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Some Texans power up through storm with help from their Ford pickup, Tesla

One pickup truck owner said he had planned to use the built-in generator for camping trips. “I didn’t know I would wind up needing it for something like this," he said of the winter storm.
Image: Ford F-150 optional Pro Power Onboard built-in generator
The Ford F-150 pickup truck features an optional Pro Power Onboard built-in generator. While it was originally designed for camping or remote worksites, it has helped owners who lost power this week.Ford

The winter storm that devastated much of Texas this week left millions of residents without water and electricity — but some people were able to keep the lights on and heaters going thanks to vehicles capable of providing emergency power.

Ford even reached out to ask dealers in Texas to provide loans of the new F-150 PowerBoost, a hybrid version of its full-size truck that can provide as much as 7.2 kilowatts of power through a built-in generator.

“It was a lifesaver,” Jerry Hall, a retiree in rural Kerrville, Texas, told NBC News. “It gave us all the conveniences. We weren’t sitting in the dark, isolated.”

The storm that struck Texas last weekend dumped both ice and snow over a region not used to harsh winter storms. Due to a combination of factors, the state’s energy grid largely short-circuited, leaving millions of residents without power.

When Hall's power was cut last Sunday, he backed his new Ford truck up to his garage and started rolling out the extension cords. He had purchased the hybrid version of the F-150 specifically to get the built-in generator — which he had expected to use for camping, or to run power tools remotely.

“I didn’t know I would wind up needing it for something like this” storm, he said by phone.

The optional generator — which Ford calls the Pro Power Onboard system — ran for three days before his power was turned back on. It provided enough energy to handle a refrigerator, a freezer, lights, the cable and internet box and a television.

Hall had a big enough fireplace to keep his small home cozy. But Randy Jones, of Katy, Texas, said his place would have soon been freezing without his own F-150 PowerBoost, which he used to power space heaters, as well as lights and appliances.

“It’s been a blessing for me and my neighbors,” Jones said, adding that he let neighbors come by to plug their phones and other devices in to a power strip he set up.

Earlier this week, Ford reached out to its Texas dealers to see if they could help local residents.

"Due to the urgent and unprecedented weather situation in Texas, a number of our local dealers are using all-new Ford F-150s equipped with Pro Power Onboard to help in their communities,” the automaker said in a statement. “Approximately 415 trucks fall within this effort.”

Ford’s new F-150 isn’t the only truck that can serve as a generator, but other optional systems have been limited to around 2 kilowatts, or barely enough to power a single electric space heater and a couple of LED bulbs.

Ford isn’t the only automaker getting kudos for helping out in the storm. A Reddit user who goes by the screen name Razzooz posted a note saying that "My Tesla kept my family from freezing last night.” The family, including a newborn daughter, was able to sleep in the car in the garage to stay warm without worrying about carbon monoxide poisoning. “If I didn’t have this car, it would have been a very rough night,” the Redditor wrote.

Other Texans took to social media in praise of Tesla’s Powerwall battery back-up system, which kept lights and heat on.

The California-based automaker has signaled plans to offer a two-way charging system that could access energy stored in the vehicle, much like a backup generator, if the lights go off. And it’s not alone. Nissan and several other EV makers are developing similar systems that could help provide energy both to individual homes, even the entire grid, during blackouts and brownouts.