Meet the first F-150 Lightning buyer: NPR

Nick Schmidt poses with his wife after taking his new electric F-150. Schmidt was the first buyer to receive the F-150 Lightning as automakers bet billions on an electric future.

Courtesy of Nick Schmidt

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Courtesy of Nick Schmidt

Nick Schmidt poses with his wife after taking his new electric F-150. Schmidt was the first buyer to receive the F-150 Lightning as automakers bet billions on an electric future.

Courtesy of Nick Schmidt

Nick Schmidt was home when he got the call he had been waiting for for months.

Schmidt had ordered the electric version of the Ford F-150 as soon as it was announced in May last year. And over a year later, his F-150 Lightning was finally ready to be picked up.

“When the agent called me, they were as excited as I was,” Schmidt says. “I remember arriving in the parking lot, and they were all, like, huddled around the place. And everyone was walking out.”

It was a big moment for Schmidt, but perhaps an even bigger moment for Ford. This wasn’t just any F-150 Lightning—it was the first ever to be delivered to a real buyer.

Ford and other old American automakers are investing billions of dollars in electric vehicle development in a frenzy to catch up with market leader Tesla, which was responsible for 70% of new electric vehicles registered in the United States last year.

Not only is the F-150 Lightning an important part of Ford’s ambitions, but it is an early test of whether well-known automakers like General Motors can compete in an electric future.

And judging by Schmidt’s initial reaction, the Ford F-150 may have delivered, even with many challenges still on the horizon.

How did it feel to drive the F-150

When Schmidt first climbed into his new F-150 Lightning, it immediately sounded familiar: It had the same look and feel as a gas-powered F-150.

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“It was exactly what I wanted it to be, just a Ford pickup truck,” Schmidt says.

Schmidt isn’t new to vans—he lives on the family farm in Standish, Michigan, a town of about 1,500 residents.

His family owns all kinds of pickup trucks – Ford F-150s, 250s and Chevys.

Schmidt and his wife pose with their new F-150 Lightning.

Courtesy of Nick Schmidt

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Courtesy of Nick Schmidt

Schmidt and his wife pose with their new F-150 Lightning.

Courtesy of Nick Schmidt

Schmidt, however, was familiar with electric cars. He works in clean energy and already owns a Tesla, but he’s been waiting for an electric truck to replace his beloved gas-powered F-150.

He says the Lightning is as powerful and reliable as his conventional F-150. He actually used it to pull dirt and wood around, as well as to draw his own air stream.

Schmidt says the acceleration is unlike anything he’s experienced in any truck.

“It’s fast,” he says. “I mean, for a full-size, full-size pickup truck, it’s going to run, I think, from 0 to 60 in 4.2 seconds or something, which is unheard of.”

Hacking away at Tesla

Introducing the powerful F-150 that felt familiar was an integral part of Ford’s strategy in racing to take on Tesla.

Sam Abuelsamid of Guidehouse Insights says automakers are spending nearly $200 billion over the next five years on electric cars alone. The focus in the short term is on the electrification of their most popular models.

“There’s a lot of money at stake. And if they’re going to build millions of electric cars now and try to convert the entire industry to electric, they have to have products that people really want to buy.”

The all-electric Silverado is shown at the New York International Auto Show in New York City on April 15. Old-fashioned automakers are electrifying some of their most iconic models.

Michael M. Santiago / Getty Images

In the United States, that means pickup trucks and SUVs.

For Ford, electrification of the F-150 made sense. After all, the truck has been America’s best-selling vehicle for decades.

Others are also turning to their more famous models. General Motors introduces an electric Silverado next year. Electric Ram truck. General Motors and Ford are working on electric versions of the Equinox and Explorer, respectively.

Early reservations about Lightning were promising. The company initially planned to produce about 40,000 Lightnings, but the truck was so popular that Ford stopped taking reservations after receiving 200,000.

electrical learning curve

There are still many challenges for automakers.

Schmidt had one big problem soon after he got the F-150 Lightning, and one all too familiar to other electric car owners: charging.

The clean power worker took his F-150 Lightning on a camping trip with his wife and daughter on the first weekend with the truck, and found himself unable to find a charger.

“It wasn’t a great experience at all,” Schmidt says. “We’re trying to figure out what that means for camping trips because I’m not sure I feel comfortable going given the lack of infrastructure there.”

The United States still has not developed large-scale public charging infrastructure, a problem the Biden administration is trying to address by allocating $5 billion to build A nationwide network of high-speed chargers.

Vice President Kamala Harris charges an electric car in Brandywine, Maryland, December 13, 2021. The Biden administration has a plan to build a nationwide network of chargers.

Chip somophila / Getty Images

Automakers face other problems

And there are broader problems for automakers.

With gas prices at record levels, Americans are demanding electric cars. The problem is that automakers don’t have them because the auto industry still has a shortage of key products like microchips.

And even if you can get your hands on an electric car, it’s expensive. According to the auto data company, the average deal price for a new electric vehicle is around $60,000 Edmunds.

The F-150 Lightning starts around $40,000, but that’s for the base model, and prices escalate quickly with the features of traditional pickup trucks. Schmidt paid him about $100,000.

There are promising signs. Notably, the majority of bookings for the F-150 Lightning were from new Ford customers, who had not previously owned an F-150.

But electric vehicle sales still make up only 4.6% of all sales in the country.

Even Schmidt, who has become a fan of his F-150 Lightning, has doubts about whether electric cars will be widely accepted by Americans yet.

Schmidt thinks of his family on the farm, and he doesn’t see them driving an F-150 lightning yet.

“I’m still waiting for that moment when, you know, my Aunt Jane comes on the road in an electric car, and she’s enjoying it, and it’s just something I felt comfortable buying it.”

And if old automakers wanted to enter an electric future, they would need the world’s Aunt Jeans in order to really take off.

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