Ford's electric F-150 gets some free PR from President Biden (Is this going to help or hurt?)

As recently as this morning, Ford was still putting out teaser clips for its new F-150 Lightning pickup truck which promised it would be revealed tomorrow at 9:30PM.

Today, one day before the big reveal, President Biden stopped by the plant where the new truck will be built in Dearborn, Michigan. And just like that, the Lightning was there, parked just behind Biden’s left shoulder where everyone including the cameras could see it. That’s some serious product placement on Ford’s part. It would have been dumb not to take advantage of it.

Fox News and CNBC have both reported the reveal of the truck a day early was a surprise. In fact, it seems even President Biden wasn’t aware it was happening because at one point in his speech he apologized that he’d been allowed to see the truck first during a private tour of the factory. “I was able to sit in it. Quite frankly, they let me see it so I apologize to you who won’t see it until you’re going to like it,” Biden said. He added, “I’d sure like to drive it. I wonder whether or not I could lose the secret service and go out to the track.”

As for Biden’s desire to test drive it, he got his wish. Reporters were taken out to the track where a disguised Lightning truck pulled up with Biden driving. But Biden didn’t lose the secret service as it appeared there was an agent riding shotgun.

Biden suggested the truck was doing 0-60 in 4.3 or 4.4 seconds, but a Ford rep reminded the President those figures hadn’t been released yet. “I should be quiet,” Biden said. As you’ll see at the end of the clip, Biden’s launch at full speed was a big hit with the media.

It’s obvious why Ford might be flexing a bit on it’s reveal. Having the President talk up your new truck is the kind of PR that money can’t buy. On the other hand, there is a risk inherent in having Biden become the face of the electric F-150. Politico made the case earlier today that the F-150, which is the best-selling vehicle in the America, is a lot more than just a truck. It’s part of the culture for a lot of people. And if there’s a politics associated with the people who buy and drive F-150s it’s decidedly not left-wing.

Pickups, especially the F-150, are deeply rooted in the American psyche and the economy. And their sales are heavily concentrated in conservative states where high-speed electric charging stations are few and far between.

In Wyoming, Montana and North Dakota, more than 40 percent of all vehicles sold are pickups. In South Dakota, Alaska and Idaho, more than a third of all vehicles sold are pickups, according to a Cox Automotive analysis…

“The fear would be that we put out this electric truck and our conservative, red-state consumers think, ‘Oh, Ford’s gone soft. Ford’s gone over to the dark side.’ I am positive that Ford has spent a lot of time and money looking at that possibility,” said Aaron Ahuvia, a professor of marketing at the University of Michigan-Dearborn who has done work for Ford.

“Ford does not need to count on lots of sales of electric trucks to uber-Trumpy conservatives,” Ahuvia said. “But Ford needs to worry if having the electric truck as an option contaminates the brand with those people. They seem to be confident that those people will tolerate the electric truck as an option. You would hope the politicians would follow suit.”

I think Ford is right to some degree that there are potentially a lot of truck buyers in conservative states who would look at an electric F-150 not because they want to reduce their carbon footprint but because a truck with more torque and towing capacity would be appealing. However, one way to turn those buyers off is to make this into the Biden Edition F-150.

Personally, I don’t care if Biden drove it or liked it and wouldn’t make a buying decision either way based on that. I came very close to buying a new F-150 last year and decided to hold off for another year. I’m not committed to buying electric or even buying something new. But if the specs are good and the price isn’t too high I’d certainly consider the Lightning or one of several electric competitors coming out next year around the same time.