The US Forest Service on Friday kicked off a 12-month test of the Ford F-150 Lightning electric pickup truck, part of its bid to green its entire fleet.
Part of the test will include employee surveys to measure how well the truck functions as a land management tool, including user perceptions about maintenance and safety, Sonia Sachdeva, a Forest Service research social scientist, speaking at an event in Dearborn, Mich.
Most of the electric vehicle social science so far has focused on their role in the consumer sphere, not the working world.
“I think there’s a lot of curiosity,” Gina Owens, regional forester of the service’s Eastern region, said in an interview. “On the one hand, we have employees like me, who want to get behind the wheel of this thing and try it out. And then you’ve got employees that are going to be out for a 75-mile drive one way, and maybe they’re a little bit nervous about, are they going to get out there and get stuck?”
Separately, the Forest Service says it will expand its use of fleet telematics to gather data about where to build charging stations and how to get the best use out of battery electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles.
Like every other federal agency, the Forest Service has been under pressure to green its fleet since President Joe Biden signed an executive order in 2021 calling for most new federal vehicles to be zero-emissions by 2035.
But the agency has a lot of catching up to do: Of its 18,250 vehicles, only 24 are hybrids. The agency also has 32 charging ports, including one solar-powered station.
Unlike many agencies, however, the demands the service puts on its vehicle fleet are unusually high. The agency is responsible for 193 million acres across 700 locations, much of which is remote, unpaved, and hundreds of miles from the nearest charging station.
Part of the new study will examine how reliably EVs can transport employees into the field and back home again, Owens said. She also noted that mobile charging stations and extra batteries will be part of the agency’s set of solutions.
But in some cases—such as an extremely long drive in freezing cold temperatures—EVs may not be the best choice, she said.
Other kinks will also have to be worked out. For example, the government credit cards USFS employees use to buy gas don’t work at electric charging stations yet, Owens said.
“That’s a system that is going to have to be adapted to the president’s executive order,” she said.
The Ford F-150 Lightning was picked because the General Services Administration recently authorized its purchase for federal agencies, Owens said. But the Forest Service isn’t beholden to Ford, and remains open to other automakers’ trucks, she said.
The Lightning has an advertised range of 230 miles per charge. It takes 14 to 16 hours for a full recharge, according to the USFS.
More than 13,250 F-150 Lightnings have been sold since the truck went on sale at the end of May, according to Ford. The company said its EV sales in November were up 103% compared to a year ago.
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