Tuesday, October 26

Turn off the gas: Is the United States ready to embrace electric vehicles? | Automotive industry

In Detroit, auto plants have for decades produced trucks built with Motor City steel and fueled with gasoline. But this week’s launch of the Ford F-150 Lightning electric pickup offered a glimpse of the future in America’s automotive heartland: aluminum-clad pickups powered by lithium battery-powered electric powertrains.

An electric model of the nation’s best-selling vehicle at an affordable $ 40,000 price tag has the potential to turn the tide of the auto industry and do more to promote the electrification of the transportation sector than any recent development, analysts say.

“Offering a familiar vehicle at a competitive price could really help drive the electric vehicle agenda in the US,” said Jessica Caldwell, executive director of knowledge at Edmunds.com.

Meanwhile, Ford characterized the introduction of the Lightning as a “watershed moment,” but it also represents an important gamble. The F-150 embodies American ruggedness and begs the question: Is the meat and potato base of the truck market ready to embrace eco-friendly electric vehicles (EVs)?

It’s uncharted territory, said Autotrader executive analyst Michelle Krebs. The success of the Lightning or any electric vehicle depends on a major infrastructure construction that is far from safe.

“There is no EV truck market right now, so we just don’t know how big it could be, or what consumer acceptance will be,” he said.

Truck consumers are generally unwilling to switch to cars just to be electric, Krebs said. So launching them into the Lightning not only opens up a new market for Ford, it is a critical step in the nation’s efforts to control greenhouse gas emissions, of which the transportation sector accounts for 29%. The transition to electric vehicles is a key component of Joe Biden’s climate plan, which calls for the nation to reduce emissions by 50% from 2005 levels by 2030 and net zero emissions across the economy by 2050.

Although EVs only account for less than 2% of new vehicle sales in the US, there is perhaps no better line to push those numbers than the F-Series. Last year, Ford generated about $ 42 billion. in the sale of more than 800,000 F-Series trucks, according to company and Edmunds.com data. Sales of the F-150, the line’s light truck, exceeded 556,000 units.

The Lightning feature that seems to get the most attention is not under the hood or in the cabin, but on the price tag. With EV tax incentives, the base model of the truck could cost about $ 32,000, less than a $ 37,000 gas-powered F-150 with a double cab. By contrast, the GMC Hummer EV and Rivian R1T are priced at $ 80,000 and $ 70,000, though they are a bit more flashy.

The Lightning also marks one of the first attempts to electrify a well-known everyday vehicle that attracts a mass market. Previously, electric vehicles were mostly small cars, designed in unconventional ways that appealed to environmentally minded people who made a personality statement with their vehicle, Caldwell said. The “pendulum has swung” in terms of design, he added.

The Lightning range is remarkable too. A charge will cost 230 miles to a basic Lightning model or, for an additional $ 20,000, the extended-range version will travel 300 miles. It can carry up to 2,000 pounds of payload and tow up to 10,000 pounds. However, Ford doesn’t offer any data on range with a large payload or trailer, and Car And Drive estimated it at just 100 miles.

That’s the kind of detail that could keep consumers away from not just the Lightning, but all electric trucks. On a 150 kW DC fast charger, the extended range setting aims for up to 54 miles of range in 10 minutes, or just under an hour for a full charge.

It is not difficult to imagine a scenario where someone who is buying a truck to tow a caravan once or twice a year and opts for a gas powered F-150, instead looks awkward with a one hour stop to recharge every 100 hours. miles or so, Caldwell said.

But various Lightning features from time to time are generating a buzz, like a drain hole in case the cab needs to be hosed down. Its dual battery system can power tools in the field or at home for three days during a power outage. The F-150 hybrid was used as a mobile generator in the recent deadly Texas blackouts.

Ford Chief Executive Engineer Linda Zhang unveils the Ford F-150 Lightning in Dearborn on Wednesday.
Ford Chief Executive Engineer Linda Zhang unveils the Ford F-150 Lightning in Dearborn on Wednesday. Photography: Carlos Osorio / AP

The Lightning’s horsepower is another selling point: It can go 0-60 mph in just over four seconds, offers 775 lb-ft of torque, and the extended-range model targets 563 horsepower.

That was enough to impress Biden, who last week drove a Lightning during a stop at Michigan. “This fool is fast,” he declared.

Among those who will need to harness the truck’s full power and hauling capacity are contractors. It’s worth considering, said Dave Alder, an electrician in Detroit, especially if it could save money on gas. But he was concerned about where he would load it, and said it’s a bit of an “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” situation with his gas-powered Chevy Silverado.

The Lightning is supported by the United Auto Workers union, which has at times been skeptical of electrification. The truck will be built at the Rouge Electric Vehicle Center in Dearborn, which is located just outside Detroit and next door to the Dearborn Truck Plant that produces gasoline and hybrid F-150s. Lightning production is scheduled to begin next spring, with trucks arriving on the lot in mid-2022.

Building infrastructure is critical to its success, and Biden’s $ 2 trillion infrastructure plan includes $ 174 billion to support the electric vehicle transition.

The president has framed his speech by repeatedly stating that the United States is in an electrification race with China.

“The future of the automotive industry is electric. There is no going back, ”Biden said during the Lightning presentation. “The question is whether we will lead or fall behind in the race to the future.”

The auto industry’s buy-in could help Biden push his proposal through Congress, though the Republican Party is uniformly opposed. The Republican leadership has pointed to a lack of infrastructure as one of the main reasons for opposing spending on the electric vehicle transition, but at the same time opposing funding an infrastructure construction.

American consumers have said they will not buy an electric vehicle without the infrastructure in place, Krebs said, leaving the industry facing a “chicken and egg” situation.

“That’s key: they must have the charging infrastructure in place or this will all be ruined,” he said.


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