By on December 1, 2017

2017 Ford F-150 Towing - Image: Ford

The pervasive opinion among truck enthusiasts and industry experts is that nobody cares about plug-in hybrid pickups. Fuel economy isn’t a major priority among those in the market for something that can haul bales of hay or a stable of horses.

This poses a problem for pickup manufacturers striving for lower emissions and fuel consumption. Ford, which previously lightened the F-150 and outfitted it with a bevy of more economical engines, knows this problem better than most.

However, Ford is pressing onwards. It even intends to bring a hybrid plug-in variant of its ultra-popular pickup to the market in the coming years. But how is it going to market the technology to consumers who are unlikely to care? The company has strategy for that and it’s less reliant on fuel savings than you might expect. 

Ford is fixating on more power — specifically, the juice available via an on-board generator. “It still may be a hard sell,” Michelle Krebs, an analyst at Autotrader, explained to Bloomberg. “but they’ve got to have this in their lineup.” Ford is spending $4.5 billion to launch 13 electric and hybrid models by 2020, including a gas-electric Mustang. The hybridized F-150 is likely to be part of that electric expansion.

With its hands tied as a result of fuel efficiency regulations, Ford thinks it can highlight the benefits of owning a hybrid truck where you can plug in your appliances or tools. This revelation came after the company spent a year trying to figure out how best to market the new vehicle. “We immersed ourselves in their lives,” said Nadia Preston, the research team’s project leader, of the model’s buyers. “That meant going camping with them, tailgating, going to rodeos, even spending the night.”

Hau Thai-Tang, the product-development chief who has led the push toward EVs, said the team found that truck owners could benefit from having a mobile generator built into a vehicle. “We would see our customers just literally buying generators from Home Depot and strapping them down in their truck beds,” Thai-Tang said.

Whether used for camping or worksites, access to power is an invaluable asset and the lynchpin for Ford’s marketing strategy for the plug-in F-Series. Currently, the company hasn’t expressed how many hybrid trucks it hopes to sell, but analysts believe adding high-wattage power ports would add $5,000 to the base cost of most electrified vehicles. That’s quite a bit more than a portable generator, but Ford hasn’t announced any official pricing yet.

“You would need some motivation to invest in an electric pickup,” said Xavier Mosquet, senior partner at Boston Consulting Group, who claims pickups will be the segment least likely to be swept up in the electrification hullabaloo. “Unless you think the generator itself has value — which for many customers in this segment, it will.”

Either way, the automaker is not going to instantly abandon the existing powertrains. The F-Series can still be had with a V8, despite the undeniable might of the EcoBoost V6, and Ford is too smart to replace traditional engines with a hybrid powerplant. Shoppers will still have an abundance of choice in the years to come and the F-Series will probably persist as America’s best-selling truck for some time.

[Image: Ford Motor Co.]

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33 Comments on “Ford’s Marketing Strategy for Plug-in F-150 Fixates on More Power...”


  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    I can just hear the talk at a tailgate party now.

    “Wow Bob is that the F150 with the built in generator option?”

    “Yup, Ed. Try this margarita.” (fires up the blender he’s got plugged into his truck)

    I’ll be you could stand there for 15 min listening to them and once would the world “hybrid” be mentioned unless a Prius creeps by.

  • avatar
    deanst

    I guess if the mall suffers a blackout, the F150 driver could power a few stores to help out.

  • avatar
    TwoBelugas

    “Hau Thai-Tang, the product-development chief who has led the push toward EVs, said the team found that truck owners could benefit from having a mobile generator built into a vehicle. “We would see our customers just literally buying generators from Home Depot and strapping them down in their truck beds,” Thai-Tang said.”

    I guess these trucks will come with some REALLY long extension cords because last time i had a generator in the bed of my truck it had wheels for a reason.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    That, and parts of the fleet market. Plug-in hybrid (or straight BEV) pickups could pencil out as work trucks in cities.

    • 0 avatar
      Lou_BC

      @dal20402 – agreed. Short distance city fleets would see a cost savings with a plug in hybrid.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      And a lot of those fleet vehicles already have an inverter installed or a generator chained in the bed, so having the power source available would be highly desired.

    • 0 avatar
      stuki

      +1

      In addition, you’d think the “commute during the week, do truck stuff on the weekend” crowd, would benefit.

      And, considering the sheer volum of air being hauled during those commutes; an in bed, removable for when you need the bed, battery; would seem like just the ticket. Heck, the weight of it will even make the light loaded truck ride better….

      Sell the thing with a mount for a Spitzlift in the bed floor, or a Western Mule bumper crane; for lifting the battery, as well as bikes, raceboat engines or what have you, in and out of the bed; and you may just have a real truck guy’s truck going……

  • avatar
    dchturbo

    Am I the only one who spit out their coffee at “even spending the night”?

  • avatar

    Couldn’t they market it as superior torque and towing capacity from the electric power?

    Couldn’t they strap a honking huge turbo onto a small, efficient engine and use the electric motor as “torque fill” while the big ass turbo spools up?

    • 0 avatar
      MrIcky

      I was thinking this too. A 2.7 eco-boost hybrid would probably be great all around. Electric assist on hills and on start up in tow mode plus a great descent mode while in tow mode, then better gas mileage the rest of the time.

      • 0 avatar
        stuki

        To provide any meaningful amount of electric assist for towing uphill, you’ll need serious cooling for both motors and batteries. Requiring quite a bit of redesigning. In addition to what is already required to house big batteries, motors etc.

        It’s lots easier to package an electric system allowing you to turn off the ICE during some light loaded city/commute usage, and rely on the ICE mainly for heavy, or longer distance, or faster, stuff. Big, powerful ICEs; with big, powerful cooling systems; aren’t very efficient for just idling around cities hauling one guy and some air, so there can be quite some gains to be had from that. Doubly so, if some of the space currently reserved for air, can be taken up by a plug and play battery; removable for when you need all that bedspace, and is willing to settle for getting regular truck fuel economy.

  • avatar
    ajla

    You can do hybrid V8s. It doesn’t have to use a 2.3T for the gas half.

  • avatar
    conundrum

    F150 PHEV GEN King Ranch – bring along your electric composting toilet too.

  • avatar
    Scoutdude

    I’m sorry but I’m not buying the estimated cost of $5k to equip the trucks with high output plugs. The inverter would need another set of outputs and of course the associated wiring to the outlet(s). $500 seems more likely.

    • 0 avatar
      Lou_BC

      Ford has realized that truck buyers aren’t sweating mpg/fuel consumption in a post peek oil era. Pushing the vehicle as a mobile power source is an attempt at appealing to more buyers.
      I’d consider plug in or hybrid only if it can pack 2k worth of gear into the most remote areas I’ve been and let me get back how with a safety margin.

      • 0 avatar
        Carilloskis

        Lou I might be interested in this if the capabilities and the price is right as i will be in the market for a new F150 when this comes out. I know what I want with features and capabilites and want the most efficient option i can get in a 4×4 fx4 crew cab with massaging seats and 1500lbs of payload minimum. I am also increased in the new diesel option.

        • 0 avatar
          Lou_BC

          @Carilloskis – I’m really liking the idea of a diesel ZR2 Colorado. In my part of the world, diesel is always in plenty supply in the back country at logging camps, mines, and ranches. My brother has been in places where his “gasser” company truck was a liability since he had to pack in extra fuel.

          • 0 avatar
            Carilloskis

            Lou I agree the zr2 with the diesel is very intriguing , but i already have a Raptor thats long since paid for and am looking at the new turbo diesel f150.

      • 0 avatar
        Scoutdude

        I wouldn’t expect it to have capabilities that are that different than the standard 150’s so chances are if a standard F150 would get you there so would the Hybrid version, though the plug-in’s payload may be noticeably smaller than the other two.

      • 0 avatar
        Scoutdude

        @Lou, while the retail customer may not really be sweating fuel prices/consumption, it is still a big concern for private and government fleets.

        Many gov’t fleets also have mandates that require a minimum percentage of the fleet be alternative fuel vehicles, that they must buy an alt fuel vehicle if a suitable one is available, or that they must buy a plug in vehicle if a suitable one exists.

        So they stand for the hybrid and plug in versions to make up a decent percentage of their gov’t fleet sales.

        I can see a lot of private fleets snapping them up as well for their run around trucks that usually idle away half the day.

        • 0 avatar
          Lou_BC

          @Scoutdude – fleets are paying attention to MPG. The company my brother works for buys 100’s of pickups and they now pay attention to mpg and durability data.

    • 0 avatar
      Greg Locock

      Scoutdude, I agree entirely. Perhaps the author could reveal the names and qualifications of these analysts? I suggest not using them in future.

      A 5 Kw inverter, off the shelf, is $2000, and that is both retail and overkill.

  • avatar
    Scoutdude

    My big question is exactly how the system will work. With all of their previous Hybrids reverse is purely electric and it can fail to be capable of doing the job at hand. You can’t back up to and over a curb in the first and second generations and you also can’t back up a very steep hill, at least on the 1st and 2nd generation systems. Maybe it is different on the latest version since it was designed as a plug in from the beginning.

    Either way Ford will have a nightmare on its hands if the trucks aren’t capable of backing up onto a sidewalk or backing up out of that steep hill with a loaded bed.

    • 0 avatar
      brandloyalty

      “With all of their previous Hybrids reverse is purely electric and it can fail to be capable of doing the job at hand. You can’t back up to and over a curb in the first and second generations and you also can’t back up a very steep hill, at least on the 1st and 2nd generation systems.”

      I don’t know who “they” is or what you mean by 1st and 2nd generation systems”.

      There are two different issues with the electric-only reverse. One is power available relative to the requirement. While many have posed this as a problem, I can’t recall an example in real life of a hybrid defeated trying to back up a steep hill. I don’t think the owners manual even warns of this. Perhaps because torque is more important at the low speeds typical of reversing. I use my awd Escape Hybrid to accompany vehicles with low range gearing into places where they use it. I have never failed to get up and down the same hills they do, forward or reverse. This goes beyond what all but the most extreme uses pickups would see.

      The other issue arises if an obstruction prevents initial reversing. Again in theory this may sound like a big deal. You can reverse over that curb or whatever if you have a run at it of only a couple of inches. I have never heard of a hybrid getting stranded by this. I have once managed to get into a position where I could not reverse because of this, but I was still able to go forward enough to escape the situation.

      The reason for the theoretical problem is that if an electric motor cannot rotate, current going through the windings will heat them enough to melt the wiring insulation and censequently short out. Hybrids have sensors to detect this circumstance and cut power.

      However, diesel electric locomotives have to overcome vast forces to start from a stop. They manage to do so because their great torque allows immediate, though slow motion. In fact this is one of the reasons for using the diesel electric powertrain. Imagine the transmission required to do this without the electric motors.

      There is no reason a hybrid truck could not have a two speed transfer case. The real liability of hybrids in extreme use is the absence of effective low speed engine braking.

  • avatar
    7402

    What happens to those electrics when you dip the back of the truck in the water at the bottom of the boat ramp?

    • 0 avatar
      stuki

      Don’t people run tools and welders to do sub sea repairs on offshore oil installations? I’m pretty sure diesel electric submarines occasionally end up submerged as well..

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    “…nobody cares about plug-in hybrid pickups”

    Nobody cares about plug-in hybrids in general. But a huge part of the market cares about “pickups”. Industry/utilities/fleets are around 1/3 of the 2 million+ pickup market and I’m positive they’re not too interested in compact cars, hybrid or otherwise.

    A hybrid F-150 with huge “HYBRID” vinyl-lettering down the sides would be great for pubic relations for any “company truck”, never mind utilities. It could be a bonified hit at the country club in Platinum or Limited trim, or finally a Prius replacement for the Hollywood stars or other left ooast elitists?

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      @Garret – Locomotives aren’t hybrids, they don’t store generated electricity, and only electric motors power the wheels. If it made sense for road-going vehicles, no doubt semis would go loco first.

      I’ve heard it explained why it only works for trains, and I forget the reasons but basically trains have the right-of-way and aren’t having to stop nearly as often as passenger cars and take miles to get up to speed when they do.’

      • 0 avatar
        Garrett

        But this setup isn’t too dissimilar to a first generation Chevy Volt.

        The Volt used a gas engine for a generator and had batteries. Wheels driven by electric motor.

        Swap the gas generator for a diesel, drop it in a pickup, and then put some train horns on Convience Package.

  • avatar
    Garrett

    I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: diesel electric hybrid, like a locomotive.

    Who cares about a V8 when you have a freakin’ train power plant under the hood.

  • avatar
    Frank Williams

    Yeah. Because a hybrid pickup with on-board generator did so well when GM tried selling one 13 years ago.

    • 0 avatar
      el scotto

      Did you have to buy the LTZ/Z71 trim package to get the on board generator? In my mind, GM marketing would have had you buy a lot of options to get the generator. If an on-board generator is a $500 option on a WT/Xl; that’s whole different story.

  • avatar
    EBFlex

    So Ford has given up on making the the Ecobust engines reliable and efficient and now are going the hybrid route? There goes the pitiful weight savings from the beer can body and then some.

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