Ford Motor (NYSE:F) said that a prototype battery-electric F-150 pickup towed loaded railcars weighing over a million pounds -- and it released photos and videos to prove it. 

It was a stunt, but it was done to send a clear warning to a certain upstart electric-vehicle maker in Silicon Valley: As the world moves toward electric vehicles, Ford intends to aggressively defend its pickup-truck turf.

A prototype electric F-150 pickup, which looks like a standard 2019 model, is shown preparing to pull a line of double-decker rail cars.

A prototype of Ford's upcoming electric F-150 pickup towed a line of rail cars in a demonstration. Image source: Ford Motor.

What Ford said -- and did

Simply put, Ford used a prototype electric truck to tow a line of railroad cars and captured it all on a video. 

The video shows two tests. in the first, Ford lined up 42 2019 F-150 pickups, and then used its prototype electric truck (which looks just like a standard F-150) to tow 10 rail cars (weighing about a million pounds) the distance of the line. In the second test, it loaded the 42 pickups onto the rail cars, increasing the total weight to about 1.25 million pounds, and repeated the feat. 

The electric truck was driven by the F-150's chief engineer, Linda Zhang. Ford didn't share any details about the electric truck's drivetrain or battery, and it didn't say when the production version will come to market. (The company has said previously that it has several electric vehicles under development for release in the next few years, including an F-150.) 

A shot across Tesla's bow

Why did Ford do this? Let's start by considering these tweets from Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA) CEO Elon Musk.



Musk is known for big talk and hyperbolic claims. And to be fair, Tesla has delivered on enough of those claims to have won a loyal following. But Tesla hasn't yet faced a rival like Ford -- a competitor it will have to match or beat if it's to have any chance of selling pickups in volume. (Tesla isn't expected to launch its pickup before 2021 at the earliest.)

The Blue Oval didn't name its would-be competitor directly, but it left little doubt as to the intended target here. Consider the first line of Ford's press release announcing the feat: "As America's truck leader, we prefer to let our actions speak louder than words."

And consider this from a Medium post by Ted Cannis, Ford's global director of electrification:

Get ready. No games. This isn't about compliance. We are backing our plans with countless hours of research and testing to ensure we deliver an electric experience that wows -- and wins -- customers. And we are going to have incredible charging plans that get you where you need to go with ease and peace of mind. But more on that later.

Stay tuned. There is a lot more to come.

Your humble writer's view, formed after many years of observing this company: Ford doesn't talk like this unless it's prepared to back up the talk.

The takeaway: Don't underestimate Ford's truck efforts

About four years ago, Ford's then-CEO, Mark Fields, told me that the company had no interest in racing to be first with battery-electric vehicles or self-driving. Instead, he said, Ford planned to release its technology when it -- and its customers -- were ready. 

Musk's big talk might have spurred Ford to action earlier than it had planned, but it's leaving little doubt that its electric F-150 will be a very, very competitive product when it arrives. If you're betting on Tesla to dominate the pickup market with its upcoming electric truck, this is a strong signal that it's time to rethink that wager.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.