There is apparently a problem with the Ford F-150 Lightning’s battery pack significant enough for Ford to stop production and delivery of its electric three-ton half-ton. No word as yet what the problem is. Only that it was “identified,” according to Ford spokeswoman Emma Berg, during “pre-delivery quality inspections.”
No fires, as yet.
But the bigger problem is the F-150’s price, which has inflated like a loaf of Weimar bread some 38.9 percent over the course of a little more than one year (2022 being the electric truck’s first model year) to $57,869.
When Ford launched the truck, the pledge was that it would sticker for just over $40,000 – a price that made it cost-competitive with the price of a non-electric F-150 SuperCrew, which has a base price just under $40,000.
And it’s actually worse than that.
News stories about the production/delivery stop neglect to mention that the quoted base price of the ’23 Lightning is for the model with the lower-performance (98 kilowatt-hour) battery that has a best-case range of 230 miles. And the problem with that – the problem with every electric vehicle – is that, unlike a non-electric car’s range on a full tank, an EV’s actual driving range is often much less than advertised.
This matters even more when you start out with less. Especially because with EVs, it is smart to always keep enough in reserve to avoid the risk of not being able to reach a place to plug in. And it’s smart for another reason – one Ford mentions in the Lightning’s owner’s manual. It is that running the battery down to “fumes” – i.e., heavily discharging it – is “unhealthy” for the battery’s longevity. Therefore, keeping it “topped off” is a good idea if you don’t want to have to buy a new battery sooner rather than later.
But if you only have 230 miles of best-case range and keep 50 in reserve to preserve the “health” of the battery, then you haven’t got much range for other than short-hops in between charges.
It is a worse problem for an electric truck because of the way trucks are used, as for example to pull trailers. This can reduce the full-charge range by half or even more, if it is very cold outside or the truck is pulling a trailer uphill.
Ford touts the pulling power of the Lightning, but it’s a problem if you can’t pull very far.
Word about this has leached out over the past year as the electric truck has gotten into the hands of journalists (including this one) who have discovered the problem. It’s a problem made worse by the solution – which is to buy the optional, higher-power (131 kilowatt-hour) battery that has an advertised range of 300 miles on a full charge. This way, if you lose 50 percent of the range pulling a trailer, you can at least make it 100 or so miles down the road before you risk running out of charge before you can make to the next “fast” charger.
But there’s another problem.
The first is that you can’t buy the stronger battery in the base Pro trim. That’s the one that now starts at $57,869. You have to move up to at least the XLT trim first – and that one stickers for $63,474 to start. Then you can spend another $12,500 to get the 300-mile-range 131 kilowatt-hour battery pack. Plus another $500 to get the “mobile charge” apparatus, so you can plug in to both standard 120V and 240V “Level II” outlets at home.
This brings the actual base price of a Lightning useable for more than short-hop driving and light trailer-towing to an eye-popping $76,474. And for that, you still only get a truck that can travel maybe (but probably not) 300 miles and will definitely travel much less if you hook it up to a trailer and try to pull anything much in the cold.
There are certainly buyers who have the money to buy such a truck – and don’t need it to be capable of doing much work – at least, for very long (or very far). The problem, for Ford, is that there are probably only so many buyers who have the means – and the interest.
The former is a problem that goes beyond “electrification” in that any vehicle with a starting price over $50,000 is by definition a luxury-priced vehicle, irrespective of what’s under the hood – or the floorpans, in the case of EVs. There is a limited pool of buyers who can afford to spend about 80 percent of what the average two-income family earns in a year (about $67,000) on a vehicle. Even if the monthly payments are stretched out over seven years, the New Abnormal in car – and truck – financing.
The $50k-and-up price point is a kind of hard deck – to borrow an aviation term – that imposes a similar limit on what can be sold to whom – and how many. If this were not so, practically everyone who drives would be driving a BMW, Mercedes, Lexus, Cadillac – etc. So long as EVs are priced similarly, they will sell in similarly small numbers. Bearing this out is the fact that, in spite of all the hype surrounding its launch, Ford has only sold about 15,000 Lightnings so far.
During the same time period, it sold more than 500,000 non-electric F-150s.
It is certain Ford will sell even fewer Lightnings this year relative to non-electric ones unless it can somehow reduce the price by something in the range, as it were, of $25,000 – so as to make it plausibly competitive on price with a $40k non-electric F-150 SuperCrew.
The just-under-$40k-to-start F-150 SuperCrew has a range of 624 highway miles (494 in the city) and even though that range will go down if you pull a trailer with this truck, it does not matter much because it can be refueled in about 5 minutes, as opposed to the at-least 30-45 minutes it takes for the Lightning to recover a partial charge at a “fast” charger.
Most people who buy trucks value their time which costs them money if it is wasted waiting with a truck that cannot be used and that can only be used for a little while before it costs its owner more time, again.
These problems are showing up in Ford’s earnings and stock prices, which don’t bode well.
For “electrification,” generally.
If, that is, the goal is to get more people into EVs rather than out of cars.
. . .
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