As the panting and drooling over upcoming all-electric pickups continues to dominate social media chatter among consumers and investors, just about everyone seems to be buzzing about Tesla, Rivian and Ford these days.
Ford revealed the Lightning on May 19 and while details involving the battery and other specs remain elusive, that stops no one from talking about what they do know.
There is one potentially huge accessory the Ford F-150 Lightning will offer that others won’t: a full size spare tire.
Not a little bitty doughnut tire that offers just enough support to limp to the nearest tire shop in prayer that it doesn’t bust en route, but an actual full-size spare that allows the truck owner to replace and continue with business uninterrupted.
While it may sound trivial, it isn’t trivial at all.
Full-size spares aren’t unusual on traditional internal combustion engine pickups including the Ford F-Series, Chevrolet Silverado, Ram 1500, Toyota Tundra and Nissan Titan. But the all-electric pickup is an entirely new game.
Tesla has not provided spares in its luxury electric vehicles as a standard benefit to date in order to limit weight while also providing free roadside assistance, and the company has said customers don’t mind.
Ford says their customers don’t view the truck as a luxury lifestyle product or a toy.
The F-150 is a lifeline for working men and women.
“… A temporary doughnut spare tire won’t work when you’re far from pavement or roadside assistance with places to go and jobs to do,” said Mike Levine, Ford North America product communications manager.
Ted Cannis, CEO of the Ford Pro business and government unit, tweeted on May 24, “When we talked to our customers, they insisted that we fit the full-size spare!”
Early images of the Lightning show the spare neatly tucked under the bed, clearly visible to drivers from the rear. The front trunk, also known as a frunk, is reserved for massive storage.
No one knows truck customers like Ford after nearly half a century of building a bestselling multibillion-dollar brand.
“They didn’t just throw the full spare in on a whim. That’s a lot more mass, weight, cost, assembly time. But if that really matters to your customer, you put it in. You have to give the customer what they want,” said John McElroy, host of the “Autoline After Hours” webcast and podcast and a veteran industry analyst. “Ford has done an astute job of prioritizing what goes in this truck.”
Carlos Guevara Jr. tweeted from his @cargueone account on May 25 that work sites have nails and bolts everywhere, “unlike the perfect paved road most Tesla drivers use when driving.”
These Ford F-150 trucks are designed to haul and tow, not loop Hollywood Boulevard or Times Square. (Tesla CEO Elon Musk made headlines and created social media excitement when he was spotted in a Cybertruck prototype in New York City last month before guest hosting “Saturday Night Live.”)
The Ford Lightning and Tesla Cybertruck start just below $40,000, less than an average sale of a nonelectric 2021 F-150. Skeptics have worried electric vehicles would be too pricey for the average Joe. The Rivian starts at $67,500. None of the list prices includes emissions incentives.
Meanwhile, the F-150 Lightning and Rivian R1T have a targeted EPA of 300 miles. Tesla’s Cybertruck has a targeted EPA of 250 miles.
There’s been no indication that either Rivian or Tesla will include full-size spares as a standard feature. The Rivian website says small and regular spare tires are optional. And Tesla offers spare tire kits as an option, too.
While all-electric competitors say they plan to disrupt the highly lucrative pickup market, Ford has said people won’t buy an electric truck unless it has better tools and offers more productivity than its nonelectric products.
“If you don’t have a full-size spare, you’ve just lost time quickly getting back on the road and back to work,” Levine said. “We know truck customers. They can’t stop to fix things when there’s no quick fix. When you look below the skin, Ford approached this like a truck company. But Lightning can do things no other truck can do — like power a home during an outage or at a job site as a mobile generator. That’s the key.”
Ford has spent years studying its consumers’ behavior and gathering psychographic intel that guides the 118-year-old automaker.
“Since our roads here and Europe were once all dirt, all autos needed spares, so they were a design feature,” said Maeva Ribas, manager of design research and strategy at The CARLAB Inc., an automotive product planning consulting group based in Southern California. “Today, we have mostly paved roads, with exceptions being New York City, Detroit and Los Angeles — which are 50% potholes. Now, only light trucks have spares.”
“Considering an EV battery is as big as a bedroom mattress, kudos to Ford for packaging one while still giving real work truck buyers what they need: A spare. Real trucks have real spares,” she said. “We don’t notice them because they are usually packaged under the bed between two large frame rails.”
Pickups still need full-size spares because they get used by farmers, utility workers, contractors, Ribas said. “The pipeline crew in Alaska doesn’t call Auto Club when they get a flat. It would be a big mistake for an EV pickup maker to assume it will be so-called ‘personal use’ buyers only. That is a temptation, but it’s a trap other pickup challengers have fallen into before. Trucks are for work, and real work requires a proper spare tire — lifestyle pickup or not.”
Full-size spares in all vehicles were universal until the “space-saver” or doughnut spare tires were introduced, said Jonathan Klinger, vice president of car culture at Traverse City-based Hagerty, the world’s largest insurer of collector vehicles.
“In fact, many early cars through the 1920s could have more than one full-size spare tire as tire troubles were far more common during the early days of motoring,” he said.
There were temporary bans on spare tires in any new vehicle because of rubber shortages during WWII and the Korean War.
Separate and apart from the Ford F-150 Lightning, spare tires have played a key role with Ford and other automakers.
“The side mount spare tire — a tire mounted on the front fender — was a common feature into the 1930s,” said Matt Anderson, transportation curator at The Henry Ford museum in Dearborn. “The idea remained on trucks even longer. It was just a convenient space to put the spare — convenient for accessing it, and convenient in that it didn’t take up space in the trunk or truck bed.”
When reviewing archival photos, he said, spare tire history becomes obvious to the classic car aficionado.
“The one true Ford thing is the ‘continental kit’ spare tire, seen on the back of Lincolns,” Anderson said. “That idea goes back to the original Lincoln Continental of 1940-48, hence the name. This put the spare tire in a case mounted on the rear bumper, behind the trunk. It was a design cue used in each generation of Lincoln Continental ‘Mark’ series cars going into the 1990s.”
Nash Motors used continental kits in the 1950s, but it’s an idea most closely associated with Ford — both because of the Lincoln Continentals and because of its use on the first generation 1955-57 Ford Thunderbirds, Anderson said.
“The spare tire is one of those long-running complications for which automakers have tried to find — but never quite have found — a fully satisfactory solution,” he said.
Edsel made him do it
Ted Ryan, Ford’s archives and heritage brand manager. said, “(Eugene) “Bob” Gregorie, the designer, wanted to hide the tire but Edsel made him put it in the trunk with the shape visible. It was daring and became a design classic.”
And people have been trying to fix the damn roads forever.
“In the early days of the automobile age with the rough and rudimentary roads, spare tires were a necessity because of the threat of a blowout,” Ryan said. “The early spares were often visibly stored on the running boards. Edsel Ford famously incorporated the spare into the design of the Continental as form and function were combined. The more sophisticated modern designs have effectively hidden the spare, but its core functionality has not changed in the intervening century.”