visit to Dearborn. He wanted to trumpet the exciting debut of the F-150 Lightning, which is exactly the type of thing Biden hopes to jump-start with his legislative proposal.
The fate of his infrastructure bill, Ford’s F-150, and the nation’s long sprint towards electrification are all now intertwined.