Hybrid pickup’s sudden popularity stuns automaker


Norine Kingsbury of Flint, Michigan was one of only six buyers to take home a 2022 Ford Maverick hybrid pickup in November – sort of like Veruca Salt getting a golden ticket to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.

She was one of the first in the country to get a coveted compact pickup.

“I can get into my vehicle and have enough room but don’t feel like a little child in a big man’s toy,” Kingsbury told the Detroit Free Press, part of the USA TODAY Network. “I bought it especially for winter driving in Michigan. I put the truck into snow mode, that’s what it’s called, snow mode, and it’s just beautiful. I haven’t gotten stuck or slipped or slid.”

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But this isn’t a story of one woman. This is the story of one woman who’s part of a movement that no one expected – not industry analysts or even Ford.

The sudden response to the truck built by the makers of the bestselling F-Series has left even Ford a little stunned. Maverick truck fan pages have been popping up on Facebook, at least one with more than 12,000 followers. The vehicle has been out for just 130 days.

Szott Ford, a dealership in Holly, Michigan, called Kingsbury while the truck hauler was pulling up, the Maverick not yet unloaded.

“I said I’d be over within the hour!” she said, laughing.

The 47-year-old materials management specialist works at a hospital in Grand Blanc and drives the truck to work every day. At 5-feet-5, Kingsbury worries about upper body strength and she’d rather use her legs and hips. So she likes that she can lift garden dirt and boards into the truck at waist level instead of chest level.

Kingsbury has come a long way from her 2015 Ford Fiesta.

In fact, she feels like this compact pickup is a perfect replacement for a small car.

And this is music to the ears of Ford Motor Co.

The automaker sees three distinct groups buying the truck: female drivers, young drivers and retired drivers. Starting at just under $20,000 and getting 40 mpg, the vehicle is designed to compete with Honda and Toyota sedan offerings.

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Ford sold 13,258 Mavericks in the final three months of 2021, and 2,311 of those were hybrid.

Hybrid vehicles are powered by both a traditional internal combustion engine and an electric motor, which uses energy stored in a battery. That battery recharges while the vehicle is driving.

Ford is offering the first pickup truck to come standard as a hybrid.

‘Just 4 days’

“Maverick is one of those big surprises for the industry that is only beginning, with sales turning on dealer lots in just four days,” said Erich Merkle, U.S. sales analyst for Ford. “It brings a younger buyer from outside of the traditional pick-up segment. From a value proposition, it can go head-to-head with passenger cars while offering fuel economy that is comparable to many compact sedans.”

The vehicle, which had no runup to the reveal in June 2021 and launched in September, caught many in the industry by surprise.

Even now, trying to track the thousands of Maverick posts on various social media platforms “is nearly impossible,” said Dawn McKenzie, Ford truck communications manager.

“We have passionate customers for Ford trucks. We’ve never seen these communities pop up like they are around Maverick,” she said. “The only thing that’s close is what happened with Bronco, but that brewed for years.”

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Snowbirds in the sun

Sue Thornton picked up her Maverick hybrid on Jan. 5. 

The Dexter, Michigan native – who retired and moved to Palm Coast, Florida, for the sun, sand and grandkids three years ago – took the vehicle for a test drive on her 64th birthday, slept on the idea of taking it home and then decided to go for it. 

“I just loved the color – Area 51, a blue gray – and the really smooth ride that was high up but didn’t feel like I was driving a truck,” she said. “It’s gray blue inside with orange stitching. It’s fun and sporty. I love the idea of having a hybrid and all the other hybrids seem to be more expensive.”

Yet Thornton, who worked as a financial counselor at the University of Michigan hospital, said it’s a relief to be able to buy big boxes and not have to worry about what fits in the truck or car anymore. She sold her 2019 Ford Escape with 60,000 miles.

8 bags of mulch

Her husband Ron, 64, a retired architectural designer, drives a 2012 V6 Mustang convertible. He said he’s really impressed by the Maverick’s mileage and comfort. 

“I will use it as a truck when I go out and get eight bags of mulch, fertilizer, stuff like that,” Ron Thornton said. 

Their son had a hybrid years ago so they weren’t at all hesitant, and after test driving at Bozard Lincoln Ford in St. Augustine, it was so smooth it was a no brainer.

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Early adopters in Florida are mostly empty nesters who want an inexpensive vehicle, said Jeff King, vice president and general manager at Bozard. “This replaces the (Ford) Focus (sedan) for us. Maverick just happens to have a pickup truck bed.”

Help from the pandemic?

Timing for the Maverick could not have been better planned, said Karl Brauer, executive analyst for iseecars.com, an internet search engine for new and used cars.

“At this point in time, you have people increasingly worried about economics. We’ve had a lot of turbulence in (the) last 18 months, a lot of job change,” he said.

“People aren’t as financially secure or confident. So to have a $20,000 starting price vehicle with the level of functionality and flexibility and fuel efficiency that the Maverick provides is just hugely compelling. I think there’s a bit of a surprise and delight element here,” Brauer said. “We haven’t seen a new truly compact truck for decades. The cost and size of full-size trucks makes them unusable for anyone living in a city. Even midsize trucks have gotten fairly large and expensive.”

Online marketplace sites independently confirm Maverick’s strong appeal.

Michelle Krebs, executive analyst at Cox Automotive, said, “Maverick immediately jumped on to our Kelley Blue Book list of 10 most considered electrified vehicles – EVs and hybrids. Not surprised. It is a unique vehicle, particularly with the hybrid system.”

Interest in Maverick actually highlights untapped needs and wants of consumers now, said Jessica Caldwell, executive director of insights at Edmunds.com car shopping site.

“For years, automakers and consumers have embraced a ‘bigger is better’ mentality with trucks. As a result, prices have exploded, with many full-size truck prices rivaling those of luxury vehicles,” she said. “But the reality is that many truck owners don’t need the capability of a full-size truck.”

Contact Phoebe Wall Howard at  phoward@freepress.com or 313-618-1034  Follow her on Twitter @phoebesaid.

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