Detroit - America is mostly a big engine country. Think Mustang, Bronco Raptor, F150, RAM, Charger and the list goes on.
However as pressure mounts on traditional vehicle manufacturers from many sectors and countries apply stricter regulations regarding emissions, they have gone from dabbling with electric vehicles to spending billions of dollars on research and development and now building them.
Ironically all of this is still being funded by the sale of internal combustion engines (ICE).
Take Ford’s F150 truck, it’s a truck for sure not a bakkie, in a good year they sell 1-million units, that’s right, a million!
It’s their mainstay and banker and as any good marketing person will tell you when something is that popular and you want to introduce a radical change, give it the same trusted name, don’t fiddle with it too much, and take it to market.
Which is what Ford did with the F150 Lightning.
The change revolved around converting America’s best-selling vehicle to an EV but keeping the interior and exterior virtually unchanged.
And it worked, so much so that they had to stop taking orders when the book reached 200 000.
It was one of the cars that we looked forward to driving on our visit to Detroit for the unveiling of the new Mustang. And it didn’t disappoint.
Not that we get to see many of them locally but it’s instantly recognisable thanks to films and television shows.
Where the ICE slatted grille sits it’s closed off, presenting an aerodynamic front end dominated by the headlights. The rear is the same except that the tail-lights are connected with a light strip across the tailgate.
Apart from the fact that the recognised design is aimed at luring traditional buyers into the EV market, it’s also a cost-saving exercise with the stamping plant producing the same parts before a short reroute to the dedicated F-150 Lightning facility in Dearborn, Michigan.
When you get into the cabin the first thing you notice is the enormity of it, it’s unlike any interior space we’ve experienced in South Africa. Talk about shoulder room.
The interior looks very much the same as the new Ranger and Everest except that it’s… well, bigger.
There’s a floor-mounted 131-kWh lithium-ion extended range battery powering two permanent magnet motors via a single speed transmission and it’s good for 426kW and 1050Nm.
Range is said to be 480km when fully charged with a towing capacity of 4 000kg.
Before our arrival in Detroit I often wondered what the obsession was with big trucks and SUVs that dominate the American landscape, but once you’ve driven one you understand.
If you think you’re king or queen of the road in a modified double cab, sit down, because real road royalty sits high and mighty surveying all they can see from a truck.
Driving it was a lot less intimidating than what I expected and because of the raised driving position and American roads made for large vehicles it only took a few minutes to settle down.
As with all EVs acceleration is alarmingly quick but what makes this 3.2 ton beast stand out is that it will take about four seconds for it to reach 100km/h without a sound.
Once you’ve gotten over the initial thrill the F-150 Lightning doesn’t handle badly at all. Sure it’s not going to hug corners and tight bends without putting up some resistance but its suspension felt fairly pliant given the size of it and because of its low centre of gravity.
Steering was a little vague but let’s be honest, F-150 drivers aren’t exactly buying them for pristine road manners and faultless handling.
Driving long distances (think Route 66) with the 20-inch tyres gobbling up the tar is more the style I think.
Mustang Mach-E GT
With Brutus done it was time to turn our attention to the other end of the scale in the Mustang Mach-E GT.
Go figure, those same marketing people also decided to hitch the revered Mustang badge to not only an EV but an SUV.
Initially there was howling indignation but as so often happens, the internet trolls found something else to keep them occupied and Ford got on with the business of selling it.
Since its launch in November 2019 more than 100 000 of them have found homes and it’s now such a household name that everyone refers to it as just the Mach-E with little or no reference to the pony on its front grille.
In Cyber Orange it strikes an imposing figure in the car park with its almost coupe-like shape.
Ford claims a range 434 kilometres from its 91.0kWh lithium-ion battery pack that produces 358kW and 814Nm from a pair of electric motors and it will get to 100km/h in 3.7 seconds.
The interior too is well laid out with faux-leather and soft touch surfaces dominated by the big touchscreen infotainment system.
There were three of us in the car and I had ample space for my legs and the roof lining was still a couple of inches above my head.
The package looks a lot more European as Ford tries to woo EV customers around the globe, well, left-hand markets for now anyway.
We had one of the Ford executives occasionally wide eyed as we initially played with the acceleration but once we got onto the highway the car felt solidly planted and easy to drive.
Insulation was top-notch over stretches of highway where repairs were taking place and once we got back to the staging area we both agreed with the EV exec out of earshot, that alternative powered vehicles were the future but that the “real” Mustang was what we wanted.
Not everyone in America is convinced though.
I had an interesting conversation with an old-timer as a passenger in a Ford Maverick while my colleague was doing camera work inside the GT500.
Apart from the obvious lack of engine and exhaust noise his main issue was how the network would cope with hundreds of thousands EVs plugged in every day.
I glanced at my Eskom App to see when the folks at home would again be plunged into darkness and started to explain but some things are best left unsaid.