Randy Jones of Katy, Texas, has lost track of how many reporters have called to hear his personal story about powering his home with his pickup truck during the Texas blackout.
“I saw myself on Fox News this morning,” he said Friday. “It has created a lot of interest. Amazing. All I wanted was a little comfort.”
As Texans finished up a week of struggling with undependable power supplies, frigid temperatures and uncertainty about clean water as frozen pipes burst, Jones wasn’t the only one who sees truck ownership as essential during uncertain times.
“You always have to be prepared,” said the 66-year-old retired refinery worker.
He and others endured a blackout from Feb. 14-17 with the help of his 2021 Ford F-150 Hybrid truck with Pro Power Onboard. Even later in the week, electricity was still sketchy, residents said.
Storm fallout:This man used his 2021 Ford F-150 to heat his house
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Ford confirmed it had seen an 18% spike in online searches for the F-150 by late Thursday. The F-Series has been America’s bestselling franchise for ages, so seeing a traffic spike from consumers is notable.
While Ford builds more than 1 million F-Series pickups annually for the U.S. and other markets, about 10% of the F-150s are hybrid gas-electric and the other 90% run on gasoline only, said Mike Levine, Ford North America product communications manager.
The Dearborn automaker can increase production of the hybrid F-150 to meet demand, he said.
At the moment, Ford has fewer than 500 trucks with Pro Power Onboard — gas and hybrid — available for sale in Texas, Levine said.
Owners including Jones have shared in online forums how their trucks have powered a home heating system, refrigeration and allowed friends and neighbors to charge cell phones and tablets.
Ford dealers to use F-150s to help
Ford sent letters to its Texas dealers on Thursday encouraging them to use the hybrid trucks as needed for emergency purposes.
“Due to the urgent and unprecedented weather situation in Texas, a number of our local dealers are using all-new Ford 150s equipped with Pro Power Onboard to help in their communities. Approximately 415 trucks fall within this effort. We’re proud to pitch in to help Texas in this time of need,” Levine said.
So dealers may sell the vehicles as needed or they can qualify for $600 in financial compensation from Ford corporate if the trucks with Pro Power Onboard are used in the community for an extended period of time. It allows dealers to discount the vehicle if slightly used. How the trucks might be used locally is left up to dealers, Ford said.
Ryan Laskowski, 38, general manager of AutoNation Ford Katy in Texas, said he has 17 hybrid F-150s in stock and the dealership is ready to support customers with loaner vehicles as needed.
“We’ll be as flexible as we can,” Laskowski said Friday. “We just got power back. Now water is the issue. But we’re warm at least.”
Agreements are easily drawn up for customers wanting to take a loaner hybrid truck during this critical period for needed power.
“We had one of our very best customers, an IT executive in Houston, he bought one from us about three weeks ago. He was out of town this week and let his dog walker and her husband come over, plug his truck in and they ran a space heater, fridge, TV and camped out at his house with the truck powering equipment,” Laskowski said. “He had an F-150 PowerBoost hybrid with a 7.2KW battery. When you have all these things running, you can run the truck for (32) hours on a full tank of gas.”
Only the hybrid F-150s come standard with Pro Power Onboard, and it’s often upgraded.
Before Ford world headquarters issued a memo saying dealers would be compensated a little extra for helping the community, Laskowski made the call on his own to do so.
An employee had no heat and no water and Laskowski sent him home with a hybrid F-150. He powered the house through the night and still had more than 300 miles of range.
Tropical storms vs. ice storms
“This is all a really unfortunate situation but it’s cool we have the technology we do,” Laskowski said. “In Houston, we lose power every summer and fall due to tropical storms, we just didn’t think these would come in handy so quickly.”
The snowstorm hammered Texas, he said. “No one has been able to get out of their house for the last three days.”
Corndogs for the 7-year-old
Aaron Lewis, vehicle acquisition manager at AutoNation Ford Katy, woke up for work at 5:30 a.m. Tuesday and it was 50 degrees in his house.
“We didn’t have a generator. I told my whole family, ‘You’ve got to come to work with me. We have generators and heat there,’ ” he said. “We got to the Ford dealer at 6:15 a.m. My son watched cartoons and my wife, Lindsay, worked on her laptop doing Zoom calls for the YMCA in Houston. We were there eight hours.”
At first they thought they had electricity restored because Lindsay Lewis, 37, had a phone alert that her Roomba vacuum was moving. Their electricity lasted 30 minutes.
That night, Lewis returned to the dealership to pick up a new 2021 Ford F-150 Hybrid truck with Pro Power Onboard. It had only 10 miles on the odometer and a sticker price of $70,370 including destination fees.
“I filled it up (with fuel) and put it in my driveway, ran extension cords under the garage door and into the house,” Lewis said.
He powered a refrigerator, three space heaters and an air fryer to make mini corndogs for his little boy. He also plugged in a trickle charger to keep his motorcycle battery from dying, which can happen when it gets really cold outside.
Bradley Lewis, age 7, found himself bundled under seven blankets on the living room couch with his cats Lily and Snowball beside two space heaters.
“My wife and I made miniature corndogs for our son, and French fries and chicken fingers for us,” Aaron Lewis said. “It was so cold upstairs, Bradley couldn’t sleep in his room. With all the stress, we kept telling our son, ‘We’re going on adventures.’ “