Remember May 19, 2021, the day Ford introduced its all-electric F-150 Lightning pickup. It may go down as the most important moment in Ford’s history since 1908, when the company introduced the Model T. That iconic mass-production car changed personal mobility forever—and so can the F-150 Lightning.
The new truck’s announcement was successful by traditional metrics, buoying Ford’s stock on a day the Dow Jones and S&P 500 were both down. Top industry magazines printed rave reviews, with Motor Trend describing the truck as “quicker, more responsive…than comparable F-150s with combustion engines” while CNet simply said “I was blown away by this new Lightning.” Ford took reservations for 20,000 Lightning trucks in less than 12 hours after the announcement. But, just as with the Model T, the day was not historic because of what it meant for Ford, but what it will mean for the world.
The F-150 model is the United States’ top-selling vehicle. According to Automotive News, if it were its own brand, it would be bigger than McDonald’s or the huge, multi-national conglomerate 3M. Ford has sold 900,000 models a year or, put another way, 1.7 trucks every minute of every day for the past three years. But all that success makes the traditional F-150 a big part of an even bigger problem.
A recent IEA report calls for countries to act with more urgency to more aggressively transition off fossil fuels in order to address climate change, laying out a pathway to reach net zero emissions worldwide by 2050. Since transportation is the largest source of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions — around 29% of total emissions, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency — the report suggests that globally 60% of new passenger vehicles sold in 2030 should be electric and 100% by 2035. What makes this report so impressive is that IEA is a premiere energy agency and not an environmental group.
Transitioning from gas and diesel to electric vehicles is critical to reducing these emissions. That’s why the introduction of a comparably-priced, equally powerful electric version of the most popular car or truck in America could be game changing. And the Lightning fits that bill—offering a very competitive electric option of the traditional F-150 with a range of between 230 to 300 miles. The base model price of $39,745 drops to around $32,000 after the federal tax credit of $7,500—and drops even further depending on state level incentives. It can even power a home for several days in a power outage. If the Lightning is successful, the F-150’s volume would significantly accelerate the transition of personal vehicles from internal combustion to electric powertrains.
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Perhaps no one is happier about the new Lightning than the first person to test drive it, noted car enthusiast President Biden. “This sucker’s quick,” he said correctly — current estimates are 0-60 mph in around 4.4 seconds. But, beyond the performance and features of the truck, Biden realizes that the new Lightning is a strategic ally.
Ford has committed $22 billion to electrification, equivalent to about half of its $42 billion in annual F-150 revenues. One study estimates that 500,000 U.S. jobs are supported by this model alone. A vehicle targeted at Ford’s massive pickup truck market, which includes corporate fleets, makes the Lightning ’s introduction much more important than Tesla or Bolt electric vehicles. Corporate fleets care about total operating cost – purchase price, fuel cost, maintenance cost, etc. – not only purchase price. Ford believes fleets will save money from day one and “filling up” the Lightning would cost half what it takes at the gas pump.
This heavy-duty truck should help Biden make his case to Congress and the American people for his infrastructure bill. The $2.3 trillion plan includes $174 billion to support the production and even the development of electric cars and trucks.
For Biden to meet his commitment to cut greenhouse gases 50 percent by 2030, he must set ambitious emission standards for cars and trucks. That, in turn, means zero emission electric vehicles must hit 50-60% of total sales by 2030. In comparison, the Obama clean car 2025 standards—which President Trump rolled back—required only 2-3% of sales to be electric by 2025.
Biden has already taken important steps toward this goal. The executive order signed on his first day in office ended Trump’s rollback of the Obama-era clean car rules and preserved California’s authority to set more stringent standards. Following California’s ambitious clean cars standards, six major automakers began manufacturing cleaner cars — often electric. 12 states and the District of Columbia are also following California’s zero-emission vehicle sales targets. The United Auto Workers recently sent a letter to Biden supporting electric vehicle investments to ensure the U.S. doesn’t lose auto jobs to overseas competitors.
Recognizing that the electric vehicle transformation will take place, car manufacturers are investing about $260 billion to electrify cars by 2030. VW has committed to 70% of its sales in the EU and 50% in the U.S. and China being electric by 2030. GM will only sell electric vehicles by 2035. Volvo has an even tighter timeline—it will go electric-only by 2030. Electric vehicles are coming, but without strong federal action in setting long-term greenhouse gas standards, we’ll fall behind other countries.
Developing an economy that will remain competitive in the 21st century while combatting the existential threat of climate change is no easy task. But the markets, technology and public opinion are working in favor of electrification. Modernizing our auto industry is a critical piece of the puzzle.
The Lightning can be a strong ally in President Biden’s efforts to fuel a new clean transportation transition that would create millions of new jobs and make a real difference for our climate. He must be ambitious — our economy and our planet depend on it.