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June 23, 2021

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Ford’s new F-150 may be what’s needed to drive up US sales of electric vehicles


Paul Sancya / AP

A pre-production Ford F-150 Lightning is shown in Bruce Township, Mich., May 12, 2021. The electric truck is aimed at the heart of the American auto market, a deliberate effort by Ford to move electric vehicles from specialized niche products to the mainstream.

Against the onslaught of alarming news about climate change, the recent introduction of the electric-powered Ford F-150 pickup truck offered cause for cautious optimism.

If the electric version of this iconic American vehicle gains a foothold among car buyers, it could be a breakthrough for sales of green vehicles and scaled-up development of green technology in the automotive sector.

The F-150 isn’t just any pickup, after all, it’s been the top-selling truck in the U.S. for an astonishing 43 years, and the top-selling vehicle of any type for 38 of those years. Ford sold an average of 900,000 F-150s per year over the past three years.

If Ford sells enough of its electrified model — which is calling the Lightning — it will put pressure on other manufacturers to up their game in introducing electric vehicles.

But for all of the Lightning’s potential, it comes with a question as big as the 6,500-pound truck itself: Will it go over among pickup buyers?

Actually, it might. Although those buyers may have a reputation for not being particularly concerned about mileage and carbon footprint, the federal Bureau of Transportation Statistics reported that sales of hybrid vehicles were the second-best ever last year in the U.S. — including SUVs and trucks — and sales of electric vehicles hit an all-time high.

Ford, to its credit, is trying to win buyers over by touting performance statistics that any gearhead could appreciate. The Lightning boasts the most torque of any F-150 — which equates to the greatest towing and hauling capacity — and also packs more horsepower.

According to published reports, the electric F-150 can zoom from a standing start to 60 mph in just 4.5 seconds. For comparison, a standard Porsche 911 Carerra sports car is just a half-second faster to 60 mph.

The new version also boasts more cargo space than the gas-powered models, as Ford converted the engine compartment into a 14-cubic-foot storage compartment. Other special features include a 15.5-inch touchscreen, four standard AC plug-ins and a drain in the storage compartment that allows it to be turned into a massive cooler for tailgating, camping, etc.

At a price of $40,000 for the base version and $52,974 for the mid-series version, the Lightning is competitively priced with other pickups. And that’s before government incentives further lower the cost.

Its range, however, doesn’t compare as well. Ford lists the base model’s range at 230 miles before recharging, while another version with a larger battery gets 300 miles.

But the truck has generated good buzz among auto publications. Motor Trend raved about its price, specifications and special features, calling it a “thunderbolt that strikes at the heart of an industry hurtling toward adoption of electric cars.”

“Why should a loyal pickup truck buyer consider the 2022 Ford F-150 Lightning when it goes on sale in May 2022? Because it boasts few compromises but delivers various superlative features that might make the conventional truck look like an outright Luddite,” the publication wrote.

A large share of credit for the e-truck goes to Linda Zhang, the chief engineer for the project, who immigrated to the U.S. from China at age 8 and followed in her father’s footsteps to become an engineer. It’s great to see an iconic American vehicle being updated by someone with a classic American story.

We’ll see how the new version goes over among consumers — hopefully it’ll fly out of showrooms — but it’s definitely a step in the right direction in an industry that is increasingly investing in green-vehicle development. Tesla, Chevrolet and the upstart company Rivian are coming to the market with electric pickups as well, and virtually every major manufacturer has developed an electric vehicle of some sort.

And no wonder — consumer interest is strong. Not only is that the case among American buyers, but the International Energy Agency reported that a record 3 million new electric cars were registered last year around the world, up 41% from the previous year.

Carmakers get it. Buyers know that electric vehicles are the way of the future in a world that is increasingly under threat from global warming.

If Ford has found a sweet spot with its new F-150, that future will come a little sooner.