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Ford Readies Electric F-150 For Official Public Debut


President Biden is trying to make the case for electric vehicles. Here he is speaking yesterday at a Ford complex outside Detroit.


PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: The future of the auto industry is electric. There's no turning back.

MARTIN: There is a lot at stake here. The president has made electric vehicles a key part of his climate platform. Companies like Ford have staked their corporate strategies on them. So when Ford unveils the electric F-150 Lightning tonight, it's going to be about much more than just one pickup. We should note that Ford is an NPR sponsor. NPR's Camila Domonoske is here with us to talk about all things electric pickup. Camila, why such a fuss over this one new electric vehicle?

CAMILA DOMONOSKE, BYLINE: Yeah. Well, the F-150 is not just any vehicle. This is the most popular vehicle in America, and it has been for 40 years. So one way to think about this is that the fact that this pickup is going electric is like a microcosm of what the auto industry hopes will happen across the board, which is that battery-powered vehicles will go from being a super specialized niche product to being totally normal.

MARTIN: What are the odds of that really happening, Camila?

DOMONOSKE: That's a good question. And there's a lot of money riding on it. I mean, you have governments that are putting on pressure to move the industry this way because of climate change - right? - the need to move away from gas and diesel cars. You have investors who want it to happen because Tesla's runaway success is at the forefront of their minds.

MARTIN: Right.

DOMONOSKE: At the same time, the auto industry is looking at the fact that right now, electric vehicles are less than 3% of sales in the United States. You're going to have to build a whole bunch of chargers. President Biden wants to dedicate a bunch of money to this. But also, people have to want to buy the vehicles and not just early adopters, not just environmental activists. Everyone needs to buy them.

MARTIN: Everyone. So how are they going to make this truck appealing to everyone?

DOMONOSKE: Well, part of the hope is that an F-150 that's electric will have built-in appeal to some people - right? - people who wouldn't buy a Tesla or a Nissan LEAF but are on board for an electric pickup. I spoke to Dr. Shelley Francis, who runs a network of electric vehicle enthusiasts that's all about trying to widen the tent, get more diverse drivers involved in electric vehicles. And she said that taking the F-150 electric just inherently could be a game changer.

SHELLEY FRANCIS: It's the No. 1 selling vehicle in the country just across the board. It's also the No. 1 selling vehicle among African American communities. Then when you think about, say, rural communities, there's an opportunity again for this community to be part of this conversation.

DOMONOSKE: So part of the hope here is that there's baked-in appeal. Americans love pickups, add brand loyalty for the F-150, you might have buyers automatically.

MARTIN: I mean, I got to say, though, Camila, part of the thrill of driving an F-150 is just the sound of the engine - right? - and the feeling of the rumble. That is not going to happen in an electric vehicle. Do pickup drivers want these trucks?

DOMONOSKE: Yeah. So some pickup drivers don't seem to be interested. About a third, according to surveys, are thinking about going electric. And, you know, Ford sells a million F-Series trucks a year. So a third is a lot of people still. I spoke to Darren Palmer, the head of battery electric vehicles at Ford, and asked this question about drivers who might be hesitant about battery electric vehicles who like that rumble, like you said. He hit me with this metaphor. He said, do you remember switching from your old, cordless drill to your new lithium-ion one?

DARREN PALMER: The functionality difference is better. Everybody wanted the best tool. It's the same thing.

DOMONOSKE: So whether or not you remember that drill experience, his point is that the case they'll make is that the electric version of the pickup is just better. And that's what will persuade drivers.

MARTIN: I don't remember that switch from the old cordless drill, just for the record. But I get his point. So what are people going to be watching for in this reveal?

DOMONOSKE: The price will be a big point, and we'll keep tuned for specs.

MARTIN: All right. NPR's Camila Domonoske. Thank you.

DOMONOSKE: Thanks, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Camila Flamiano Domonoske covers cars, energy and the future of mobility for NPR's Business Desk.