A Twitter video this week of a smiling U.S. President Joe Biden trying out an F-150 Lightning electric truck along a Ford Motor Co. test track was a step in the company’s bid to turn the popular pickup into the Model T of the electric vehicle era—with the side benefit of a battery that can power the average home for three days.
The story landed on the same day as a sobering report that provides a “reality check” on Canada’s hopes of becoming an electric vehicle powerhouse, the Globe and Mail reports.
In Dearborn, Michigan, Ford “opened a major new front in the battle to dominate the fast-growing electric vehicle market,” the New York Times writes. The automaker’s “splashy presentation” of the F-150 Lightning “was one of the most anticipated introductions of a new car and invited comparisons to Ford’s Model T, the car that made automobiles affordable to the masses.”
The 45-second test track video shows Biden, a confirmed car afficionado, enjoying the fast acceleration that is becoming a selling point for drivers whose switch out of internal combustion is not motivated primarily by climate or environmental concerns.
“This sucker’s quick,” he said.
Ford’s F-series trucks, including the F-150, are currently the “top-selling vehicle line in the United States,” the Times states. It’s been Canada’s bestselling vehicle for 11 years in a row, CBC adds.
So if Ford “can turn the F-150 Lightning into a big seller, it could accelerate the move toward electric vehicles,” the Times writes, pushing EVs beyond niche markets and into a focus on small businesses, building contractors, and corporate fleets.
“These buyers typically care not just about the sticker price of a truck but also how much it costs to operate and maintain,” the paper adds. “Electric vehicles tend to cost more to buy but less to own than conventional cars and trucks because they have fewer parts, and electricity is cheaper than gasoline or diesel on a per mile basis.”
In the U.S., the F-150 Lightning’s pricing will start at US$39,974 for a model with 230 miles/370 kilometres of range on a full charge, $59,974 for a range of 300 miles/482 kilometres, the Times says. Ford CEO Jim Farley said the company had taken orders for 20,000 of the vehicles in less than 12 hours after Wednesday’s launch.
The Times says Ford’s plan “to produce an electric truck in the Midwest with union labour closely aligns with the Biden administration’s goal to cut greenhouse gas emissions, increase domestic manufacturing, support unions, and accelerate the transition to electric vehicles.” South Korea-based SK Innovation will produce batteries for the Lightning at a factory in Georgia.
CBC calculates that the truck will cover the distance from Edmonton to Calgary on a single charge, while packing “enough juice to act as a backup generator to power the typical Canadian house for up to three days”. And “for contractors and other commercial truck users, the Lightning will be able to power electric saws, tools, and lighting, potentially replacing or reducing the need for generators at work sites,” the Times adds. “It has up to 11 power outlets.”
“The F-150 will put electric vehicles in a totally different realm,” said Gartner analyst Michael Ramsey. “It’s huge for Ford, but also huge for the whole industry. If you’re going to electrify the whole vehicle fleet in the United States, the F-150 going electric is a big step in that direction.”
But even so, “all this buzz and boosterism is an incredibly daunting challenge for the auto industry,” National Public Radio writes. The International Energy Agency’s new Net-Zero by 2050 scenario calls for global EV sales to rise from 5% to 60% in less than a decade, with all new car sales electric by 2035, and many automakers have embraced that goal. “But a transformation of that scale raises myriad challenges—chargers that need to be built, supply chains that need to expand, factories that need to be retooled.”
Which is where Ford is hoping the F-150 will come in.
“There’s a lot at stake here, not just for Ford, but really for the country,” said the company’s head of battery-electric vehicles, Darren Palmer. “This could be the point when people really notice electric.”
“That vehicle is going to come in and fill a void. And if it’s affordable, I mean, it’s going to be a game changer,” agreed Shelley Francis, co-founder of EVHybridNoire, described by NPR as a U.S. network of diverse electric vehicle enthusiasts.
“It’s the No. 1-selling vehicle in the country just across the board; it’s also the No. 1-selling vehicle among African American communities,” Francis added. “Then when you think about rural communities…there’s an opportunity for this community to be part of this conversation.”
But while the U.S. hits the accelerator on EVs, with Biden’s administration pledging US$174 billion for their development, Globe and Mail climate columnist Adam Radwanski says the Canadian industry is at risk of being left in the dust. (Not unlike the secret service agents who Grist says anxiously trailed Biden during his test drive.)
“To listen recently to Justin Trudeau’s Liberals, Canada is right there in the mix” as Biden builds up his country’s EV supply chains, Radwanski writes. “The idea is that this country’s unique combination of natural resources and automaking expertise will allow it to be a major player in the entire process of building an EV—from mining and refining component minerals, through battery manufacturing, to vehicle assembly.”
But Wednesday’s report by Clean Energy Canada, based on a two-day meeting of key EV industry stakeholders, told a different story, Radwanski notes.
“Canada has a once-in-generation opportunity to establish itself as a major player in the global battery sector,” and “the right ingredients” to make it happen, the Vancouver-based organization states. “But more action is needed to build our domestic industry, and Canada’s window of opportunity to enter the battery market is now.”
Radwanski’s take is less optimistic. He cites Clean Energy Canada’s finding that the country “has minimal existing or announced manufacturing capacity,” and “very limited activity happening at any stage along the supply chain,” along with a series of challenges that will confront any effort to scale up.
“At the centre of the report’s lengthy list of recommendations for new policies is the establishment of a C$15-billion dedicated battery supply chain fund,” he writes. “It’s unlikely the government will cough up such a whopping sum, even if it reflects the cost of competing with other governments throwing money around. But the notion of a fund tailored specifically to EV and battery needs is hard to dismiss if Canada is trying to make a real play.”