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Can Ford's F-150 Lightning electric truck persuade the heartland to go all-electric?

The technology "isn't quite there yet," said one pickup owner.
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"This sucker's quick." That was the assessment of President Joe Biden as he took a new Ford F-150 Lightning for a drive last week during a visit to Detroit.

The all-electric pickup is one in a growing array of battery-electric vehicles coming to market. From the strong reception it has received so far — generating nearly 45,000 reservations in less than two days — it would seem that Americans are finally plugging in to the electric market.

However, it is likely to take time for "heartland" motorists to embrace electrification, said Kristin Dziczek, lead analyst with the Center for Automotive Research.

Tim Esterdahl, a longtime pickup owner in Nebraska, said the technology "isn't quite there yet."

"My problem with a truck like Lightning is the trade-off you have to make in rural areas where there's no real infrastructure," said Esterdahl, who frequently posts about trucks on YouTube. The more weight loaded into the bed or the bigger the trailer you're towing, the more the range drops.

Esterdahl said that while he likes electrification and owns a Ford F-150 PowerBoost, a conventional hybrid version of the truck, taking the Lightning to "the family's favorite camping site" would probably mean detours and hours of charging. That's not going to work with a young family onboard, he said.

Other pickup fans who use their F-150s for work have said the Lightning's 6-foot bed makes the truck unsuitable for some tasks, because plywood, which comes in 8-foot sheets, would protrude from the tailgate.

However, the flood of new electric models is broadening the appeal of the technology for some motorists.

"Consumers are catching on," Dziczek said, and "for a variety of reasons."

For one thing, "the market is getting crowded," Dziczek said, with new EV sedans, SUVs and sports cars offering real choice. Ford's Lightning is the third battery pickup revealed so far, following the Tesla Cybertruck and the GMC Hummer — with as many as eight more to follow.

Prices are starting to dip. One reason for the Lightning's initial success is that it will start at $39,974 — just $16 less than Tesla's Model Y SUV.

Biden's infrastructure bill includes $174 billion to promote electric vehicles, with a large chunk dedicated to sales incentives. But it also envisions a national grid of 500,000 high-speed chargers, making it easy to travel anywhere without range anxiety.

Even if that falls through, companies like ChargePoint and EVgo are rapidly expanding their networks, and New York last week announced a plan to back a major network of chargers across the state.

"Expanding high-speed charging in local markets across the state is a crucial step in encouraging more drivers to choose EVs," New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the day Biden visited Detroit.

Electric vehicles account for just 3 percent of new vehicle sales in the U.S., but that's triple the number it was three years ago.

"So far we have 35 reservations" for the F-150 Lightning, "which is about two months' worth of our traditional F-150 volume," said Bruce Collins, sales manager of Suburban Ford in Ferndale, Michigan. "That number is about double what we expected," he said, adding that the customers are a mix of traditional pickup buyers and "those coming from a different market segment."

It is widely expected that electric vehicles will reach at least a 30 percent share by decade's end.

"I expect it will be hard to sell anything that isn't electric" by then, said Seth Weintraub, a longtime EV owner who is editor of the online magazine Electrek.

Not everyone is convinced. Honda and Toyota expect that there could be more demand for hybrids well into the future. Neither has launched a long-range electric vehicle in the U.S.; Toyota will unveil its first next week in an event at its headquarters near Dallas.

In a few parts of the country, notably California, EV sales are already pushing toward double-digit numbers. But the surge is barely visible in other parts of the country.