Linda Zhang led the team that made Ford’s first electric truck.
The F-150 Lightning has received 200,000 orders and helped create a new generation of truckers.
Zhang said beating “range anxiety” and demonstrating the truck’s pulling power were crucial.
Ford’s F-150 is the best-selling truck in the US for 45 consecutive yearsand the most popular vehicle overall for no less than four decades.
While it was fairly easy to get passenger car drivers to drive electric, convincing buyers that an electric truck can rival their gas equivalents in range, payload, towing capacity, durability and reliability is much more challenging. told Insider.
The woman taking on that challenge for Ford is Linda Zhang, the chief engineer of Ford’s electric version of the F-150, the Lightning.
The truck has had 200,000 orders and the interest has led Ford to nearly double production to 150,000 a year, but buyers are still faced with a waiting three years to get behind the wheel† It is also was a hit with critics†
Hearts and thoughts
So how did Zhang and her team convince American truck enthusiasts to go electric?
With a background in engineering, finance, manufacturing and strategy at Ford, Zhang worked on the Ford Explorer and Escape SUVs before getting the call that Ford wanted her to continue with an electric version of the hugely popular F-150.
But Zhang, who joined Ford 26 years ago with the company’s graduate program, told Insider it simply wouldn’t work to replace the gas-powered model with an electric one.
“You have to change hearts and minds. You can do your mind with dollars – EVs are cheaper to run. But what do we do with a vehicle to change hearts?”
Before she got to that point, Zhang first had to convince Ford employees, many of whom she said were skeptical of the idea of a plug-in F-150.
“We had several people on the team who would say, ‘I will work on this project, but I will never be one of your clients,’ she said.
The first hurdle was overcoming the biggest barrier to EV adoption: range anxiety.
In focus groups, Zhang said most clients realized they typically need less than 200 miles for a single trip. The cheapest version of the Lightning model, the Pro SR, has a range of 230 milesincreasing to 320 miles for more expensive versions.
Zhang, who owns a Lightning, recalled driving her 18-year-old daughter on a 300-mile trip to her freshman semester of college with a quick stop to recharge along the way.
Towing was the other major barrier, as many potential customers feared that the electric version would not have the same power output as the petrol equivalent. However, early customer reviews seem to have allayed these concerns†
The dual use as a backup generator was an added bonus for buyers, Zhang said.
Those skeptical Ford employees soon added their names to waiting lists, including an engineer she said saved a wedding after a power outage by plugging in a Lightning.
New generation of eco-truckers
Ford has beaten competitors like Tesla’s Cybertruck in the market, and with a starting price of $39,000, the Lightning is the cheapest electric truck available in the US — nearly half the price of the Rivian R1T.
In addition to slowly convincing drivers to go electric, Zhang said the F-150 plug-in is gaining a new generation of more environmentally conscious and diverse drivers.
“I’d say the customer profile is significantly younger at this point. In states like California and New York, we don’t normally sell full-size trucks,” Ford CEO James Farley said during a profit call in April†
His popularity will be a relief to Ford after investing $1 billion in the truck and hiring thousands of workers to get the vehicle into production†
“The importance of the F-150 Lightning in the modern automotive industry cannot be overstated,” said Brannon of the AAA.
“The F-150 has been one of the most popular vehicles in the US for many years – the electrification of this model represents a major step in the mass production and adoption of electric vehicles.”
He added: “These buyers will voice their experiences, whether positive or negative, which will have a significant impact on convincing others whether or not to consider an electric vehicle for their next vehicle purchase.”
Read the original article Business Insider