President Joe Biden isn’t the only one who’s beginning to unmask. During the Command-in-Chief’s visit to Detroit today, Ford Motor Co. pulled the covers off the F-150 Lightning, providing the public a first full look at the company’s first all-electric pickup truck.
The president scheduled a visit to Detroit — and Ford’s Rouge Electric Vehicle Center, in particular — to help promote his bet on battery-electric vehicles. The proposed American Jobs Plan infrastructure bill includes $174 billion to help the U.S. auto convert from the internal combustion engine to battery-powered models like the F-150. Much of that would fund sales incentives, but the White House also aims to set up a cross-country network of 500,000 public chargers.
Even without that cash, the industry already is ramping up spending on BEVs. By some estimates, the numbers could reach or exceed $500 billion by the end of the decade. General Motors wants to eliminate gas and diesel products entirely by 2035. Ford aims to go entirely electric in Europe by 2030, though it hasn’t set a timetable for the U.S.
The EVs are coming, the EVs are coming!
Dozens of new, all-electric models are due to reach U.S. showrooms by mid-decade. These range from small, relatively affordable SUVs like the new Chevrolet Bolt EUV to large luxury products like the Cadillac Lyriq and Mercedes-Benz EQS. Some of the most intense competition, however, will come in a seemingly unlikely market segment.
As many as a dozen all-electric pickup trucks are under development by both new market entrants such as Rivian, Bollinger and Lordstown Motors, as well as familiar brands like General Motors — with the GMC Hummer expected to be the first to market later this year. But it won’t have that emerging market segment to itself for long. Next year should see an assortment of competitors, including the Rivian R1T, Tesla’s Cybertruck and the Ford F-150 Lightning.
The automaker has, until now, offered only a few teaser images of the Lightning, saving the complete story for a virtual preview scheduled for Wednesday, May 19 — when it also will start taking $100 advance deposits for the truck. But having a president drop by your factory is an opportunity too good for Ford to pass up, and it strategically placed a Lightning behind Biden during his presentation.
The automaker has been dropping hints about Lightning for more than a year. It showed off a prototype pulling a 1 million-pound load of railroad car carriers as part of a promotional stunt last year. In production, the F-150 Lightning is expected to be offered in several different configurations — much like the GMC Hummer. At the upper end industry insiders expect it to match, and likely exceed the output of the most powerful gas and diesel versions of today’s F-150.
That will include various drive arrangements including different battery pack options offering what some expect to be as much as 300 miles of range.
Visually, the Ford Lightning hews closely to the looks of the conventional F-150, though it adds a few distinctive details, including front and rear light bars and unique headlamps.
How much demand there might be for the F-150 Lightning — never mind all the other all-electric pickups soon coming to market — is far from certain. So, Ford and its competitors are clearly backing the pro-EV measures the president is proposing.
Supporting federal EV plans
These include $15 billion to open 500,000 charging stations by 2030, the vast majority of those offering high-speed chargers that, with some vehicles, could yield an 80% charge-up in less than 30 minutes.
The president also wants to see the huge federal vehicle fleet go battery-electric, including the U.S. Postal Service.
The yet-to-be-introduced plan also would devote $100 billion to EV sales incentives. It remains unclear whether how these would be structured. Biden has suggested they might be offered to U.S.-made vehicles. And some manufacturers are prepping for that possibility by shifting production to American assembly plants.
Buyers currently can get tax credits up to $7,500 on qualified BEVs and plug-in hybrids. It’s unclear if that might be increased, but the White House has hinted that it could support a shift to direct incentives at the time of purchase.
Also unclear is whether the White House will call for a renewal of incentives for brands that have crossed the 200,000 sales threshold. At this point, customers no longer can get tax credits on Tesla or GM vehicles, and Nissan and Ford could pass that milestone in the next year or two.
There has been strong opposition to the EV plans — and, indeed, the entire infrastructure proposal — from Republicans. But research by Meltwater and others finds generally strong support for battery technology from the American public. And the president will position the shift as one supporting both national security and competitiveness.
“Despite pioneering the technology, the United States is behind in the race to manufacture these vehicles and the batteries that go in them,” the White House has said.
The president’s visit to Detroit was clearly meant to gain the upper hand in the debate. But for Ford, it also offered the opportunity to build momentum for the F-150 Lightning and its broader electrification program.