What comes to mind when you think of an electric or hybrid vehicle? Perhaps it’s the sleek-and-expensive look of a Tesla Roadster. Or maybe the small, quaint presence of the popular Toyota Prius.
How about America’s number one selling truck? If might seem farfetched to think of a Ford F-150 with the fuel economy of a small car, but Ford is seeking to change all that in the next few years. At the start of 2017, the company made waves in current auto news when it announced that it is moving forward with plans to offer a plug-in hybrid version of the popular truck and has even found outside sources to create a new electric drivetrain for the brand.
So what does this mean for truck and 4×4 enthusiasts? Should you be worried that dinky hybrid motors with the power of a lawnmower are going to take the place of V8 and diesel engines? Not quite. In fact, the electric drivetrains of the near future may even give you more power to tow and climb.
Hybrid Trucks So Far
You have probably noticed that most trucks still sport the same high power, six or eight cylinder engines that have existed for decades. Traditional truck engines have improved and evolved, for sure, but not in the direction of using electric batteries and motors.
Hybrid and electric technology is nothing new. In fact, the first electric car beat the first traditional automobile by nearly 40 years. Hybrid technology as we know it today became popular with the introduction of the Toyota Prius in 1997. Then other companies followed suit with their own long-range, high fuel economy versions.
So why haven’t hybrid trucks caught on? First, hybrid trucks aren’t new. GM made an attempt with their 2005 Silverado Hybrid. Toyota also recently introduced their A-BAT concept truck for the North American International Auto Show. Neither of these, however, are likely available at your local dealership.
In truth, hybrid technology hasn’t been popular with truck lovers. Electric/gasoline engines conjure up images of underpowered trucks that can’t haul a bike rack. The fact that you can’t pull anything behind the older Toyota Prii without taxing the engine hasn’t helped.
Drivetrain and engine technology has also improved in recent years for trucks. The F-150, for example, now rivals some crossovers and larger SUVs in terms of fuel economy. Many manufacturers are squeezing more horsepower out of smaller, more fuel-efficient engines.
Given all of this, is Ford just crazy?
Ford is pressing forward with a hybrid F-150 for a couple of not-so-crazy reasons. First and foremost, federal law is encouraging (or requiring) automotive makers to increase the fuel economy of popular lines to around 55 MPG by 2026. Whether the company thinks it is a good thing or not, Ford has to push the electric envelope in order to remain competitive.
The company is also playing catch up with hybrid and electric vehicles. While Toyota offers a hybrid version for virtually all of their models and Tesla continues to gain more share of the auto industry, Ford hasn’t done much more than test the waters with the Fusion Hybrid until recently. Now, the company plans to upgrade their hybrid drivetrains and offer more options with the F-150 and Mustang hybrids. By 2020, they plan to offer 13 different hybrid model versions.
More importantly, the F-150 is an old line. Still number one, sure, but only because Ford knows how to keep it rejuvenated. It’s the same reason the company continues to optimize engine/drivetrain performance and introduced the all-aluminum body in 2015. In fact, the 2015 F-150 model had more new patents for technology than any version previously.
In other words, Ford wants to keep this line going for a long time. Along with the hybrid addition, the company also announced new V6 and diesel engines for the 2018 model. The bottom line is the company is giving future customers options. Why limit your most popular truck to horsepower enthusiasts when you can offer something for everyone interested in a great truck?
The Future F-150 Hybrid
Planned for release in 2020, the details on the future F-150 hybrid are still scarce. Don’t plan on a 100 MPG range with the truck, but given the increase in the truck’s fuel efficiency this year, another economic upgrade is reasonable for 2020. The price is also likely to be higher than the standard trims since most hybrid versions run around $5,000 more than their conventional counterparts.
Ford is also planning to make the hybrid option more attractive to current and future truck owners skeptical about smaller, more efficient engines. This is actually not a new challenge for the company. When Ford introduced a V6 option for the F-150 line, they had to overcome the common perception that it was a V8 or bust for true F-150 aficionados. These days, the more economic and affordable V6 engine accounts for over two-thirds of all F-150 sales.
One way the company plans to sell the hybrid option is to fill in the gaps that existing F-150 owners have during the daily use of the truck. For Ford, the idea of a hybrid engine isn’t necessarily to save on gas. An electric battery and motor essentially means hybrid owners will have a large generator to use while camping, working, tailgating, etc. Need an electric generator you can drive around to tow things? A hybrid F-150 might be just what you need.
Hybrids for Everyone
The traditional F-150 is certainly not going anywhere, nor are the trucks most people buy. Ford hasn’t stated how many hybrid versions they plan to produce, but it is clear they will keep what works in the line.
The future of hybrid trucks does look promising, however. Toyota is doing much of the same with a Tacoma hybrid option planned for the near future. Even a few all-electric 4x4s crept up in recent SEMA shows. With federal laws currently aimed at increasing the fuel economy for many popular lines, it’s only natural that hybrid and all-electric technologies will become more commonplace in spaces traditionally dominated by less economy-focused engines and drivetrains.
Be on the lookout for Ford’s F-150 hybrid in 2020.