It’s fast and powerful, and it drives better than any F-150 I’ve been to before. All of that, and it does things you’ve never imagined a truck could do, like provide a workspace that also serves as a beverage cooler under the hood. (The front storage compartment is weatherproof and has drain plugs.) It can even power your entire home for days if you need it.
This is a real truck, not a camper toy, and not an exotic design exercise. It is now in production by a company that already knows how to mass produce cars. Ford plans to build 150,000 of these trucks annually, which is about 20% of all F-Series trucks Ford sold last year. The Ford Lightning is the all-electric version of America’s best-selling truck. To find out what truck owners really want and need, Ford just had to talk to its customers. This was not going into foreign lands. Recently I was able to drive several versions of the truck under very different scenarios at a two-day event around San Antonio, Texas.
On the basics, the new F-150 doesn’t deviate much from its siblings. At a glance, if you didn’t notice the charging port on one of the front fenders and the fake charging port on the side, you might not have noticed that it was only another F-150. Besides, it has some extra lights that go through the front of the truck and through the tailgate, plus there are no holes in the grille. As I drove through the South Texas countryside, I wondered how many people in all the other pickups around me realized how different this truck was from theirs.
The F-150 Lightning does not have a motor in the front. Instead, a massive boxy hood covers a massive storage space. To drive the point home, at the event in Texas, Ford representatives filled one of them with ice and served cold drinks from it. There are plugs in the storage space to power and charge the electronics, along with more plugs in the trunk of the truck.
With one electric motor driving the front wheels and one in the rear, full-time all-wheel drive is standard on every Lightning version. That includes a stripped-down work truck with a few amenities, a range of 230 miles, 426 horsepower and 775 pound-feet of torque, and a starting price of about $40,000. That’s not much different than the price of the F-150 XL AWD 4WD Work Truck, which has 400 horsepower and just 410 pound-feet of torque.
I spent time in Lightning trucks pulling heavy trailers and carrying heavy loads on highways and on narrow, curved country roads. The truck does these things very well and can, in fact, speed up the highway on the ramp of towing a 5,000-pound trailer with remarkable ease. (The truck can tow 10,000 pounds, according to Ford.) The electric motors provide instant response with smooth acceleration and are, of course, virtually silent.
What surprised me the most was how beautiful the Lightning engines were compared to the gas-powered F-150 engines. This is largely due to the improved weight balance that comes with heavy battery packs spread between the front and rear wheels rather than a large engine under the hood. The Lightning also has an independent rear suspension, rather than a solid rear axle like other F-150s, so a bump on one side doesn’t affect the other right away. This, combined with the seamless power delivery of electric motors that never need to change gears, makes the Lightning a remarkably civilized highway cruiser. It’s also very fast—especially for a full-size truck—when the throttle is depressed.
The Lightning has proven, once again, to be remarkably capable off-road, climbing steep and muddy trails. That might not be surprising given that the path was chosen by Ford to showcase the truck, but, according to Ford’s account, the truck I drove climbed slippery rocks with the same tires as the ones I drove on the highway. Electric motors, with their smooth and rapid delivery of power to any wheels that can be used, are ideal for slippery jobs.
Besides doing all the things gas trucks can do but better and faster, Lightning offers a number of bonus possibilities. First, there’s that huge “tailbox,” or front trunk, with plugs and lights inside. Then there’s the fact that when plugged into a home charger, it can automatically provide backup power to the home in the event of an outage. This is in addition to the fact that it can also operate power tools on the job site.
Of course, pulling and pulling (and accelerating hard while pulling and pulling) consumes quite a bit of electricity. Without carrying a heavy payload, the F-150 Lightning can travel 230 or 320 miles on a freight, depending on the size of the battery pack the customer requires. According to Ford, hard work drains a truck’s range as much as a gas truck’s driving range.
However, gas trucks can go further on the tank to begin with—the V6-powered F-150 can go 520 miles, according to the Environmental Protection Agency—and it takes less time to fill the tank than recharge the battery. This will be a serious problem for some buyers. Most pickup owners probably drive less than 200 miles on a typical day, and can easily recharge overnight. The only problem now is that The Lightening will be difficult to obtain for customers who have not placed an order before. Ford has stopped taking orders from retail customers due to high demand.
A lot of the cool features in the F-150 Lightning are also likely to be great on future EV trucks, like the Chevrolet Silverado EV and Ram 1500 EV. Smooth performance and sheer power are largely inherent to electric drive systems. But the F-150 Lightning represents a real turning point in America’s long love affair with pickup trucks.