He is the first buyer of the electric F-150. Why it is the future of the automotive industry
Nick Schmidt was at home when he received the call he had been waiting for for months.
Schmidt had ordered Ford’s electric version of the F-150 as soon as it was announced in May last year. And more than a year later, his F-150 Lightning was finally ready to be picked up.
“When the dealer called me, he was just as excited as I was,” Schmidt says. “I remember coming to the parking lot, and they were all, like, gathered. Everybody got out.”
It was a big moment for Schmidt, but perhaps even bigger for Ford. It wasn’t just any F-150 Lightning – it was the very first to be delivered to a real buyer.
Ford and other mainstream U.S. automakers are investing billions of dollars in electric vehicle development in a frantic race to catch up with market leader Tesla, which accounted for 70% of new electric vehicles registered in the United States last year.
The F-150 Lightning is not only a vital part of Ford’s ambitions, it poses an early test of whether established automakers like General Motors can compete in this electric future.
And judging by Schmidt’s initial reaction, the Ford F-150 may have delivered, though plenty of challenges still lie ahead.
What it’s like to drive the F-150
When Schmidt first climbed into his new F-150 Lightning, it immediately felt familiar: it looked and felt the same as his gas-powered F-150.
“It was exactly what I wanted it to be, just a Ford pickup,” Schmidt says.
Schmidt isn’t new to pickups — he lives on a family farm in Standish, Michigan, a town of about 1,500 people.
His family owns all kinds of pickup trucks – Ford F-150, 250, Chevy.
Schmidt, however, was familiar with electric cars. He works in clean energy and already owns a Tesla, but he’s been waiting for an electric truck to replace his beloved gas-powered F-150.
He says the Lightning is just as powerful and reliable as his conventional F-150. He’s used it before to haul dirt and lumber, as well as towing his Airstream.
And Schmidt says the acceleration is unlike anything he’s ever experienced in a truck.
“It’s fast,” he said. “I mean, for a big full-size pickup truck, it’ll do, I think, 0-60 in 4.2 seconds or something, which is unheard of.”
Delivering a powerful and familiar F-150 was an integral part of Ford’s strategy in the race to take on Tesla.
Sam Abuelsamid of Guidehouse Insights says automakers will spend nearly $200 billion over the next five years on electric vehicles alone. And the short-term goal is to electrify their most popular models.
“There’s a lot of money at stake. And if they want to build millions of electric vehicles now and try to convert all of industry to electric, they have to have products that people really want to buy.”
In the United States, that means pickup trucks and SUVs.
For Ford, electrifying the F-150 made sense. After all, the truck has been America’s best-selling vehicle for decades.
Others are also turning to their most popular models. GM will launch an electric Silverado next year. The Ram truck goes electric. GM and Ford are working on electric versions of the Equinox and Explorer, respectively.
Early bookings for the Lightning were promising. The company originally planned to produce around 40,000 Lightnings, but the truck was so popular that Ford stopped taking reservations after it received 200,000.
The Electrical Learning Curve
Still, challenges abound for automakers.
Schmidt ran into a big problem soon after getting his F-150 Lightning, one that’s all too familiar to other EV owners: charging.
The clean energy worker took his F-150 Lightning camping with his wife and daughter on his first weekend with the truck, and found himself unable to find a charger.
“It just wasn’t a great experience,” Schmidt said. “We’re trying to figure out what that means for camping trips because I’m not sure I feel comfortable going there given the lack of infrastructure there.”
The United States still hasn’t developed widespread public charging infrastructure, a problem the Biden administration is trying to solve by earmarking $5 billion to build a nationwide network of high-speed chargers.
Automakers face other problems
And there are wider issues for automakers.
With gasoline prices at record highs, Americans are clamoring for electric vehicles. The problem is that automakers don’t have them, as the auto industry continues to be hit with shortages of key products such as microchips.
And even if you can get your hands on an electric car, it’s expensive. The average transaction price for a new electric vehicle is around $60,000, according to automotive data firm Edmunds.
The F-150 Lightning starts at around $40,000, but that’s for the base model, and prices climb quickly with traditional pickup truck features. Schmidt paid about a hundred thousand dollars for his.
There are promising signs. Notably, the majority of reservations for the F-150 Lightning came from new customers at Ford who did not previously own the F-150.
But sales of electric vehicles still represent only 4.6% of the country’s overall sales.
Even Schmidt, who has become a fan of his F-150 Lightning, doubts Americans are still widely adopting electric vehicles.
Schmidt thinks of his family on the farm, and he doesn’t see them driving an F-150 lightning yet.
“I’m still waiting for that moment when, you know, my Aunt Jean is coming down the road in an electric vehicle, and she’s enjoying it, and it’s just something that she felt comfortable buying. “
And if mainstream automakers are to step into an electric future, it’s the Aunt Jeans of the world they’ll need to really take off.
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