Early buyers of the new Ford F150 Lightning EV pickup truck found their new vehicles come with a surprising accessory–an adapter for a Tesla charger. The adapter won’t let the F150 charge at Tesla Supercharger stations (although Tesla has promised to open these to other EVs soon). Instead, the adapter means Tesla drivers can charge their vehicle by plugging them into the F-150 Lightning.
What the heck is going on here? It’s the latest smart move in the very clever rollout of a product that is both brand-new and iconic at the same time. When Ford first announced that an F-150 EV was coming, it released a video in which a Ford engineer used a prototype to tow a freight train weighing more than a million pounds while a group of skeptical gas-powered F-150 owners looked on.
Next, Ford announced a surprising feature called bi-directional charging. In a power outage, you could turn your lights back on by plugging your home into your truck. This could be a very useful feature in the American West, where pickup trucks are ubiquitous and wild weather regularly brings down power lines. But it was also a subtle way of bragging about the formidable capacity and reliability of the F150 Lightning’s lithium-ion battery.
Then someone at Ford had another bright idea. Since the Lightning would give customers the ability to power other appliances and devices, why not give them the ability to charge other EVs as well? As a practical matter, this is much less handy than the ability to power to a home. More and more charging stations are being built across the country, and most EVs can be charged (albeit slowly) from a household outlet. So creating the capability to charge an EV from the Lightning seems more intended to underscore the truck’s abilities than to be actually useful.
Surprise! You have a Tesla adapter.
But customers who bought the first batch of F-150 Lightnings to roll off the assembly line were surprised to find not only the standard J1772 adapter that would let them charge other EVs from the Lightning, they also found a special extra adapter that would let it charge Teslas, which have special proprietary plugs.
“F-150 Lightning can charge other EVs using its bi-directional charging capability and we’re shipping our first Lightnings with adaptors so F-150 Lightning customers can lend a hand if needed,” a Ford representative told The Verge. That suggests that only the earliest customers to buy the F-150 Lightning will get these accessories, although any F-150 Lightning owner who wants them can easily buy them as aftermarket items.
What’s the point of all this? For most drivers, a car isn’t just a means of getting from place to place, it’s also an expression of their identity. Electric vehicles, and Teslas in particular, are associated in most people’s minds with urban elites and Silicon Valley. Pickup trucks are associated with farms and rural areas, and with the West and Midwest. It’s no accident that when Tesla designed a pickup truck, it looked nothing like a traditional truck, and seemed purposely created to enchant science fiction fans.
It seems clear that most traditional pickup truck drivers don’t think much of Teslas, and vice versa. Indeed, Elon Musk declared in the spring of 2019 that the Tesla Cybertruck “will be a better truck than an F-150 in terms of truck-like functionality.” Ford’s video of the truck towing the train arrived just a few months later.
This may explain why the new F-150 Lightning owners reacted to the Tesla adapter with such glee. “Lightning to the rescue. We can help all those poor dead Teslas,” crowed one on a forum for Lightning owners. “I sooooo want that package! I’ll add a bumper sticker ‘Tesla Rescue Squad,'” another responded.
In other words, Ford grabbed a few extra headlines for its new truck, delighted its customers, and angered Tesla owners at the same time–all for the price of a few charger adapters. It was too good an opportunity to pass up. And an ingenious bit of marketing that we can all learn from.