Cars and Trucks

This Is Why the Ford F-150 Lightning Matters

  • The 2022 Ford F-150 Lightning will bring the biggest-selling vehicle in the United States into the EV game.
  • By putting an electric propulsion system into an existing mass-market vehicle, Ford could attract a new kind of customer to the EV market.
  • Demand for a pickup EV is almost entirely untested, so it’s too early to say how big the Lightning’s impact on the market will be.

    It’s been more than a decade since the first modern mass-market electric vehicle went on sale in the United States, the Nissan Leaf. EVs have come a long way since then, thanks largely to the influence of Tesla and its lightning-rod CEO, Elon Musk, but they’re still essentially a niche technology. That might all be about to change.

    Today, Ford released the details of the F-150 Lightning, the EV version of its bestselling pickup. The Lightning is one of a recent cluster of EVs that, rather than asking buyers to sacrifice in the name of efficiency, hew close to the brand’s existing identity. The Lightning will go on sale next spring, and if even 1 percent of F-150 buyers go electric, this truck could outsell about half the existing EV field.

    Ford’s F-series pickups were the bestselling vehicles in the United States in 2020 for the 39th consecutive year. In addition to filling parking lots and job sites across the country with blue ovals, the F-trucks rake in mountains of cash. An analysis by the Boston Consulting Group estimated that Ford’s pickups made the company $42 billion in revenue in 2019 (a year in which almost 900,000 of them were sold). At that rate, if Ford were to spin the F-series family into its own company, that company would be one of the largest in the country by revenue.

    That all makes the F-150 Lightning the perfect candidate to attract the type of interest EVs will need to make the jump from niche to normal. Stephanie Brinley, an analyst with IHS Markit, says that for EVs to become mainstream, “Electric propulsion systems have to be in vehicles that we already want.” But, Brinley says, because EVs are still more expensive than their similarly outfitted gas counterparts, a universally appealing EV would also have to offer something that gas- or diesel-powered models can’t. Ford clearly heard that message when designing the Lightning, which has more power and more torque than the rest of the F-150 lineup, plus the capability to power a job site or campsite using the car’s onboard plugs and an (optional) system that can power a home for a week or more, depending on energy use.

    It’s still too soon to say how many customers will be pulled in by the Lightning’s unique array of features. The Lightning is the first of its kind, so demand is untested. And so is the truck; Ford says the Lightning can tow up to 10,000 pounds but hasn’t said how many miles it can go between charges with a rig behind it. The answer could make or break the truck in the minds of curious buyers.

    As could the price. Ford is positioning the base version of the truck, starting at around $42,000 before any incentives, for commercial customers. We’re expecting the next-up XLT trim to start around $55,000, meaning base retail versions of the Lightning will compete on price with the gas version’s upper Lariat and King Ranch trims.

    Ford has at least one interested customer. Yesterday, a visibly giddy President Biden piloted a camouflaged Lightning around Ford’s test grounds and told a reporter he would consider buying one. So far, the investments automakers have made in EVs have been directed more by regulation championed by enthusiastic legislators than by customer demand. If the Lightning’s unique package can spark interest from people who would otherwise sit out the EV revolution, it could be a game changer.

    But don’t hold your breath. Brinley says Ford is hedging its bets (has anyone talked to you about a new Bronco?) and is willing to wait on the Lightning’s success. “Our expectation is that [sales will be] relatively low as a percentage of F-150 for quite some time . . . It’s a long, long-term play.”

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