As Earther’s resident Guy Who Has Opinions About Cars, I have taken much pride and joy talking shit about the Cybertruck (dystopian trash) and the Hummer EV (warmongering throwback nobody wants trash). With Ford officially unveiling its electric version of the F-150, I am here once again to pass judgment.
That judgment is: let’s goooooo!
The F-150 Lightning delivers something that neither the Cybertruck nor Hummer did: A vehicle people might actually want to drive. Yes, there are issues here such as the fact that you could make 350 e-bike batteries for every 1,800-pound (815-kilogram) F-150 battery. And electrifying trucks doesn’t change the fact that most people do not actually need a pickup, that we could make do with smaller cars or even the aforementioned e-bikes for most personal trips (to say nothing of public transit).
But the reality is Americans like to drive trucks. The Ford F-150 is the most popular vehicle in the country and has been for multiple decades (the second and third most popular vehicles in 2020 were also trucks). Do I think this is silly? Yes. Have I driven a pickup truck and thought it was fun? Also yes. Do we need to electrify everything ASAP to have a shot at staving off the worst impacts of climate change? Also yes.
Getting more people’s butts in the seats of electric cars now can help avoid carbon emissions. That matters greatly; a ton of carbon that doesn’t make it into the atmosphere today means one less fraction of a degree of heating in the future. It lowers the chance of us having to overly rely on unproven technology that sucks carbon from the sky or a rogue government deciding we need to block the sun in order to cool the planet. I’m not saying electrifying the F-150 is going to save us all. But making a vehicle that Americans are used to seeing electric normalizes the idea that cars and trucks don’t need to run on gas (and in fact, they shouldn’t anymore!). That can help speed up the decarbonization of what is now the largest source of U.S. emissions.
That normalization could also depoliticize at least one facet of climate change. Polling shows the popularity of pickups with conservative voters in particular. An electric truck like the F-150 could open the door slightly for, if not conservative climate action, at the very least less opposition to parts of it. Far be it from me to assume good faith will be the de facto Republican response, especially after President Joe Biden took an under wraps Lightning for a spin and what we’ve seen around the Burger Discourse. But we’re doing optimistic today, OK?
The F-150 also has features that make it attractive beyond “large truck to drive to Home Depot.” It has a ton of power outlets to plug things into, making it a giant battery on wheels. Ford claims the battery is so large, it can actually provide juice to your house for three days if the power goes out. During the Texas deep freeze and blackout this winter, a number of electric vehicle owners took to their cars to warm themselves up without the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning, so this isn’t some theoretical benefit.
Ultimately, the F-150 is one piece of a puzzle of the future of transportation where everything is electric. As Carnegie Mellon engineer Costa Samaras put it in a tweet, this is a “yes AND situation.” We need an electric truck, a vastly upgraded public transit system, e-bike rebates, a huge fast charger network, dedicated bike lanes in poor neighborhoods, hell, whole street systems closed to vehicle traffic. We need rooftop solar and community wind. We need better zoning for more dense and walkable neighborhoods, improved proximity to said upgraded public transit. We need Ford to stop producing a gas-powered F-150. We need the electric Humm... OK, actually we can stop there.