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Ford is about to unveil its electric F-150 Lightning

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At 9:30 p.m. ET Wednesday evening, an electric version of the most popular truck in America, the Ford F-150, is being unveiled to the public. It’ll be called the Ford F150 Lightning — and the buzz is largely around whether this will be the vehicle to bring electric vehicle technologies (that have long been a staple of brands such as Tesla) to the mass market.

And the industry is especially eager to hear the reception from rural America, where every house and farm has a pickup truck (or two or three) parked there. Selling almost 1 million units each year, F-150s have been the most popular vehicle sold in the U.S. for nearly four decades. Those kinds of numbers suggest a built-in brand loyalty, which Ford is hoping will encourage people to embrace everything that the new Lightning offers.

Well, what does it offer? The Lightning, which the company CEO is touting as “the best of Ford,” looks very similar to the automaker’s current F-150, though with some aerodynamic flair to it, including a closed-off grille and a light bar across the front of the vehicle that connects its headlights. While the public unveiling is tonight, President Joe Biden was in Dearborn, Michigan, and got a sneak peak at the machine on Tuesday, helping to fuel the buzz. You can see the new Lightning compared with other current F-150s in this image (the Lightning is on the left).

In a broadcast Wednesday morning, NPR zeroed in on a barrier for the Lightning as being motorists who buy a pickup because of the noise and the massive rumble they feel from the engine, particularly from rural buyers. It was an overly simplistic and shallow point of view (and even condescending). 

The fact is that rural communities, especially farmers, are going to look at how the truck performs. That is what matters here, and that is what the public should be eager to hear about in the soon-to-be-unveiled F-150 Lightning. To peg a half-ton truck’s potential success on a customer’s need for “engine rumble” is almost laughable, but that’s the messaging coming from some corners of the media. (If you’re actually concerned about rumble, get yourself an F-350 and ride high on the power of that machine, for which there is currently no electric equivalent.)

Of course, the push behind the Lightning relates to climate change and overall efforts to mitigate vehicle emissions. More and more automakers are adding to their electric vehicle fleet — some seeming like they hope to phase out even diesel vehicles in the not-so-distant future. The environmental impact of electric vehicles is still being debated, as so much of the nation’s electric grid relies on emissions-heavy coal-fueled power, and there are significant concerns over the massive lithium-ion batteries (weighing over 1,000 pounds) that electric and many hybrid vehicles use. These batteries are wildly expensive and are made of cobalt, nickel, manganese, and more — ingredients that cause heavy pollution in their sourcing. Plus, these batteries are not as of yet recyclable in the same way other products are.

But that’s just the environmental side of it. Farmers, ranchers, and other rural residents who rely on pickups for their jobs and lifestyles — albeit usually larger than half-tons — will be keen to watch how things like towing power and torque are impacted in the electric versions of their favorite vehicles. Ford claims that the F-150 Lighting is going to be a true commercial workhorse pickup truck, not a lifestyle truck, so the reveal will be all that much more interesting.

Also notable is the availability to charge these vehicles in rural areas, where communities and businesses are far apart and they don’t have the resources to create a car-charging infrastructure in the same way that dense urban and wealthy suburban areas do. The hope is that many of the most pressing questions will be answered soon.

The Lightning is expected to go on sale by the middle of next year.

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