In the war for dominance of the U.S. electric vehicle market, Ford just fired a shot across the bow. It released a video of an all-electric Ford F-150 pickup truck towing train cars loaded up with 42 gas-powered F-150s--a total of 1.25 million pounds.
Although Ford doesn't mention its most famous EV rival, there's little doubt that the stunt is aimed squarely at Tesla and its flamboyant CEO Elon Musk. This spring, Musk--who is never shy about boasting--claimed on the podcast "Ride the Lightning" that Tesla's all-electric pickup "will be a better truck than an F-150 in terms of truck-like functionality, and be a better sports car than a standard [Porsche] 911."
Whenever it finally gets here, that is. As always with Musk, the date that a product will actually be available for purchase is something of a mystery. Musk first started promising a Tesla pickup truck back in 2013, and more recently said it might hit the market in the summer of 2019. But here we are, well into the summer of 2019, and the theoretical better-than-an-F-150 pickup has no planned release date. To keep us all interested, Tesla did release a rendering of its planned pickup truck that may or may not look like something out of Blade Runner. But the image seems to have caused confusion more than anything else.
To be fair, Ford's all-electric F-150 won't be rolling down your street anytime soon either. Ford merely says the model will be released "in the coming years," and that it will be preceded by a hybrid F-150 as a first step. When the all-electric does come out, don't count on it tow 1.25 million pounds. Fine print in the video points out that this is a prototype truck towing "far beyond any production truck's published capability in a one-time short event demonstration." In other words, don't try this at home. It's worth noting, though, that Musk has promised a 300,000 pound towing capacity for Tesla's planned electric pickup, so Ford's prototype, at least, beats it by more than a factor of four.
Will Ford Become an EV Leader?
Up till now at least, Ford has not been at the forefront of the EV trend. Regulatory requirements in places such as California have forced most auto makers to produce some electric vehicles, and Ford did so with an electric version of its popular, but now retired, Focus line. The current "Family of Ford Hybrid and Electric Vehicles" includes hybrids and "plug-in hybrids" (vehicles that can run all electric but also use gas), but no all-electric vehicles.
Still, the fact that Ford took the unusual step of releasing this video, and especially that it's doing this with the iconic F-150 is noteworthy. The F-150 has been the best selling vehicle in the U.S. for 42 years. In a Medium post about the video, Ted Cannis, Ford's global director, electrification, confesses that he's "all in" on EVs. And the company has announced it's investing $11 billion in EVs. "Climate change...you had me at hello," Cannis writes. But the point of the new all-electric F-150, he stresses several times, is not rising sea levels, it's to build a truck that Ford's existing F-150 enthusiasts will love.
That could be a tall order, because the typical pickup truck owner is not the sort of tree-hugging environmentalist for whom the very idea of a non-gas car carries huge appeal. The company assembled a group of Ford pickup owners who seem to deeply love their trucks to watch the demonstration, and when Linda Zhang, chief engineer for the F-150, reveals to the group that the truck that's about to tow a million pounds of freight cars is all-electric, that information is not met with applause. It's met with giggles, and frank expressions of skepticism.
That may explain why Ford released the video when it did--it knows its target market will need some time to get used to the idea that an electric vehicle can be macho. If they can get used to it, they may see that an all-electric pickup makes an awful lot of sense. As gas prices rise, pickup truck drivers are likely to feel the pinch. According to Edmunds, a 2019 F-150 gets 19 miles to the gallon city and 25 on the highway which could get expensive pretty quickly. Meanwhile, the biggest drawback to EVs is that they can be tough to drive on long cross-country highway trips, but most people wouldn't use a pickup truck for that purpose anyhow.
Will Ford's big bet on all-electric pay off? I hope so. In any case, it shows that this old-line American manufacturer is willing and able to move with the times. As for Tesla's futuristic looking alternative, by the time it hits the streets, it may be playing catch-up.