October 24, 2020

Electric Ford F-150 Gives Instant Cred to EV Pickup Market, Unlike Tesla

Ford’s teaser details this week on the electric F-150 riveted the pickup truck world in...

Ford’s teaser details this week on the electric F-150 riveted the pickup truck world in a way that no other automaker — sorry, not even Tesla — can do. Ford is pushing ruggedness and low cost of ownership. Ford execs said the lifetime cost of ownership will be half that of a current Ford F-150, not counting the initial purchase price. It’s due to start production in mid-2022.

Ford execs this week said the electric F-150 will have more torque and horsepower of any F-150 in company history, and the fastest 0-60 time, meaning 5 seconds or less to 60 mph. What makes the F-Series so important is that it’s the best-selling vehicle in the US, accounting for one of every 18 vehicles sold in the US last year (896,000 sales). That’s a big base of mostly loyal users to market to.

Tesla, which plans its Cybertruck pickup in 2021, got in licks of its own at Tuesday’s shareholders’ meeting/Battery Day, with CEO Elon Musk announcing Tesla is moving toward manufacturing processes that could halve the cost of batteries, result in a “compelling” $25,000 Tesla within three years, and begin to phase out cobalt from its batteries. Tesla fans honked their horns in delight at the outdoor parking lot meeting. The stock market was less impressed, knocking about 12 percent off TSLA’s share price.

GMC Hummer teaser image. It will get an Oct. 20 reveal.

The Other Contenders

Ford is not the only company moving toward electric pickup trucks. There are plenty of others who’ve announced but not shipped. The electric pickups include this half-dozen, all promised for 2021:

  • Atlas XT.
  • Bollinger B2.
  • GMC Hummer.
  • Lordstown Endurance.
  • Nikola Badger.
  • Rivian R1T.
  • Tesla Cybertruck.

GMC, Rivian, and Tesla are the best-known of the three. General Motors reportedly wanted a large stake in Rivian and exclusivity, but talks broke down — at which point Ford invested, as did Amazon, which wanted help creating electric delivery trucks. Rivian is the best-positioned of the lesser-knowns to be successful.

The Hummer is stirring interest because of the promised Crab Mode, which means either a) it can spin (turn) on its own axis the way a tank can or b) with rear-wheel steering, it will be able to move diagonally, depending on which rumors you read.

Nikola Badger.

Nikola is better known for its planned 18-wheeler electric big trucks but also announced a pickup, the Badger. Earlier this month Nikola cut a deal with GM, then Nikola’s world blew when the Hindenburg Research group declared Nikola to be a “fraud.” The company denied all, then its CEO resigned Sunday and the stock tanked. So it looks as if GM has been burned, or burned its bridges, on back-to-back EV truck partnerships.

Tesla’s Cybertruck will have a 500-plus mile range, 0-60 time of 2.9 seconds, 14,000-pound towing capacity, and a 6.5-foot “vault” (covered bed), according to the company.

Tesla’s Battery Day Also Batters TSLA stock

While the Ford F-150 has been the best-selling vehicle in the US for three decades,  Tesla outsells all other EVs combined and plans to add the Cybertruck in 2021. Given its mastery of battery technology, if not of Toyota-level production line excellence, Cybertruck has to be taken seriously, especially if Tesla battery improvements cut costs and add range.

Tuesday’s Battery Day and shareholder meeting was not directly about Cybertruck, but the battery improvements would benefit the distinctly shaped pickup. Tesla plans to move some battery production in house, but it says Panasonic and other suppliers will still be used for a long time because of demand. Tesla will create a new 4,680-battery-cell design, 80 mm long (new length), with, Tesla says, 5x the energy density, 6x the power, and a 16 percent increase in range. Is the plant online? Um, it’s “close to working” … as a pilot plant project, Musk notes. Also, Tesla will build “tabless” batteries by removing the tab on each cell. A battery comprises an anode, cathode, and separator; tabs let the cell’s energy flow to the battery pack and then the car. Going tabless reduces heat issues and reduces costs. “It’s really a huge pain in the ass to have tabs,” Musk said Tuesday.

Also announced Tuesday: There will be a Plaid Model S that does 200 mph. Tesla plans to reduce the cobalt content in battery cells, making the cells cheaper and deflecting criticism about cobalt mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo, with allegations of human rights and child labor abuses. But many of the changes will unfold over about three years, and that left investors unsatisfied. The result: TSLA went down 5 percent during the day, and another 7 percent after hours: nearly $50 billion in market value that faded into the ether.

Ford says a prototype electric F-150 can tow train freight cars weighing 1 million pounds. Note that towing on a flat surface requires the tow vehicle to overcome rolling resistance; it’s lifting a million pounds in the air. Still, an impressive feat.

Details on the Electric F-150

The electric F-150 is designed so customers can use the big battery as an AC inverter, providing power at job sites or campgrounds. Ford is also putting inverters into its next-gen gasoline F-150 due in 2021. This 14th generation F-150 design will be the basis of the electric F-150 a year later.

The pickup will use dual electric motors for all-wheel-drive. With no gasoline engine up front, there’ll be room for a giant trunk, Ford says. It will be able to tow heavy trailers, although it’s unclear how driving range will be affected. Tesla owners have reported significant range losses when towing. Some say a big trailer cuts range by 40-50 percent.

By focusing on how much an electric drivetrain reduces TCO on a pickup used for business, Ford may be saying the purchase price won’t be cheap. A lot depends on how big of a battery pack the customer orders. More battery adds more weight, range, and cost. At a briefing this week,  Kumar Galhotra, Ford president of the Americas and International Markets Group, projected that the lifetime cost of operation — which excludes the purchase price — of an electric F-150 will be about half that of the current-generation vehicle. The estimate takes into account zero gas/oil usage consumption. And it presumes low electric charging rates and lower maintenance costs (no oil/filter changes, no tune-ups), thus increased vehicle uptime.

Ford’s F-150 promo (below). Can it tow a million-pound train?

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