Ford F-150 Lightning Could Spark EV Transition

If they become bestsellers, large electric cars like the Ford F-150 will help the U.S. reduce transportation emissions.

F-150 Lightning pick-up truck


The F-150 Lightning pick-up truck unveiled by Ford this week could spur efforts by the Biden administration to make electric vehicles mainstream in the U.S.

At $39,974 for the base model, which can travel up to 230 miles on a full charge, the F-150 Lightning will cost slightly less than the Tesla Model 3, the bestselling electric vehicle (EV) in the country, a competitive price for drivers looking for a rugged, all-terrain vehicle that can tow and haul plenty of cargo. On top of that, Ford said the truck’s 1,800-pound lithium-ion battery can do something very cool: power a house for up to three days.

It is too early to know whether the F-150 Lightning will become a success—like its combustion-engine sibling, which has been the best-selling vehicle in the U.S. since the 1970s. Critics have some hesitation with the new F-150: some note the price point makes it inaccessible and some point out the fatality rate of pickups. But the day before its official debut, the pickup won plenty of praise from President Joe Biden. 

“This sucker’s quick,” Biden told reporters after taking an F-150 Lightning for a spin while visiting a Ford manufacturing facility in Michigan on Tuesday. When a White House pool reporter asked Biden how it felt to be behind the car’s wheel he replied: “It feels great.”

Although Biden said “the future of the auto industry is electric,” the U.S. is falling behind most industrialized countries when it comes to EV adoption

Leading the race is Norway, where nearly 75% of all the passenger cars sold last year were plug-in electric vehicles. Other European countries saw double-digit sales too. But in China, EV vehicles claimed a market share of 6.2%, and in the U.S., a mere 2.3%.

This chart shows the share of plug-in electric vehicles in total new car sales/registartions in 2020.
This chart shows the share of plug-in electric vehicles in total new car sales/registrations in 2020. Felix Richter/Statista

And yet, China, given that is home to nearly 1.4 billion people, is still the world’s largest EV market.

“Right now, China is leading in this race. Make no bones about it; it’s a fact,” Biden quipped.

LMC Automotive, a global data firm, estimates that China will be able to produce over 8 million electric cars a year by 2028, Europe 5.7 million, and North America around 1.4 million.

The Biden administration has pledged to slash the country’s carbon emissions by 50% over the next decade, and since the transportation sector accounts for 29% of emissions in the U.S., the only way that would happen is if electric cars become mainstream.

Biden has unveiled several policies to spur the growth of electric vehicles. His $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan includes $174 billion for rebates and incentives to encourage people to buy electric cars, along with funds to build 500,000 charging stations by 2030 and to electrify school and transit buses.

But the success of this plan will hinge on whether large electric vehicles like the F-150 become mainstream. That’s because American drivers prefer large cars—in 2019, seven out of every 10 cars sold in the U.S. fall into the “large” category that includes SUVs, pickup trucks, and vans.

That’s the market sector that electric carmakers urgently need to conquer.

G.M. recently introduced an updated version of its Chevrolet Bolt, a so-called Electric Utility Vehicle, or EUV, and it has unveiled an all-electric version of the mighty Hummer, which is expected to be released late next year. Startup Rivian, backed by Amazon and Ford, is expected to start selling the R1T pickup truck in June, and deliveries of the company’s RS1 EUV are slated for August. And then, there is, of course, Tesla, which plans to release its futuristic-looking Cybertruck in early 2022. 

When The Verge’s Nilay Patel asked Ford CEO Jim Farley about the strong competition, the executive said: “There are lots of flavors of soda, but there’s only one Coke, and there’ll be lots of electric pickup trucks; there’s only one F-150.”

That’s true. The F-150 is one of the best-selling vehicles of all time. When it was launched in 1948, the F-1 (the F-150’s predecessor) paved the way for SUVs and pick-up trucks to become ubiquitous on U.S. roads. Around 900,000 F-150 units sold in 2019 alone and it’s estimated that there are over 16 million Ford F-Series pickup trucks in the country.

Slashing carbon emissions by 50% in just 10 years will be a humongous challenge but if the F-150 Lighting can replace its gas-guzzling older sibling on U.S. roads, the country will be one step closer to achieving that goal.

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