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Ford F-150 Lightning could mark a turning point for electric vehicles

Electric vehicles have finally hit the mainstream: America's most popular model, the Ford F-series pickup truck, is going electric at a decidedly mass-market price: $39,974.

Why it matters: Until now, EVs have appealed mostly to wealthy technology fans or environmentalists. But the F-150 Lightning is aimed at everyday truck owners — making it a potential turning point in the electric vehicle revolution.

Ford's biggest challenge will be to convince skeptical buyers that electric trucks are up to the job.

  • People buy trucks so they can tow trailers and haul heavy loads — which require extra power, slashing a truck's driving range.

To offset those fears, Ford loaded the F-150 Lightning with new technology. And it's pitching the truck as a generator on wheels — its batteries can power a home for three days in a blackout, Ford says.

  • At a work site or campsite, owners can offload up to 9.6 kW of electricity to power tools or appliances from a variety of outlets in the truck's cabin, bed or "frunk" — the massive front trunk where the engine would ordinarily be.
  • The Lightning comes with a standard 230-mile range pack or an extended range battery, good for 300 miles.
  • While using the onboard power, the system can send a smartphone alert if you're in danger of running out of juice.
  • Sensors can also estimate how much drivers are hauling and combine that data with driving conditions to give them an accurate, real-time estimate of how far they can go.

What they're saying: “It really is the smartest F-150 we’ve ever made,” said Darren Palmer, general manager, Ford's Battery Electric Vehicles.

Yes, but: Like other manufacturers, Ford is coping with supply chain issues that are threatening production.

  • On Wednesday, Ford said it would idle more factories, including the one where the F-150 is built, due to a shortage of semiconductors.
  • On Thursday, it's expected to announce a joint venture with South Korean battery maker SK Innovation to support its electric vehicle rollout, Reuters reported.

What to watch: Ford will face plenty of competition in the electric pickup market, including new plug-in models from Tesla, GM and Rivian.

  • But its sub-$40,000 starting price — before any federal or state tax credits — shows Ford doesn't intend to yield its truck leadership.

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