SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS—Simply put, the Ford F-150 Lightning is the most important new electric vehicle we’ll drive for some time. Auto journalists can be accused of using that cliché all too readily, but in this case, I think it’s defensible. Americans love pickup trucks more than any other four-wheeled vehicle, and when it comes to pickup trucks, they love Ford’s F-series enough that it has been the nation’s bestseller for almost as long as I’ve been alive.
Making a fully battery-electric version of its favorite pickup therefore seems like a good way to spur adoption of electric vehicles in a country that’s lagging behind Europe and China. But only if the truck is any good. Part of the reason Ford sells so many F-series trucks is that many of them are put to work, pulling trailers or hauling heavy loads in their beds. And it’s just as important to decarbonize those trucks, which means that a stripped-down electric F-150 has to be able to cut it on the job site just as much as in the role of a suburban dad’s fully loaded commuter pickup.
To a casual observer, there’s little that marks the F-150 Lightning as being anything other than just another F-150 with a super crew cab and a 5.5-foot bed. Instead of an open grille, there’s a more aerodynamic treatment at the front, plus some distinctive daytime running lights. The alloy wheels’ surfaces are more disc-like than you’d normally see. And if you look carefully, you’ll spot the occasional lightning bolt. The cab is light and airy thanks to large glass moonroofs, and there’s plenty of room in the back for large adults.
The powertrain between the rails
All of that may lead one to underestimate the amount of work that Ford’s engineers and designers have put in over the past few years. The body might look like most F-150s, but that’s the beauty of using a body-on-frame construction. And unlike the other electric pickups we’ve driven in the last few months, this one is resolutely body-on-frame. That’s where a lot of the hard work has gone. The battery pack, encased in its protective shell, is isolated from the frame rather than just being bolted in—better to resist the shocks and vibrations that may occur, according to Ford’s engineers.
Redesigning the frame rather than just taking out internal combustion bits and shoehorning electric ones in their place means that Ford hasn’t filled the nose of the truck with the air conditioning parts and other ancillaries we too often find in European BEVs. Rather, there’s an impressively useful frunk, big enough for sets of golf clubs or a bunch of carry-on suitcases, which can be locked away from prying eyes.
The F-150 Lightning can be ordered with a choice of batteries. The standard-range pack offers a useable capacity of 98 kWh, which is sufficient for an EPA-estimated range of 230 miles (370 km), and carries an onboard AC charger that can accept up to 11.3 kW and output 10.5 kW. The battery pack also dictates power output; choose the smaller pack, and the front and rear permanent magnet electric motors will output a combined 452 hp (337 kW) and 775 lb-ft (1,050 Nm).
The extended-range battery provides 131 kWh of useable capacity, which should allow for between 300–320 miles (482–515 km) between charges, depending on the trim. The larger pack also supplies more power to the motors—580 hp (433 kW) in this case. Torque is identical to the standard-range pack, but in addition to the larger-capacity pack, Ford also fits an onboard AC charger that can accept up to 19.2 kW and output 17.6 kW.