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"Not Playing Around": Ford Electrifies Icons to Drive Up EV Sales

Christopher Blank, WKNO-FM
Ford's new F-150 Lightning has what is called a "frunk" or front-trunk where its internal combustion engine used to be.

Ford Motor Company's Blue Oval City will bring new jobs and economic opportunity to West Tennessee. But long term success depends on consumers actually switching to the electric vehicles made there. Automakers and dealers are now tackling some of the industry’s cultural hurdles.

So what does the future of electric cars look like? If you're reading this, we have a photo.

What does it sound like?

Click the audio above, but turn it up.

That little rumble you maybe didn’t hear, is the 3.5-ton Ford F-150 Lightning pickup truck going from zero to 60 in about 4 seconds. All without gas, cylinders or a transmission. When you open the hood, there’s nothing but space for your luggage.

The truck was also a highlight of last weekend’s Memphis International Auto show, the first held since the pandemic. There were a lot of new cars to get acquainted with. But electric vehicles were in heavy circulation.

Ryan McElroy, president of the Greater Memphis Auto Dealers Association says now that automakers are finally getting serious with electric products, consumer interest is rising.

"Now all of a sudden when you can get a Mustang, you can get a pickup truck, when you can get a Hummer that is all-electric, well, now that's cool," he says. "People want to jump on board."

It’s why Ford Motor Company is spending $5.6 billion on Blue Oval City, a massive electric car plant between Memphis and Jackson. When it opens in 2025, the next generation of Ford’s electric cars and trucks will be on its assembly line.

Currently, electric vehicles make up only about 1 percent of annual U.S. auto sales. But in about 30 years, manufacturers hope to hit 100 percent.

Shifting gears—to borrow a soon to be obsolete phrase—has been a challenge for the industry namely because of mixed feelings about electric. Greg Christensen, Ford’s Electric Vehicle Footprint Director, says some of that is practical considerations. Some of it is because Americans are romantic about their cars.

"For a lot of us, for many people, it communicates who we are in some ways," he says. "And it's a little bit of a love affair."

This is why, Christensen says, Ford is electrifying its icons.

"I mean this is F-150, this is Mustang. This is Transit," he says. "These are leaders in the industry. F-150 is the best-selling pickup for 44 years. So we're not playing around."

Jasen Turnbull is the marketing manager for the F-150 Lightning. He says getting the buy-in from construction workers, farmers and people who tow boats to the lake on the weekend has meant having new conversations about electric vehicles. Saving the planet is not the top selling point.

"From the people that were like, 'hey, I'll never drive an electric vehicle,' we really walked them through the benefits of it," he says. "And so it's a better vehicle, more capable, and also it's a lower cost to own. Electricity to charge it up at home is like half the cost as gasoline pricing. So it's not really 'This is a green vehicle, please buy it.' It's 'Oh, by the way, it is very sustainable.'"

In a power outage, your fully charged truck battery can also keep the lights on in your house. With features like that, Turnbull says, fewer people miss the V8 rumble. Inside the quiet interior, a giant touch screen on the dashboard is the most obvious sign that we’ll all be driving computers in the future.

"Does it have Netflix?" this reporter wonders.

"Coming soon," Turnbull winks.

So it’s not perfect. But as we pull up to the line for another spin around the test track, it still seems unreal that the future of cars is a monster f-150 with the roar of a golf cart.

Christopher Blank, WKNO-FM
The new F-150 Lightning has a large computer on the dashboard and offers hands-free driving.