DECEMBER 6, 2020

In 2018, Ford sold 1 million F-150 pickup trucks in North America alone. In fact, the F-150 has been the best-selling vehicle in the U.S. for more than 40 years. But every time someone buys an F-150, they’re adding 100 metric tons of climate pollution to the world around them.

That’s a reality Ford can’t spin its way out of—not even with a press release and a “renewed focus” on lower-emission vehicles. The F-150 is the model bankrolling its billions in revenue each year (almost $156 billion last year, to be specific). And it’s 100 times more polluting than the Tesla Cybertruck.

Still, automakers like Ford continue to reaffirm their commitments to transportation’s electric future until they’re blue in the grille. I’m not buying it, so long as they’re selling vehicles that contribute the most planet-warming gases out of any sector.

If legacy automakers truly want to reduce emissions and compete with the Teslas of the world—the young automakers born solely and specifically for the purpose of making internal combustion engines obsolete—they need to reconsider all those sales of gas-guzzling, environment-destroying models that line execs’ pockets. Here’s why.

It’s past time to make the jump to EVs. Our planet needs it: In the U.S., transportation was responsible for 28% of greenhouse gas emissions as of 2018. Light-duty passenger cars were to blame for 59% of those emissions.

The legacy automakers selling those light-duty vehicles know those aren’t great optics; that’s where CEOs like Mary Barra come in. It’s a familiar story at this point—you name a legacy automaker and I’ll point you in the direction of a press release announcing its major investment in electrification.

The list goes on. But no matter how many billions in capital these automakers siphon off to electric vehicle development, their efforts are disingenuous so long as they’re relying on polluting models like the Ram or F-150 or Silverado (America’s three favorite vehicles) to finance EV efforts.

And consumers are wising up. As Ben will say Thursday, “If you think that SUVs and pickup trucks are killing the world and you buy your [Chevrolet Volt], you're still giving your money to a company that you killing the world by relying on pickup trucks and SUVs for its profits.”

If you’re considering an electric vehicle, which automaker sounds more enticing: the legacy player funding your EV’s development by capitalizing on America’s strange addiction to gas-guzzlers? Or the younger automaker with a moral and environmental imperative to get as many EVs in as many driveways as possible?

I’d pick the latter (if I still knew how to drive).

If automakers like GM, Ford, and Fiat Chrysler want to get serious about healing the world, they need to consider going cold turkey: Drop internal combustion engines entirely, regardless of what it might do to sales in the short term. Until that happens, consumers looking to meaningfully help the environment by purchasing an EV are better off doing it from a pure-play EV maker...of which there are plenty.

Now, let me be clear: There’s nothing wrong with a legacy automaker having a legacy—age doesn’t imply inability to pivot for the better. But until legacy automakers can fully commit to taking a page out of Tesla’s all-electric book, they’ll be stuck playing catch-up when the consumer-driven EV wave inevitably comes.

Bottom line: Not all Americans are ready for EVs—those F-150 stats I listed at the top should be evidence enough of that. But eventually, when you can drive an all-electric pickup truck instead of just reading about one online, there will be clear winners and losers in the automotive industry. If the legacy automakers that have so richly contributed to our American corporate history want a fighting chance, there’s little time to waste.

Listen to the latest episodes of Business Casual