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Henry Payne: How Ford aims to change your truck, electric bill and generator

Henry Payne, The Detroit News on

Published in Business News

“The Lightning can be used as an extended-range battery to power your home for three to 10 days,” said Ford Energy Services Business Manager Ryan O'Gorman. He demonstrated a home setup connecting the truck to a Ford Charge Station Pro wall charger and Home Integration System – consisting of a battery, power inverter and bi-directional electricity flow – that immediately kicks in if the grid goes dark.

He also touted cloud-based software that charges the Lightning during low-cost, off-peak hours – then transfers that cheap electricity back to the house during peak, high-cost evening hours. California officials predict annual electricity rate increases of 4-9% by 2025 as the state shutters natural gas and nuclear plants and planned solar farms are delayed. Texas, Ford’s biggest truck market, also suffered widespread power outages last year.

Tesla’s Powerwall pioneered the home-energy storage solution in 2015 – storing energy from roof solar panels to power homes during peak hours. Ford takes the idea a step further by integrating its truck in the system.

Ford’s Palmer credits Team Edison’s human-centric design focus for the company’s new direction.

“We were struggling to get going in electric vehicles in the right way,” he said. “We are an over 100-year old company, and as projects came forward they were being removed because they weren’t meeting profit targets. You use the principle of human-centric design when it’s not obvious what the future path is, when there is disruption.”

Employing a diverse staff in age and product backgrounds, Team Edison hit the road to ask customers what they wanted from EVs. They trotted the globe to meet customers. They focused on re-imagining company icons by developing the electric F-150 Lightning, Mustang Mach-E and E-Transit van.

For the F-150, they went to Texas, where 1-in-5 Ford pickups are sold.

“(F-150’s) the best-selling vehicle of any kind in America for decades. It could change people’s relationship w EVs if we get it right. But we didn’t know who wanted to buy this vehicle,” said Palmer. “So we made prototypes out of cardboard, we made up some brochures and we went to Texas.”

Accompanied by a human-centric design specialist – “essentially a psychologist,” said Palmer – Team Edison confronted a group of hardened Texas truck drivers. The team got the truckers’ attention with muscle-bound specs – 560 horsepower, 775 foot-pounds of torque, 10,000-pound towing – that embarrassed a gas-powered Raptor performance truck.

 

“Then we showed them the frunk and what the frunk could be,” said Palmer.

He recounted the story of one particularly prominent focus-group pickup owner who perked up when learning he could carry two bags of golf clubs in the frunk while also using the pickup bed for work.

“He stood up and said 'I’m not leaving until I can put down a deposit.' We estimated 18% wanted an e-pickup truck. Then we went to California and, you can imagine, we couldn’t get out of the room,” said Palmer.

Armed with customer demand, Team Edison constructed an all-new truck but that stayed true to what had made F-150 an essential tool to generations of truck buyers.

Aft of the A-pillar (and frunk) were F-150’s familiar aluminum body panels. The bed? “Deliberately identical, because customers said their accessories needed to fit and they needed over 2,000 pounds of payload,” said Ford’s EV boss.

Below decks the F-150 body sits on familiar, ladder-frame chassis construction, yet with all-new wheels, gearbox, motors, battery, steering and brakes.

“It was designed to do what customers need ... starting at $39,974,” said Palmer. “We wanted to take all the excuses away for electric. It’s a truck for everybody. (We are) shipping luxury and fleet models all together.”

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