Automobile

7 Questions with Ford F-150 Lightning engineer Linda Zhang

Nothing on wheels says America like the Ford F-150. So electrifying the best-selling vehicle in America was no small challenge. The task fell to Linda Zhang, who first rode in a car as an 8-year-old after emigrating from China to the United States. 

Zhang grew up to become an electrical engineer at Ford. Recently, the electric F-150 Lightning, for which she is the chief engineer, has generated quite a bit of buzz. President Joe Biden took it for a spin in May after Zhang gave him a personal walk-through. “This sucker’s quick,” Biden told a pack of reporters.

It’s also versatile. The pickup can power your house in a blackout or serve up a tailgate party from its “mega-power frunk,” a cavernous compartment up front where the engine would normally be.

More than 150,000 prospective buyers have paid for nonbinding reservations, including many who’ve never owned a truck, or a Ford. As a result of the reception, the carmaker is doubling capacity at its factory in Dearborn, Mich., before the pickup launches next spring.

Zhang, 44, says the entire experience has been “surreal,” especially the meeting with the president. She spoke with Bloomberg about the pickup and her personal journey. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

7 Questions with Ford F-150 Lightning engineer Linda Zhang

Why do you think so many non-traditional buyers are signing up for the F-150 Lightning?

We’re providing the customer with functionality that they can really only get from electrification. Being able to use that power from the vehicle to either provide backup power for their home, or at a tailgate, or at a job site, or at a camp site — those are cool functionalities that you’ve really never had before in any vehicle.

Typically, fuel savings are a prime selling point for an electric vehicle. Were you trying go beyond that?

It’s definitely not a fuel-economy story. This truck is not about that. You’re not going to change hearts and minds with just a compliance, fuel-economy solution. People really want their trucks to be great tools, whether it’s for the weekend job or to tow a boat to their lake house. We had to give them something they would fall in love with and be excited about, not just a battery on wheels.

How did you come up with the idea for the Mega Power Frunk?

Frunk is not necessarily a new idea. What’s unique for us is, what can you do with this frunk? We did a bunch of clinics with our customers. We started asking, what else could you do from a work and a fun perspective? They’d say, “I’d love to use this area as a bin for beverages” — pop, of course. “What about a plug so we can drain it?” Some of our customers told us flat-out that if they can fit golf clubs in there, they would keep them in their truck 100% of the time.

7 Questions with Ford F-150 Lightning engineer Linda Zhang7 Questions with Ford F-150 Lightning engineer Linda Zhang

What was it like, as someone who immigrated here as a child from China, to be sitting with the president of the United States, giving him a private preview of your truck?

It was surreal. I was really honored to be able to represent the company, to be able to show him the truck and get quick feedback from him. Looking back on moving here when I was 8 years old and riding in a car for the first time and growing up in the Midwest, it’s pretty cool.

Tell us about that first car ride when you arrived in the U.S. in 1985.


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