WHEN AUTOMAKERS want to test what the public thinks of an upcoming truck model, they head to Texas. So that’s where Darren Palmer, vice president of electric-vehicle programs at Ford, found himself four years ago.
The handful of people in Palmer’s Dallas test group initially thought they were watching a demonstration ofFord’s F-150 Raptor, an absolute beast of a gas-powered performance truck. Palmer didn’t exactly tell them otherwise as he ran through the numbers.
“I said, ‘I’ve got this new truck for you. It’s got 775 pounds of torque, it has 563 horsepower, it’ll pull a 10,000-pound trailer at a 25 percent grade, and it goes zero to 60 in four seconds,” he says. Then he revealed that the Lightning was all electric. “It was hilarious watching [these] Texans with their faces, mouths open.”
Ford’s F-150 Lightning is now available-able to order at just under $40,000. Ford has a planned production run of 150,000 trucks for 2023, and it isn’t alone in manufacturing electric versions of “gas-guzzlers.”
There’s an all-electric Chevy Silverado on the way in 2023. There’s the Hummer EV pickup, available for preorder now for a cool $80,000. And then there’s the burly yet sleek R1T truck from Rivian, a newer American manufacturer that officially entered the market last year.
Add to all these Tesla’s much publicized Cybertruck, tentatively scheduled for a 2023 release, and you have a fleet of powerful e-trucks ready to take to America’s busy superhighways and dust-strewn back roads.
The timing couldn’t be any better, either. Gas prices are soaring due to global upheaval. Consumer demand for fuel-efficient vehicles is growing. (GMC recently touted that 70 percent of Hummer EV orders came from first-time EV buyers.) And in February, the Biden administration announced it would be spending nearly $5 billion over five years for a national electric-vehicle-charging network, though it did not detail charging compatibility.
Even with all this momentum, Palmer says he’s still met with the same skepticism from drivers that he saw at the Dallas event four years ago.”“I’m really sick of people asking, ‘Will it too?”’ he says.
Yes, electric trucks can tow. (In a 2019 marketing splash, Ford flexed a prototype of the Lightning pulling a line of freight cars loaded with 42 F-150 trucks, equaling 1.25 million pounds.) And yes, electric trucks have all the torque, horsepower, and get-up -and-go of gas trucks—sometimes even more. “I would say the majority of the ways [electric pickups] are marketed, manufacturers are saying they can do everything a gas truck can do and still be faster than your sports car,” says Bradley Brownell, a cofounder of Autopia 2099, a car show for any vehicle powered by electrons.
So when GMC ramped up its marketing for the Hummer EV, the company told the automotive press about the truck’s “WTF mode” (that’s “watts to freedom”), stating that the EV could go from zero to 60 in three seconds, nearly the same rate as a corvette.
Even Rivian, a California-based electric-vehicle manufacturer founded in 2009 with the mission of preserving the planet, boasts in its marketing for the R1T pickup that it houses an835-horsepower engine that also pushes from zero to 60 in three seconds.” ‘re thinking about tomorrow,’
says Forest Young, Rivian’s global head of brand. “All the things, I think, a truck holds up to—this idea of being tough, this idea of resilience and being able to move over obstacles in its path … we couple those ideas with being tenaciously responsible. It’s hopeful hedonism at its best.”
Regardless of the manufacturer, there are still some reservations about electric vehicles on all sides. Drivers trained on gas engines will perpetually be concerned about the range of electric vehicles. Local governments nationwide have been slow to implement public charging stations or push substantive EV-friendly policies. And environmental analyzes have shown that batteries that are used to power EVs might be more harmful to the environment in the long term than manufacturers would care to admit.
But legacy automakers, like Ford, that have seen their valuations dwarfed by that of Tesla, argue that their trucks are so much more than vehicles that move you from place to place. The Lightning can act as a backup generator for your home, it houses a massive front trunk for extra storage in place of an engine, and it can supply the electric needs of a glamping site or a tailgate party.
“Our approach is that electric cars will do things gas never did,” says Palmer. “People are resistant to change, and you have to show them something to help them move into it.”
You’ll notice that the ad spots for the Lightning, which, yes, feature plenty of shots of the truck hauling stuff (a helicopter!), also show the vehicle moving through a big city at night, home to a suburban house with bikes in the garage. The indie band Battles’ song “Atlas” has replaced Bob Seger wailing “Like a Rock.” A white-collar worker wearing a button-up stands in for a cowboy in dusty jeans. And there’s a sense of evolution.
It’s the kind of advertising that offers a promise: The truck has helped build America. Now can America help rebuild the truck?
A version of this article originally appeared in the July/August 2022 issue of Men’s Healthh.
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