24 May 2021

The Atlantic: “Stop Worrying and Love the F-150 Lightning”

Or more relevant, for our purposes: Ford sells about 900,000 F-150s every year; all automakers collectively sold 250,000 new EVs total last year. This may be one of the important products in decarbonization, Tim Latimer, an energy-industry veteran, tweeted last week. (He is now the chief executive of the geothermal company Fervo.) An electric F-150 opens up an enormous new market for EVs and signals that climate-friendly technology has reached the soybean fields and construction sites of middle America.

An electric vehicle is, at a mechanical level, a giant battery on wheels. Ford is pitching this not only as a technical necessity but as a feature: They want you to plug stuff into the car. Let’s say you’re at a tailgate or at work. You can set up a cement mixer, a band, or lights and draw only half the power the truck is capable of producing at a time, Linda Zhang, the chief engineer on the Lightning, told me. Like all electric vehicles, the F-150 replaces the hefty internal-combustion engine with a much smaller electric motor, and like many EVs therefore has a storage compartment under its front hood: a “frunk”. Except the F-150 has a “power frunk”—the most marvelous three-syllable phrase American marketing has produced since “half-priced apps”—meaning that it both opens to the touch of a button and has multiple plugs for appliances.

The Lightning can store so much power that, in a blackout, it can supply a house’s normal power usage for three days, according to Ford. If the house conserves power, it can keep the lights on for more than a week, Zhang said. Talking about this feature, Ford employees and Farley himself have referenced the Texas blackouts. The Lightning is a technology of resilience, of climate adaptation.

Robinson Meyer

I don’t write about cars that much because I’m not that interested in the subject, but this product launch feels significant for the future trends in the US market. If Americans won’t switch to public transportation to reduce their emissions, if the government won’t invest enough in proper infrastructure to promote safe and fast public transport, at least they could adopt electric vehicles en masse.

A double-exposure image of the motor and exterior of a Ford F-150

This Ford model shows some of the advantages of electric cars: double the storage capacity in essentially the same body – and the battery can power your home in case of a sustained blackout! I am amazed that Elon Musk hasn’t come up with this marketing idea for his own monster car. While the idea of using a car as a backup battery for a house sounds fascinating, it is at the same time almost shocking to think how much power this vehicle needs if its battery is powerful enough to power a building for days…

Ford CEO Jim Farley on building the electric F-150 — and reinventing Ford

There are certainly downsides as well, first and foremost the small number of compatible charging stations, highlighting again the need for massive infrastructure spending and overhaul. This truck is also much heavier than gasoline-powered vehicles; combined with its silent engine, it could lead to another increase in accidents and pedestrian deaths.

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