Ford’s electric pickup truck isn’t ready for the heartland

Ford’s launch of its new electric F-150 Lightning pickup truck received a serious boost when President Joe Biden became the unwitting spokesperson for the new “green” vehicle this week. The ethics of a sitting president providing free advertising for one company over its competition is a serious question, but there are other issues with the new brand that Ford will need to address. Pickup trucks remain popular in America, even among people who rarely do anything that would require that sort of carrying capacity. But the trucks doing the real work tend to be located in rural, agricultural areas. How well will the F-150 lightning perform out on a ranch? It sounds like they can haul heavy loads well enough, but many in the target market aren’t so sure that the restrictions imposed by the vehicle’s recharging requirements will make the practical. (NBC News)

The technology “isn’t quite there yet,” said Tim Esterdahl, a long-time pickup owner in Nebraska who frequently posts about trucks on YouTube.

“My problem with a truck like Lightning is the trade-off you have to make in rural areas where there’s no real infrastructure,” he told NBC News. The more weight loaded into the bed, the bigger the trailer you’re towing, the more the range drops.

While Esterdahl said he likes electrification and owns a Ford F-150 PowerBoost, a conventional hybrid version of the truck, he said taking the Lightning to “the family’s favorite camping site” would likely mean detours and hours of charging. That’s not going to work with a young family onboard, he said.

The current generation of electric vehicles has been facing these questions since they first hit the market and pickup trucks present additional challenges. There are still very few publicly accessible charging stations for electric cars scattered around the country. Most will be in or near larger cities, not out in the boondocks. If you can take your truck to an industrial 150-kilowatt charger, your F-150 Lightning can be recharged in 44 minutes. But if you don’t have convenient access to such a charging facility, you are going to have to rely on your own home’s electrical outlets.

Ford offers their own 80 amp home charging station that can be plugged into a normal 110-volt outlet and it appears to work well enough. But it’s going to take ten hours to charge the truck from 15% to 100% battery capacity. As far as the range goes, as Tim Esterdahl points out in the linked article, the maximum range being promoted by Ford is the result you can expect when you’re using it as a passenger vehicle. If you’ve got it loaded up with tools or construction supplies and you’re sitting at more than half of the truck’s rated load capacity, that range drops down quickly.

Even smaller cars present lifestyle challenges when it comes to charging times. The tiny Nissan Leaf can be recharged in just thirty minutes at a quick-charge station. But if you plug it into your 110-volt outlet at home it’s going to take an estimated 20 hours to go from 15% to a full charge. That’s a long time to be hooked up to an extension cord.

Electric vehicles of all sorts just seem more suited to an urban lifestyle than serving as a workhorse out in the country, at least for now. What happens when you’ve been out for a long trip during the day and you’ve run your truck’s battery down to the red zone and an emergency comes up while you’re recharging it that evening? If you own a gasoline-powered truck, it’s going to take you less than five minutes to refill it at any gas station and be back on the road. And there aren’t many places in the country where you will find a stretch of highway with no gas stations within the range of a half tank of gas.

By contrast, there are still entire states without any publicly accessible fast-charging stations. That’s particularly true in the lower-population agricultural regions. I’m sure this new electric pickup truck looks like a cool toy, but shoppers should be aware of all of the factors involved in charging them before taking the plunge.

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