Ford's and Lamborghini’s Electric Behemoths Totally Miss the Point

EVs should be small and light, not huge and heavy

Key Takeaways

  • Ford’s F-150 Lightning is as big and powerful as the gas-guzzling model.
  • Electric cars that look like gas cars are familiar and appealing to buyers.
  • The move to electric should be an opportunity to rethink vehicle infrastructure in cities.
An internal view of an electronic truck.

Ford

Ford’s electric F-150 Lightning, and Lamborghini’s planned electric supercar are totally unsuited to the electric era.

It’s like taking a horse and cart, and replacing the horse with a gas-powered-horse robot instead of inventing the car. Electric-powered cars need to be lightweight, and personal city vehicles don’t need four seats, 20 cup holders, or a 200-plus mph top speed. On the other hand, perhaps these extreme EVs will convince diehard petrolheads to go electric.

"There is no longer an engine under the hood of an electric F-150. It is now storage," urban planner Gil Meslin said on Twitter. "There is no reason, other than style over safety, not to modify the front end to reduce the blind spot and make it less lethal in the event of a collision with a human body."

Smaller and Lighter, Not Heavier

First, there’s a wholly practical reason that big electric cars don’t work as well as small ones. Gasoline offers an insane energy density. Just a few gallons can take a small car hundreds of miles. It’s this storage efficiency, along with the US’s cheap gas, that has fueled the rise of today’s huge, gas-thirsty cars.

Ford Lightning Reserve all-electric pickup truck.

Ford

Electric batteries are comparatively terrible at storing energy. If you want more range or more power, you need to add batteries, which are themselves heavy, and require more juice to carry them around. That’s why electric works best with smaller vehicles, like bikes or purpose-designed, lightweight cars without all the usual extra weight. 

Familiarity Breeds Content

New tech tends to mimic old tech, possibly because buyers are reassured by familiarity. Electric cars pretend to be gas cars, right down to the charging cables that look like gas pumps. Right now that makes sense.

If all electric cars looked like Renault’s little Twizy, then who would buy them? Even the cute and Smart Car, which is ubiquitous in Europe, failed in the US. Why? Too small, perhaps? Too quirky? Not enough like a "real" car?

But for electric cars to work out, they need to be smaller. The smaller and lighter the vehicle, the fewer batteries it needs to carry. And fewer batteries mean less charging time, which is a real concern when charging times are so much longer than filling up your tank. 

If EVs are going to be smaller and lighter, then they also need a complete redesign. An SUV-class vehicle just isn’t a practical starting point. The "failed" Smart Car is a much better option.

The problem is getting people to buy the things, which is where Ford’s huge new electric F-150 Lightning comes in. By converting its biggest, most macho truck to electric, Ford is signaling that it is a) serious about electric, and that electric is up to the task of replacing gasoline, and b) that electric is powerful enough for SUV and truck buyers.

Lamborghini Terzo Millennio all electric sports car.

Lamborghini

But a huge, heavy electric truck will never be green. It might be a marketing move, but it’s one that makes little sense as soon as you think about its consequences.

Delivery and Utility

No Lamborghini, electric or gas, has a place on public roads, at least not when used for its designed purpose. But utility trucks like the F-150 are tools. The thing is, their natural habitat is rural, or at least outside of downtown. And while cities make for efficient electric vehicle charging infrastructure, in the country, gas makes sense.

You can’t walk to the nearest SuperCharger station and fill up a can. And the emissions from a few trucks in the middle of nowhere don’t have the same local impact as they do when multiplied in cities, especially if that electricity comes from burning coal.

With emissions targets set, electric vehicles are the future. But they don’t have to be the scourge that gas cars are now. Building out an entirely new infrastructure for charging EVs is an opportunity to make some changes, and to put the private automobile in its place. And its place is not the city.

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