The Absurdly Obvious Case for a Plug-in Ford Maverick
C’mon Ford. Don’t let me down.
Automakers sit at the towering heights of global capitalism. Nearly every important industry or commodity — steel, rubber, chemicals, semiconductors, minerals, and, of course, oil — feeds into car-making. Car companies receive so much government support that their brands often come to symbolize the state itself: Volkswagen, Toyota, and Ford are arguably more tied up with their countries’ national histories than, say, currywurst, sushi, or cheeseburgers.
Undertaking the construction of a wholly new car is such an expensive and arduous challenge that multiple automakers will often collaborate on it, creating a “platform” that involves a shared chassis and a set of interlocking components.
So it would be folly — if not outright delusion — to look at one of these companies and tell them that they should make a car for no reason other than that you want them to. Surely Ford Motor Company has better things to do than read a column and decide to shift its product line accordingly.
But that is what I’m going to do.
Ford should take its compact Maverick pickup truck — the smallest truck in their fleet — and release it as a plug-in hybrid. Here are the seven reasons why.
1. I want them to.
I like little trucks. I realize this is a character deficiency, and a somewhat unusual vice for my demographic: I’m a city-dwelling climate-change reporter who has no particular love for the canyon-face monsters that make up most modern pickup lines. But it’s hopefully a forgivable one.
2. It would be good for compact pickup trucks.
Forty years ago, if you wanted a compact pickup, you could have bought the trusty little Ford Ranger, a 15-foot bear cub of a truck that weighed a mere ton and could haul up to 1,600 pounds. The Ranger was a revolution, signaling that American automakers weren’t content to cede the compact pickup market to Japanese brands like Mazda and Toyota.
U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration via Wikimedia Commons.
Then compact pickups began to vanish. Toyota’s sprightly Tacoma, once a tail-wagger of a utility vehicle, slowly became super-sized. Ford stopped making the Ranger in 2012. By the middle of the 2010s, essentially no small trucks were available on the American market
Recently, compacts have started to come back. Ford brought back the Ranger, although the new model is as sleek and functional as a linebacker. Hyundai has released the Santa Cruz, the closest thing in America to the venerable Australian ute. Then in 2021, Ford started making the Maverick. At 16-feet long and 3,600 pounds, it’s bulkier and heavier — but not much bigger — than the chipper Rangers of yore. The Maverick is so popular that Ford had to stop taking orders for it last year. And while the Mav is currently offered as a hybrid … Ford could do better.
3. It would be good for plug-in hybrids.
I take it as a given that Ford will eventually release an all-electric Maverick. But in the meantime, a plug-in hybrid would be potentially more useful. Here’s why.
A plug-in hybrid electric vehicle, or PHEV, is just what it sounds like: a car or truck that has a gas tank and a battery that gets a little bit of range — maybe 30 miles. That larger battery differentiates a PHEV from a conventional hybrid, like the Prius (or the current Maverick hybrid), whose battery can only propel the car shorter distances or regenerate energy during braking.
PHEVs are more expensive than hybrids, and they have a reputation for being, well, the jazz choirs of power trains: By trying to do too much at once, they don’t do anything well.
Theoretically, you can use the gas tank in a PHEV as a backup power source, making short errands using only the battery. But a recent study from Transport & Environment, a European think tank, found that some PHEVs fell short of their advertised electric range, and therefore emitted five to seven times as much CO₂ in cities as claimed. And because of the weight of their batteries, PHEVs also require more gasoline than conventional hybrids.
But for all their downsides, PHEVs remain the best way for city-dwellers like me who don’t have EV chargers at home to take part in the EV revolution. I also only drive a few times a month — probably not often enough to justify locking up precious (and still scarce) EV metals in a vehicle that will mostly sit around on the street. Most of my trips are to the grocery store, which has charging in the parking lot. For a certain kind of consumer — i.e., me, the city-dwelling compact-pickup lover — a PHEV is ideal for right now.
4. Ford may have already done it.
According to MotorTrend, someone spotted a Ford Maverick last year with all-wheel drive and a PHEV power train. So it’s out there. It might be sitting in a Batcave-style basement somewhere in Michigan, but someone has done it.
5. A Ford spokesman told me they weren’t doing it, and it would be funny if they changed their mind.
“There’s no current need for a PHEV,” Mike Levine, a Ford spokesman, told me in an email, when I told him I was writing this story.
The “Maverick hybrid is incredibly efficient (40 mpg city) and affordable. The EPA estimates that Maverick hybrid’s total annual fuel cost is just $1,500,” he said. On top of that, Ford only sells one PHEV at the moment: a Ford Escape variant that goes for about $40,000. The Maverick, by comparison, starts at about $22,500.
6. It’s time for Millennials to buy their last gas car, their ‘forever’ truck — and the PHEV Maverick is a good one.
Let’s stipulate a few things. The first is that even if the United States aggressively ramps up the rollout of electric vehicles, gasoline — which is a fossil fuel! — will be available for a long time. The Biden administration hopes that EVs will make up 50% of new car sales in 2030 and 66% of new sales in 2032. That means that gas-burning cars will by definition make up half of the new car fleet in 2030 and one-third of the fleet in 2032. Under the EPA’s current proposal, most new heavy-duty trucks sold in those years will burn gasoline or diesel, too.
A rollout that quick may be delusional — you can make a plausible case that the EV transition will go faster or slower than the government believes. But if we assume that it’s a plausible base case, then we can also conclude that gas-burning cars will remain on the road well into the late 2040s. They might be costly to run and face extremely high fees in some places; driving one may incur some social stigma, like smoking indoors today; gasoline itself may even become a specialty rural fuel. But without a mandatory federal buy-back program of internal-combustion cars, it will probably be no rarer to see a gas car in the year 2050 than it is to see, say, a Subaru Baja today.
And that will be bad. Fossil fuels cause climate change. We should aim to eliminate them from society as soon as possible. But if you are alive in the 2040s, God willing, then you probably won’t be running to the Wal-mazon Mart in a gas car. Most vehicle miles traveled in the year 2050 probably won’t involve gasoline or diesel.
But it’s plausible that you, you Aging Millennial, may — you just may — have a gas-powered truck in your garage, one that you almost never use but that reminds you of your younger, freer days. One that mostly sits there, smiling idly, til you take it out to give the grandkids a ride around the farm or haul the occasional stump. A trusty, plastic-cladded friend. A golden retriever of a vehicle.
A plug-in hybrid Ford Maverick.
7. I could put stuff in the back.
Can you help your friend move with a Prius Prime? Can you carry some flat-packed bookshelves home from an Ikea run? Can you carry an unused mattress to the dump? Don’t answer that because you actually can do all three things with a Prius. But it would be way more fun to do it with a truck.