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Ford's Electric Pickup May Be A Tough Sell In Rural South Dakota

Biden test drives electric F-150
 President Joe Biden test-drives an electric F-150.

President Joe Biden says American-made, environmentally conscious products are the future of the U.S. economy. He recently test-drove a new electric Ford F-150. 

“The future of the auto industry is electric," he said. "There's no turning back.” 

However, selling an electric vehicle to rural South Dakota’s pickup-loving farmers and ranchers may be difficult. 

Jason Frerichs is a farmer, rancher and former legislator from Wilmot. He's intrigued by electric vehicles, but he says they could hurt the market for farmer-grown alternative fuels. 

“And myself raising corn and soybeans, where nearly all of the corn we produce and a portion of the soybeans we produce go into these biofuel markets, it’s very important that we maintain those," Frerichs says.

Others have concerns about the vehicles themselves. Tom Freidel has 100 cattle and 1,500 acres of farmland outside of Parkston. He’s concerned about reliability and access to charging stations.  

“As of now, not interested. Just because the reliability and longevity of electric pickups has not been proven, at all,” Freidel says. “In rural South Dakota, there isn't a lot of charging stations, or any really that I know of.” 

The Alternative Fuels Data Center says South Dakota has the fifth-fewest alternative fueling stations in the nation. But more electric charging stations are coming online. 

Years ago, Volkswagen was caught rigging vehicle systems to pass emissions tests. The company paid billions to settle lawsuits. South Dakota was paid about $8 million. Some of it went to help install more charging stations

Caleb Finck says there’s still a long way to go. He’s a farmer, rancher and legislator who serves on the state House Transportation Committee. The Republican from Tripp says most of rural South Dakota is not ready to go electric. 

“The charging infrastructure, when you're away from home, is going to be fairly limited, at least at first. I think, obviously as time goes on and electric vehicles become more prevalent, that will change.” 

Finck thinks the private sector is better suited to install that infrastructure. 

From Left: Jason Frerichs and  Caleb Finck

“The private sector tends to do those things the quickest and the most efficient, right? You know, if we try to get the government involved in those things then, you know, then it's the government picking where [charging stations] go and where they don't go. And that's not always the most efficient use of our time.” 

But electric utility officials say the private sector is not keeping up with demand for charging stations. That’s why utilities are seeking government assistance to build more. 

Other South Dakotans question the environmental claims about electric vehicles. Travis Paulton works his family’s 40,000-acre ranch outside of Edgemont.

“We get rare earth minerals in the batteries and the electric motors and then we have rare earth minerals in wind generation, and are we kicking down the road the problem of pollution? Twenty years later, what do we do with all these rare earth minerals? What do we do with all these batteries that are no good -- are they able to be recycled?” 

A congressional report is optimistic about recycling options for electric-vehicle components. But the report acknowledges more work is needed to develop those options.  

The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy says electric vehicles produce fewer direct and indirect emissions than conventional vehicles.

Ford’s Lightning F-150 has a starting price under $40,000 and offers a home charging station. When a federal tax credit is figured in, it's currently the cheapest electric pickup available.