Eventually, all types of vehicle will have to become electric as governments around the world look to crack down on high-emission vehicles. With this, manufacturers face a dilemma: shift iconic vehicles to electric power, or create something entirely new.
Earlier this week, Ford Motor Company’s COO, Jim Farley, spoke with CNBC and revealed the company will launch an all-electric F150 pickup truck and Transit van in “the next 24 months.”
The company has previously said it would launch the F150 in late 2021. So it seems Ford is delaying the vehicle somewhat. However, Ford certainly shouldn’t rush it to market, but it needs to launch it swiftly if it’s to remain relevant in the truck world.
Nearly half of Ford’s sales come from its commercial vehicles, it can’t afford to take shortcuts. The F-series of pickup trucks is not just Ford’s best-selling vehicle, it’s the best-selling vehicle of its type in the US. In 2019, Ford sold nearly 897,000 of them. That’s more vehicles than Tesla, as an entire company, has sold since 2012.
The F150 isn’t just an icon, it’s a Goliath
While Ford might have the biggest piece of the market right now, there’s no knowing how it will fare in the world of electric pickups, where competition is coming from stalwart auto marques and new exciting EV startups alike. But we do have some insight.
The biggest competition is likely to come from Tesla and its Cybertruck.
Tesla announcing the Cybertruck last November was one of those “break the internet” type moments. According to a recent CNET article, Tesla has taken more than 600,000 preorders for the vehicle. That’s scarily close to Ford’s annual F150 sales figure; the American automaker should take heed.
That said, these are just preorders, and Tesla doesn’t exactly have a good track record when it comes to meeting deadlines with vehicle launches. At the moment, it looks like the electric F150 and Cybertruck will hit the market at around the same time, but my money is actually on Ford to reach the market first.
With other competition coming from GMC in the form of its all-electric 1,000 hp Hummer, Amazon-backed Rivian with it’s high-range adventure truck, and Nikola with its upcoming hydrogen/electric hybrid truck, Ford is going to have to battle off competitors from all angles.
EV startup Nikola recently announced it would start taking preorders for its upcoming hydrogen fuel cell battery electric hybrid this month. Its stock price subsequently shot up, giving it a market valuation of more than Ford. The main difference being that Ford delivers millions of vehicles a year, and Nikola hasn’t built or sold a single one. So it seems Ford is safe from Nikola, for now.
Electricity will be the future
Speaking to CNBC, Farley said the company is committed to electrification. And it needs to be, if it’s going to maintain the F-series’ dominance. Hopefully it’s going to eventually offer a whole range of electric F150s, rather than using the electric powertrain as a trim level in its own right.
At present, there are seven model variants that range from $28,000 to over $67,000. While it is a popular work vehicle, it’s also popular with families, petrol heads, and outdoorsy types. Like the Model T that Ford built its name on, the F150 is a car most people can afford in some way, shape, or form.
Musk has said that the Tesla Cybertruck will retail for $39,900, which is pretty good value if Tesla’s current range is anything to go by. Rivian, on the other hand, is going to market at a higher price point of around $69,000. The all-electric Hummer is expected to start at around $70,000.
At present, there’s no word on how much Ford’s electric F150 will cost. But given that Fords are supposed to be “every man” vehicles, it needs to compete across this entire price range to do the F150 name justice.
Pickup truck owners love what they know
All that said, Ford might have a trump card up its sleeve: brand loyalty. A survey of new car buyers, conducted by Autolist late last year, found that pickup owners are very brand loyal. When 1,100 drivers were given the choice of four upcoming electric trucks, 25% said they would pick the Ford, and just 14% said they would pick the Tesla Cybertruck.
The remaining said they would pick the upcoming GMC electric truck (35%), or the Rivian R1T (23%). That makes those Cybertruck preorders seem a little ambitious, but consider this:
The same survey found the playing field was much more level, when the same question was posed to people who have never owned a pickup truck before, with each vehicle getting about 25% of the votes. So, Tesla is unlikely to convert current Ford owners, the real battle will be among new truck buyers.
With that in mind, and putting all those towing wars to one side, Ford might already have a strong position in the electric truck market, without having actually built one. Unlike other startup manufacturers, Ford only has to prove its electric drivetrain. It seems pickup truck owners are more faithful to what their vehicles represent and allow them to do, rather than what powers them.
Companies like Tesla are known for their electric prowess, but are rank newcomers to the truck world. When it comes to toppling one of America’s all-time motoring greats, it’s got a comparatively bigger mountain to climb than Ford does.
We know Ford makes great trucks, and Tesla makes great EVs, but which one will make the best electric truck is still anyone’s guess. One thing’s for sure, it’s going to be one heck of a battle to watch.
I’m backing the Ford. The size of its iconicism should not be underestimated.
Published June 12, 2020 — 13:54 UTC