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America’s Favorite Truck Is About to Test Tesla’s Dominance

With this month’s release of the F-150 Lightning, Ford hopes to electrify new and traditional truck buyers alike, and—eventually—to replace its industry-defining gas-powered line.

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Ford Motor Chief Executive Officer Jim Farley with the F-150 Lightning.

Ford Motor Chief Executive Officer Jim Farley with the F-150 Lightning.

Photographer: Winni Wintermeyer for Bloomberg Businessweek

When Ford began developing an electric version of its wildly popular F-150 pickup four years ago, many people doubted it could be as robust as the gas-powered brute. Some of them were inside the house. “We were dealing with a ton of skepticism internally,” says Linda Zhang, chief engineer on the project. “It couldn’t just be a battery on wheels. We wanted it to be a real American truck that does work.”

It also needed to add value, using electric power to do things a regular truck couldn’t. So Zhang asked her engineers to come up with features “that hadn’t been invented yet.” Some of the ideas they ran by consumer focus groups worked, like a truck-bed scale connected to a dashboard readout and to an LED taillight display showing available capacity. Others didn’t, like a “bed extender” that used a small elevator to lengthen the truck at the back. “People said, ‘I would just buy a longer truck if I needed that,’ ” Zhang says.