Ford bets buyers will love electric F-150 pickup that can power a house

PITTSFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. — On the outside, the electric version of Ford’s F-150 pickup looks much like its wildly popular gas-powered version. Yet the resemblance is deceiving. With its new battery-powered truck, Ford is making a costly bet that buyers will embrace a vehicle that would help transform how the world drives.

Branded the F-150 Lightning, the pickup will be able to travel up to 300 miles per battery charge, thanks to a frame designed to safely hold a huge lithium-ion battery that can power your house should the electricity go out. Going from zero to 60 mph (97 kilometers per hour) will take just 4.5 seconds.

With a starting price near $40,000 (before options), Ford has calculated that an electric version of America’s top-selling vehicle will appeal to the sorts of buyers who favor rugged pickup trucks prized for strength and durability. If it succeeds, it could speed the nation’s transition away from petroleum burners — a cornerstone of President Joe Biden’s broad effort to fight climate change.

“It’s a watershed moment to me,” Ford CEO Jim Farley said of the electric truck, which was formally unveiled Wednesday night. “It’s a very important transition for our industry.”

For the Biden administration to prevail in its push for green-energy-driven manufacturing, it will need to overcome resistance as well as skepticism. Critics fear the loss of auto industry jobs in a shift away from gasoline-fueled vehicles. Because EVs are much simpler, it takes fewer workers to build them. And bottlenecked supply chains could leave automakers short of computer chips and vehicle batteries, along with other parts, for months and perhaps years.

That said, a vehicle like the Lightning is so critical to Biden’s policies that even before its formal unveiling, he visited the Ford plant in Michigan where it will be built beginning next year. The president even drove the truck on a test track.

“This sucker’s quick,” he declared.

For its part, Ford is taking a significant risk by sinking so much capital into an electric version of a pickup that commands a huge and loyal following. In a typical year, Ford sells about 900,000 F-series trucks nationally. It has been America’s top-selling vehicle for nearly four decades.

Gas-powered F-150s are staples on job sites across the nation, where workers haul equipment and materials and often don’t see a need for change. So it could be years before Ford realizes a return on its investment in an electric F-150. This year, through April, the company has sold only 10,000 of its new gas-electric hybrid F-150s — just over 6% of the F-150’s total sales.

Still, introducing a capable electric truck at a fairly reasonable price could potentially produce the breakthrough that draws many more people to battery-powered vehicles of all sizes, said Ivan Drury, a senior manager at Edmunds.com.

“If you’re going to choose one vehicle in the industry that’s going to do it, this is going to be the one,” Drury said. “I expect this to be a home run, and I expect it to really convert a lot of consumers’ minds.”

At the same time, the electric truck, due in showrooms by the middle of next year, comes at a time when American drivers remain reluctant to jettison gas vehicles. Through April, automakers sold about 108,000 fully electric vehicles in the U.S. Though that’s nearly twice the number from the same period last year, EVs still account for only 2% of U.S. vehicle sales, according to Edmunds.