Ford’s Electric F-150 Announcement and Four Important EV Questions

May 18, 2021 | 8:14 am
D. Reichmuth/UCS
David Reichmuth
Senior Engineer, Clean Transportation Program

Ford Motor Company will be releasing details Wednesday evening about an all-electric version of its F-150 pickup truck, just after a day after a high-profile sneak preview for President Biden. We’ve seen many big press events in past years around new electric vehicles, but this might be the most important yet. The Ford F-150 is not only Ford’s biggest seller but the F-series trucks are the top-selling vehicles in the US. One in every 20 passenger vehicles sold in the United States is a Ford F-150, so switching it from gasoline to electricity has the promise to push plug-in vehicles squarely into the middle of the vehicle market. We certainly won’t get all the details on Wednesday, but here are some of the questions that we hope will be answered.

1-Will this be a mainstream product or niche variant?

F-150 is the largest volume vehicle for Ford, but that’s in part because it comes in a bevy of configurations (2-wheel and 4-wheel drive, bed length, cab size, etc.). A vital question to be answered is will Ford position the electric F-150 as a high-volume vehicle with many configurations or will it be a niche product?

This has important implications for both the EV market and the efforts to slow climate change.

In 2019, Ford sold over 830,000 F-150s in the US. Based on average driving behavior, over 5 million metric tons of carbon pollution are generated each year from using the F-150s sold in 2019 alone. We don’t know what the efficiency of the electric F-150 will be, but based on other large electric vehicles, it is likely that switching from gasoline to electricity will mean a reduction of a half to two-thirds in global warming emissions based on electricity generation emissions in the US. If the electric truck is used on a cleaner electricity grid (like California or upstate New York), it’s possible that the electric truck will have 80% lower climate-changing emissions than the average new gasoline F-150.

We’ll have to wait to see how Ford positions the electric F-150 in its lineup when it goes on sale, but we can get some indication from the pricing. In March 2021, the average full-size pickup was sold for over $55,000. Performance models of the F-150 like the F-150 Raptor can have suggested retail pricing over $65,000. Given that Ford’s electric vehicles are still eligible for the $7,500 federal tax credit, an electric truck price in the $60,000 – $75,000 price range would put the upfront cost consistent with gasoline equivalents, while providing considerable performance gains and fuel and maintenance savings.  For example, based on average residential electricity prices and a 20-mpg conventional F-150, fuel savings alone could be well over $1,000 per year.

In 2020, US EV sales were just over 300,000, less than half of F-150 sales during the same time. If Ford can offer this truck at a competitive price point and at volume, the truck could significantly accelerate EV sales.

2-Will other automakers follow with electric pickups in volume?

The Ford electric pick-up truck isn’t the only plug-in truck that is scheduled to go on sale soon. General Motors has announced both a high-end Hummer pickup and a later-arriving Silverado promised at a lower price point.  And start-up automaker Rivian is poised to have the first mass-market electric truck this summer.

However, even with these models, there remains uncertainty over the volume of electric pickup trucks that will be available. In 2020, pickups were 20% of all passenger cars and trucks sold, with nearly 3 million new trucks rolling off dealer’s lots, despite the pandemic. And there are close to 40 million pickups on the road in the US, so if we want to reduce emissions, we’ll need a lot of EV pickups rolling off assembly lines as soon as possible. We’ll also need automakers to put their marketing muscle behind selling EVs by convincing buyers that performance gains and reduced fuel & maintenance costs are worth learning how to charge an EV at home and on the go.

Table showing makes and models of electric trucks available to consumers

The EV F-150 joins a handful of electric pickup models announced. With 20% of the new car market, it will be important to have more electric options. *Lowest price versions may have lower range and/or delayed availability

3-Will this signal a shift to investment in EV manufacturing and infrastructure in US?

With President Biden’s visit and his American Jobs Plan , there is clear interest from the current administration in investments in clean vehicle jobs and infrastructure. Ford is building the electric F-150 in Dearborn, Michigan and an aggressive move to electrification by Ford could help show the value in investing in electric vehicle manufacturing and infrastructure in the US. As Congress writes the infrastructure bill based on the American Jobs Plan, UCS has strongly advocated that it must include strong support for domestic manufacturing for vehicles and their components and pro-worker policies.

4-How long can the auto industry claim emissions standards are too tough while also promising next-generation vehicles

Ford is announcing that it will electrify its best-selling model. GM is ‘aspiring’ to go all electric by 2035 and other carmakers are making similar statements. It is clearly possible for automakers to electrify their offerings over the next decade. At the same time, both the federal government and California are working towards vehicle emission standards that will put us on the path to greatly reducing air pollution and carbon emissions. In the past, both automakers and their trade group have sought to limit regulations that would ensure these promises of cleaner cars and trucks become a reality. So where will companies like Ford and GM invest their lobbying and advocacy efforts? Will they support industry trade groups to fight zero emission vehicle targets and strong federal standards on their behalf? Or will they change tactics and support the changes we need to be on a path to avoid the worst impacts of climate change?

We won’t get all the answers to these questions on Wednesday, but hopefully the electrification of the highest-selling vehicle in the US will help accelerate the transition to cleaner cars and trucks.

About the author

More from David

David Reichmuth's work focuses on analyzing new vehicle technologies and advocating for policies that support the increased electrification of transportation. Dr. Reichmuth has testified at hearings before the US House of Representatives, the California State Legislature, and the California Air Resources Board, and he is an expert on California’s Zero Emission Vehicles regulation.