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Ford’s Electric F-150 Lightning

by Drew HardinJanuary 4, 2022
It wasn’t all that long ago that the idea of an all-electric pickup was merely a gleam in some engineer’s eye. But these days the automotive landscape changes quickly, especially when it comes to electrification, and trucks are no exception.

One of the most highly anticipated electric vehicles in recent memory is the F-150 Lightning, Ford’s all-electric pickup that’s making its way to our highways this spring. In fact, with almost 200,000 reservations on the books for the electrified F-Series, Ford now plans to nearly double its initial production plans and build 150,000 F-150 Lightnings annually. Another milestone is taking place as the first group of reservation holders is receiving e-mails inviting them to move forward and place orders for their trucks.

While the F-150 Lightning isn’t the only electric pickup to choose from – initial deliveries of small numbers of GMC Hummer EV and Rivian R1T electric pickups have already been made – it is the highest profile electric truck of the bunch. Others are in the wings as well like the coming Chevrolet Silverado EV and the oft-delayed Tesla Cybertruck.

None of those other companies– not even GM – has as much skin in the pickup game as Ford, which is proud of the fact that the F-Series has been the top-selling pickup truck for four decades and counting. FoMoCo has no plans to cede that ground, so an electric F-150 has to be a heart-of-the-market, genuine pick-’em-up, albeit one with enough cutting-edge technological features to appeal to the early adopters who are shopping for a vehicle with both bed and batteries.

Ford’s F-150 Lightning delivers. In the metrics that traditionally measure a pickup’s ability – towing and payload capacity – the F-150 Lightning lands in the middle of gas-powered F-150 SuperCab territory, able to tow up to 10,000 pounds and haul up to 2,000 pounds. Dual electric motors will, when hooked to the optional extended-range battery, produce a targeted 563 horsepower and 775 lb-ft torque, the most torque produced by any F-150, says Ford. That same extended-range battery should deliver 0-60 acceleration in the mid-4-second range and go 300 miles between charges. The standard battery’s range is estimated at 230 miles.

From the outside, the F-150 Lightning looks like a dressed-up version of the conventionally-powered, standard-bed F-150. In fact, the two trucks share the same cab. This traditional approach was based on customer feedback, we’re told. They wanted a truck that was ‘distinct, but not different,’ one that ‘didn’t look like a doorstop or a spaceship.’ (Cough, Cybertruck, cough).

Under the skin, though, Ford worked to maximize the Lightning’s utility and make the most of its lithium-ion battery pack, the largest one Ford has put into a vehicle. For example, when the Lightning is plugged into the optional Ford Intelligent Backup Power system, it can provide 9.6 kW of electricity to a household during a power outage for up to three full days. Once power is restored to the home, the system automatically reverts to charging the truck. Likewise, that 9.6 kW can be used through 11 onboard outlets to power tools, electronics, recreational gear, and so on. With Ford’s optional Pro Power Onboard system, the Lightning also offers vehicle-to-vehicle charging capability that can provide 240-volt, Level 2 charging to another electric vehicle.

Four outlets, plus two USB chargers, are found in the Lightning’s front trunk, which Ford calls the Mega Power Frunk. It’s a huge space, able to swallow 400 liters of volume and 400 pounds of payload. The dry, lockable compartment ‘gives you your cabin back,’ says Ford, though it also has a drain hole and can be hosed out after stowing wet or dirty gear. When the frunk opens (via dash-mounted button, key fob, or the Ford Pass smart-phone app), what was the conventional F-series grille rises with the hood, reducing load-in height to bumper, not over-the-fender, levels.

The Lightning seats five in a cab trimmed in light-colored materials. The premium Lariat and Platinum versions are equipped with a huge, 15.5-inch touchscreen in the center of the instrument panel to operate Ford’s new SYNC 4A infotainment system, which has voice controls, cloud-connected navigation, and wireless access to Apple Car Play and Android Auto. The Lightning can also receive over-the-air software updates to ‘add features, improve performance, and fix bugs,’ says Ford.

It’s expected these days that a battery-electric vehicle’s navigation system will include charging stations on a programmed route. The Lightning also has on-board scales monitoring the payload – including passengers – and provides that information to the nav system for accurate range calculations.

A feature called Pro Trailer Hitch Assist brings the same kind of technology that allows a vehicle to parallel park itself to the trailer hook-up process. Once the driver positions the Lightning relative to the trailer, guided by targets in the backup camera screen, the truck will control the steering, throttle, and brake to align the ball hitch under the trailer coupler.

The lithium-ion battery that drives all that computing power – and the Lightning itself – is housed in what Ford calls a metal exo-structure under the floor. It has its own cooling system and is further protected by skid plates to keep it safe when the Lightning ventures off-pavement. With inboard-mounted motors at both axles, the Lightning is a full-time AWD vehicle with independent suspension front and rear – the latter a first for a Ford pickup. The IRS is designed to be capable, Ford says, while also working in concert with the truck’s low center of gravity to improve the F-150’s ride and handling.

A terrain management system provides four driving modes: normal, sport, off-road, and tow/haul. Off-road mode activates an e-locker to maximize traction, while tow/haul mode maximizes energy recapture when the Lightning is decelerating or braking. One-pedal driving is available through the SYNC 4A screen.

The Lightning, like all Ford battery-electric vehicles, comes with a mobile charger that can be used on a 240-volt outlet with a 32-amp connector for an estimated 21 miles per charging hour, or with a 120-volt outlet with a 12-amp connector for about 3 miles per charging hour. The optional Ford Charge Station Pro (which powers the Intelligent Backup Power system) can add an average range of 30 miles per charging hour and can charge the truck from 15 to 100 percent in about 8 hours. On a 150-kW fast charger, a Lightning with the extended-range battery can add approximately 54 miles of range in 10 minutes or go from 15- to 80-percent charged in just over 40 minutes.

Ford is proud of the fact that the Lightning is being built in the USA, alongside the F-150 PowerBoost hybrid, at the Rouge Electric Vehicle Center in Dearborn. Ford has invested some $700 million into the historic Rouge assembly plant, transforming it into an environmentally friendly ‘step on the path’ of Ford’s plan to be carbon neutral by 2050.

One of the notable features of the F-150 Lightning is its approachable base cost, which is in stark contrast to its first few electric pickup competitors with their six-figure asking prices. Ford’s F-150 Lightning starts at a reasonable $39,974. Like all pickups these days, it can be seriously optioned up with an array of high-end packages and features, topping off at about $90,000. That under-40K base price, though, is a major attraction that’s no doubt motivating so many electric truck fans to sign up for the Ford brand.