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Ford F-150 Lightning brings substance to the overhyped EV truck wars

Commentary: Ford's all-electric truck looks like a winner, but there is one rather large fly in this big bowl of soup.

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Ford says the F-150 Lightning can tow up to 10,000 pounds.

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Zero to 60 mph in 2.9 seconds. Crab-walking. A top speed of 130 mph. Hidden storage big enough for a snowboard. 500 miles of range. Bulletproof doors.

The would-be progenitors of the EV truck revolution have claimed a dizzying array of figures and just as many gimmicks. But in my book, one number stands above them all: $40,000. That's about how much the base model of Ford's F-150 Lightning will cost when it goes on sale next year, a price that is significantly cheaper than the $50,000 dual-motor Tesla Cybertruck, the $75,000 Rivian R1T and the $80,000 Hummer EV. More importantly, depending on what the federal and state tax incentive landscape looks like next year, the Lightning could actually be cheaper than a regular, gas-powered F-150.

Instead of trying to position the truck as quicker than a sports car or market it as the ultimate lifestyle accessory, Ford seems to have simply built a better truck for more people. The company's engineers have made something that will make life easier at the job site (no more generator rentals), will add security to your home (no more blackouts), and, of course, do it all in an emissions-free way -- with lower operating costs, to boot.

Yes, those other EV trucks sure look interesting and exciting, but Ford's F-150 Lightning has the potential to be a proper industry changer with that price and all the capability you've come to expect from a good ol' pick-'em-up. It truly is a no-compromise solution.

OK, maybe there's one compromise: towing. Ford says the Lightning will go between 230 and 300 miles on a charge, depending on configuration. Ford is also saying the truck will tow up to 10,000 pounds. In isolation, those numbers sound good. The problem is that Ford hasn't combined the two and quoted any range figures while towing. I'm guessing that's because the numbers won't be good. Admittedly, it's hard to blame Ford for not wanting to reveal its numbers in this area first, because there doesn't seem to be an established industry range-testing procedure for towing and hauling with EVs (let alone any rivals' numbers to compare with). That's as much an industry failing as it is Ford's. Car and Driver estimate that the range under full load may be as little as 100 miles. It'll be some time before we know the real figures, but internal-combustion trucks are going to be better at pulling trailers long-distance. 

Still, I'd like to counter that shortcoming with another question: Of all the trucks you see on the road every day, how many are towing something? And for those that are, how far are they really going?

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Sure, we all know someone who hauls their Airstream all the way up to northern Maine a couple times a summer, or someone who drags their ponies down to Ocala every fall in a gooseneck trailer. But for every person actually taxing the hitches on their trucks, you'll find dozens or hundreds of others using their truck as a very large, very capable commuter vehicle.

Other than finding enough chips to build the things, I fear Ford's biggest challenge ahead will be getting consumers to be realistic about their needs. After all, trucks are aspirational vehicles. A truck is the ultimate expression of American consumer optimism. You don't buy a truck for what you need it to do, you buy a truck for what you hope you might someday do. With current lumber prices nobody can afford more than a few clean sheets of plywood right now, but that doesn't mean you don't want your next truck to be big enough to haul a stack of the things for that badass, three-car garage you're finally going to build next summer. Or maybe it'll be the summer after that.

Optimism needn't conflict with making a smart financial decision on your next truck, and I am so incredibly ready for us to get to the point where the EV choice is simply a no-brainer. With the launch of the F-150 Lightning, we just got a little closer to that day.

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