And for many in the auto industry, it raises a fundamental question: Can companies make electric cars that will bring drivers on board, and fast?
Ford hopes that's where the F-150 Lightning comes in.
"There's a lot at stake here, not just for Ford, but really for the country," says Darren Palmer, Ford's head of battery electric vehicles. "This could be the point when people really notice electric [vehicles]."
Ford's not the only one hoping there's a big pool of would-be buyers who aren't interested in a Tesla or a Nissan Leaf but would happily spring for an electric version of their favorite pickup.
"That vehicle is going to come in and fill a void. And if it's affordable, I mean, it's going to be a game changer," says Shelley Francis, co-founder of EVHybridNoire, a network of diverse electric vehicle enthusiasts.
"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," she says. "Then when you think about rural communities ... there's an opportunity for this community to be part of this conversation."
Ford's F-150 Lightning, unveiled at a ceremony on Wednesday evening, is part of a spate of electric pickups arriving on the market.
There are the startups: Rivian is targeting outdoor enthusiasts with its $75,000 truck, which is poised to start deliveries next month and win the race to be the first electric pickup to market. The futuristic Tesla Cybertruck is on the way at a much lower price point, while Lordstown Motors is focusing on business customers with its upcoming vehicle.
Meanwhile, General Motors is bringing the Hummer brand back as a top-of-the-line premium electric pickup, initially starting at more than $100,000. An electric Silverado is also in the works. And Stellantis, Chrysler's parent company, has promised a battery-powered Ram eventually.
The F-150 carries extra symbolic and economic weight. It's America's best-selling vehicle and has been for 40 years. Ford sells more than 1 million F-series trucks per year, raking in more than $40 billion annually, more than McDonald's or Nike bring in as entire companies.
But that doesn't mean that Ford enthusiasts will automatically leap at this new vehicle.
Surveys show that more than half of truck drivers are not interested in going electric, full stop.
Palmer laid out Ford's argument to skeptical V-8-loving pickup drivers using a cordless drill metaphor. It wasn't hard to convince people to switch from old battery technology to lighter, longer-running lithium-ion drills: quite the opposite.
"The functionality difference — [it] was better," Palmer says. "Everybody wanted the best tool. It's the same thing."
Ford argues that the perks of electrification will speak for themselves, such as the effortless torque that's characteristic of all electric motors and the potential for new, practical features. (The hybrid F-150 has an option that allows you to run power tools off the car's battery at a work site, for instance.)
But can the electric F-150 win over regular drivers, map a path to new profits for an entire industry and prove effective in the fight against climate change?
It's a lot of economic, political and environmental baggage for one vehicle, no matter how powerful its towing capacity.
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