May 17, 2021 - Economy

Ford's electric F-150 reveal is a pivotal EV moment

Data: Cox Automotive; Chart: Sara Wise/Axios
Data: Cox Automotive; Chart: Sara Wise/Axios

Ford Motor Co. will take the wraps off the electric version of its popular F-150 pickup truck on Wednesday night.

Why it matters: It's a big moment in the young movement toward pickups with a plug — and for electric vehicles more broadly.

  • Ford won't be the first to market with an electric truck, but the F-150 is the best-selling vehicle in the U.S.
  • The chart above shows the wider F-Series of trucks, of which the F-150 makes up the bulk.

The big picture: The trajectory of electric trucks is far more than a business story — it's a climate and air quality story too.

  • "If electric pickup trucks are successful, that’s a big hit to improve the environment," said Cox Automotive analyst Michelle Krebs.
  • "Pickup trucks, while they have greatly improved, they get lower fuel economy than other vehicles and emit more pollution."

What we're watching: The electric F-150's significance isn't lost on the White House as it urges Congress to approve new consumer EV incentives and charging investments. President Biden will visit Dearborn, Michigan on Tuesday to get a preview of what Ford is calling the F-150 Lightning.

Yes, but: Consumers' appetite for electric trucks is unclear as the first waves come to market at various price points and shapes.

  • They include Tesla's futuristic Cybertruck, Rivian's R1T, the GMC Hummer and the planned electric Chevy Silverado.
  • But the impact of Ford's electric F-150 will be a key sign given the traditional version's popularity and Ford's plan to aim the electric version at a mass market (though pricing remains unknown).

What they're saying: "We don’t know what the electric truck market is," Krebs said.

  • Known unknowns, she said, include how many buyers of traditional trucks will go electric, and how many people who would never own a traditional pickup will want one with a plug.
  • Another thing Krebs is watching is whether people who want electric pickups will gravitate toward legacy automakers or the various startups.

The intrigue: iSeeCars.com executive analyst Karl Brauer says Ford's history of introducing new tech to the F-150 line provides some important context.

  • When the EcoBoost V6 engine arrived about a decade ago, it "transitioned from low volume to the dominant drivetrain in only a few years."
  • "The time horizon for an electric F-150 to become the dominant model will be longer than the EcoBoost, but Ford doesn’t invest lightly in new F-150 drivetrains," Brauer said in an email exchange.
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