An easier task would have been redesigning the American Flag or rewriting the words to The Star-Spangled Banner. Turning America’s beloved truck electric is something every American has an opinion on and that’s a lot of pressure.
It’s a job that Linda Zhang has not only achieved but has smashed out the park. As Ford’s Chief Engineer for the Ford F-150 Lightning, the project was very much on her shoulders, and with 150,000 pre-orders taken ahead of its spring 2022 launch, it has been a huge success.
The first Ford F-150 was released in 1975 and has been the most popular truck – and vehicle – in America for the last 40 years. It even remains high on the global lists, despite sales being limited to only a few countries outside the US.
While changing hearts and minds to electric cars remains a challenge, convincing truck drivers to go electric was considered impossible. The Ford F-150 is known for its big engines and plenty of torque, and its drivers are hugely passionate about the trucks, so an electric model had a lot to prove. Any change to the engine or design would be taken with equal amounts of skepticism.
Linda Zhang was perfectly suited to the task. The 44-year-old has been with the company for 25 years, having joined the Ford College Graduate program after her degree in electrical engineering from the University of Michigan. Her father, a Chinese immigrant, also worked for Ford, researching transmissions, so the company was in her blood.
The prototype electric F-150 addressed the power question early on with a show of torque, towing over one million pounds of freight train in 2019. Proof that an electric engine could not only compete with an internal combustion engine
On the Lightning’s big reveal in May 2021 we finally saw the design – a modern-looking truck that stayed faithful to the F-150 DNA. The combination of power, looks and an affordable price tag has excited Ford drivers, including President Joe Biden, who tried out the truck for himself the day before the reveal.
The level of acceptance of the fully electric version of this iconic truck gives hope for the move away from fossil fuel-powered vehicles. If the Ford F-150 can go electric, anything can, and that’s all thanks to the work of Linda Zhang. If that’s not a great reason to include her in this list I don’t know what is.
Linda Zhang is one of 50 leading individuals in technology chosen as part of the Future 50, chosen by a panel of editors from Future’s technology websites, including T3, Tom’s Guide and TechRadar. The full list will be available on the Future 50 website from January.