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With the F-150 Lightning, it's Ford, Not Tesla or GM, That's Poised Dominate the Electric Truck Market

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【Summary】On Monday, Ford Motor Co surprised the industry by announcing that the all-new F-150 Lightning electric pickup will be revealed on May 19 at a global live-streamed event from the company’s global headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan. The Lightning will be the first battery-powered F-150 pickup, and its potential is huge, not just for electric vehicles, but for the highly profitable truck and SUV segment that so far electrification has not touched.

Eric Walz    May 11, 2021 2:50 PM PT
With the F-150 Lightning, it's Ford, Not Tesla or GM, That's Poised Dominate the Electric Truck Market
Ford's electric F-150 Lightning will be revealed on May 19.

On Monday, Ford Motor Co surprised the industry by announcing that the all-new F-150 Lightning electric pickup will be revealed on May 19 at a global live-streamed event from the company's global headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan.

The Lightning will be the first battery-powered F-150 pickup, and its potential is huge, not just for electric vehicles, but for the highly profitable truck and SUV segment that so far electrification has not touched.

Although the official specs of the F-150 Lightning have not been shared yet, if done right, a fully-electric F-150 could be the ultimate beast of a truck that sets the bar high for the rest of the industry, as well as becoming the benchmark for all other gas or electric powered pickup trucks that come after it. Ford says the all-electric Lightning will be the most powerful F-150 ever built.

Ford is already ahead of the game. Ford's gas-powered F-150 is already the best selling pickup in the U.S. and has been for over 44 years. Ford sold over 787,000 of them in 2020, despite the global pandemic. In 2019, Ford sold just over 896,000 F-150 pickups. If the new Lightning can capture just 10-25% of F-150 sales, it could become one of the world's most popular EVs. 

Like with Tesla electric vehicles, it's obvious that Ford has a loyal customer base with its F-Series trucks. A fully-electric version that's widely accepted by truck buyers could make the F-150 Lightning a groundbreaking electric vehicle, just like the Tesla Model S was when it was released in 2012. Tesla was able to repeat its success with the Model 3 sedan in 2017, which Ford President and CEO Jim Farley acknowledged this week.

"Every so often, a new vehicle comes along that disrupts the status quo and changes the game...Model T, Mustang, Prius, (Tesla) Model 3. Now comes the F-150 Lightning," said Farley. 

The challenge for Ford is to take the best features of the conventional F-150 and improve upon them with the power, utility and towing capacity that a fully-electric powertrain can provide. It's no easy task. But for Ford, getting it right could kick start its own transformation of electrifying its model lineup, which is what rival General Motors is planning to do.

Although Tesla disrupted the auto industry in 2012 with its electric Model S, Tesla was not a household name at the time like Ford is today. Ford's advantage with the Lightning is that it is already a well established automaker and the F-150 is already the best selling truck in the U.S. That alone can make the F-150 Lightning a best seller.

Although it's actually a bit more complicated, it seems as though all that Ford really needs to do is deliver the electric F-150 to market. The company does not need to fight for market share like Tesla had to do when it was a niche California electric car company. 

In addition, many customers are attached to automotive brands or specific models, which is a good thing for Ford in this case. It's this type of fierce brand loyalty that Ford already has with its F-Series lineup of trucks.

The pickup truck remains an important, highly profitable segment in the automotive industry. But at the same time it's a segment ripe for electrification. Tesla, Rivian, and Ford's biggest rival in the truck segment General Motors, already have their sights set on. 

The RT1 pickup from electric truck startup Rivian attracted crowds and loads of attention at the Los Angeles Auto Show when it was revealed in Nov 2018. However, many people outside of the industry had not heard of Rivian at the time. 

Ford however, is a household name with a 118 year history of building some of the most iconic vehicles. As a result, the company is in a good position to capitalize on this by delivering an extremely powerful, fully-electric F-150 that truck buyers want. 

However since truck buyers are an extremely loyal group, Ford needs to get the F-150 Lightning right, which will learn more about on May 19 during the global reveal. 

Part of this effort will be to keep the F-150 relatively unchanged on the outside, which is in sharp contrast to Tesla's futuristic and odd-looking Cybertruck. Ford's F-150 Lightning is not likely to entice new customers that are buying a pickup truck for the first time, and the company surely is aware of this.

Ford should also make the F-150 Lightning more affordable, unlike the upcoming GMC Hummer EV that will cost over $110,000, which all but guarantees that it will never be a mass market EV, although lower priced verisons will follow. 

The electric powertrain in the F-150 Lightning will offer more power while also delivering instant torque, something that gasoline or diesel powered engines simply cannot do. Ford just needs to convince its current truck owners that an electric powertrain will make the F-150 a much better truck for work or play, something a smart and savvy marketing campaign should be able to help with.

The Ford  F-150 is also a good candidate for electrification, with plenty of room for a massive battery pack under the truck bed. Although the battery adds considerable weight to the truck, a more powerful electric powertrain should offset the additional curb weight.

However, there are still truck diehards out there that swear by a big ol' gas-guzzling V8 engine under the hood of their truck. Some even dismiss EV companies like Rivian or Tesla for trying to reinvent the automobile using battery power. Nonetheless, Ford's Lightning is poised to become a big hit.

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The original F-150 Lightning was powered by a 240 horsepower V8 gas engine.

Ford had its first success with the original Ford Lightning pickup in the 1990s. It was a high-performance pickup designed by Ford's Special Vehicle Team, also known as SVT. The team was responsible for the development of the company's highest-performance vehicles. Ford's SVT also developed the 2010 F-150 SVT Raptor and Ford SVT Mustang Cobra.

The original Lightning F-150 was introduced in 1993 and was powered by a 240 hp 5.8 liter V8. The truck was produced from 1993 to 1995 before being discontinued.

However it would return again. In 1999, Ford's SVT Lightning F-150 was launched after a three-year hiatus. For the second generation, which was produced until 2004, Ford used the 5.4L engine from its F-150 and added a supercharger. The engine produced 360 hp but it was increased to 380 hp for the 2001 model. These were impressive numbers at the time, but not anything close to what an electric powertrain can produce today.

The upcoming third iteration of the F-150 Lightning with an electric powertrain could be a game changer. Although one important question remains unanswered. Can truck loyalists be convinced that electricity is the way to go and be won over by the fully-electric F-150 Lightning?

We're not sure, but Ford is betting on it.

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