The Most Radical Thing About Ford’s Electric Pickup? The Cost

After tax credits, the base model of the electric pickup will be cheaper than its gas-fueled sibling, removing what has been a big barrier for EV sales.

The all-electric Ford F-150 Lightning, which the American carmaker rolled out Wednesday, boasts some impressive specs: 0 to 60 acceleration in 4.4 seconds; enough onboard power to keep a home running for three days; and a front trunk (the things you can fit in a vehicle when it doesn’t have an internal combustion engine). But the most remarkable thing about the Lightning pickup truck—apologies, the most shocking—is undoubtedly the price: $39,974 for the base model.

That makes the electric F-150 cheaper than nearly all the electric competition. It’s on par with the Tesla Model 3 sedan, the most popular EV in America, and cheaper than the upcoming Cybertruck pickup by about $10,000. It’s cheaper, by tens of thousands, than the upcoming electric Hummer and the electric pickup from Amazon-funded startup Rivian.

Even more surprising: After accounting for state and federal tax credits for purchases of battery-electric vehicles, the electric F-150 will likely be cheaper than the base level gas and hybrid versions. It’ll be cheaper, even, than some used F-150s.

That’s a really big deal for EVs. The case for electric vehicles is long: They’re less costly to maintain, because they have fewer parts; they’re fun to drive; and they’re a critical component of combating climate change. The US transportation sector contributes more than any other to the country’s greenhouse gas emissions, and 60 percent of those come from cars and light-duty trucks, like pickups. Electrify those, and the world gets closer to staving off the worst of climate change.

But cost has always been the major barrier for the EV-curious. It’s hard enough to convince people to do new things, establish new patterns, and buy novel products. Convince them to do all that, and pay more for the privilege? No thanks. EV sales in the US are growing, but just under 2 percent of the vehicles sold in 2019 were electric, and they were overwhelmingly sold in California. Surveys of pickup truck owners analyzed by NPR found that just 7 percent would pay significantly more money for a truck just for the environment’s sake.

Once electric vehicles cost the same as their gas-powered counterparts, the industry’s biggest challenge will be ensuring there are enough charging stations. 

Courtesy of Ford

The electric Ford F-150 might change that calculus. “That sticker price is going to be the biggest pull of all,” says Costa Samaras, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Carnegie Mellon who studies energy policy. “The price is the most disruptive thing about this, because it brings in people who might have otherwise overlooked [an electric truck]. Now it’s like, ‘OK, maybe this electric thing could actually work.’”

Other hurdles will remain. It can be tough, or impossible, to find a public charger, though President Biden has promised the federal government’s help in building half a million charging stations by 2030. (Ford says purchasing one of its electric vehicles will give customers access to 16,000 public chargers nationwide.) Relatedly, it can take between 30 minutes and a few hours to top off a charge. Range also remains a worry—concern that 200 or so miles of charge won’t be enough to commute or run errands.

Still, if you’re going to pick an electric ambassador to the gas-loving masses, it would be hard to do better than the F-150. The truck has been the best-selling vehicle in the country for decades; more than 2,450 Americans buy a new one every day.

Ford kept the price of the electric F-150 down with, “essentially, scale and truck know-how,” says Emma Bergg, a company spokesperson. Ford is using existing F-series components, like exterior mirrors and display screens, in the new F-150, though its battery, motors, and suspension systems are made specifically for the electric model. The company is taking $100 reservations for the truck now; buyers should be able to drive it off the lot in spring 2022.

EV proponents have long heralded the coming of “price parity”—that is, the moment when the sticker price for electric equals the sticker price for gas models. The electric F-150 suggests that it is coming. The consultancy Bloomberg New Energy Finance estimates that, on average across the globe, EVs will reach price parity in the mid-2020s. But different countries will get there at different times, with the US in the middle of the pack. After that, the consultancy estimates, sales will rise quickly. Electrics will account for the majority of total global annual passenger vehicle sales around 2035.

By then, the Lightning Ford F-150 should have plenty of company. Ford has promised to spend $22 billion by 2025 to develop electric vehicles, and crosstown rival General Motors says it will sell only zero-emission vehicles by 2035. Jaguar Land Rover says all of its models will come in an electric version by the end of the decade, the time by which Volkswagen has committed to launching at least 70 battery-powered vehicles in the US. By 2024, 100 new EVs should make US debuts. If Americans decide they want electrics, the choices are coming.

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