A self-described “car guy,” President Joe Biden had kind words to say after driving Ford’s all-new, all-electric F-150 Lightning during a visit to the Motor City on Tuesday.
“This sucker’s quick,” the president declared after doing a couple of impromptu burnouts in the pickup in front of TV crews covering his visit — which Biden used to promote his plan to invest $174 billion to promote the switch to battery-electric vehicles.
Ford couldn’t have asked for a better set up as it prepared for today’s formal debut of the 2022 F-150 Lightning. Its second long-range BEV will target a mix of fleet, commercial and retail customers in a segment expected to see substantial growth — but also plenty of competition — in the coming years. And Ford intends to beat back competitors like Tesla, with its Cybertruck, to retain the traditional lead held by today’s gas and diesel-powered F-150 models.
To get there, it has come up with a truck that, company officials claim, adds new features to the classic F-150 while requiring few, if any, of the sacrifices motorists have come to expect from battery-electric vehicles. As Biden discovered, the Lightning really is quick, officially managing 0-60 times of 4.5 seconds. It can tow up to 6,000 pounds and manage up to 300 miles per charge. It also, can handle serious off-road trails, and be used to provide power, whether at a campsite or worksite — even home, in the event of a blackout. And it features a “frunk” nearly as big as the cargo compartments in some Ford SUVs.
Add the fact that buyers, both commercial and retail, will be able to get into an F-150 Lighting for less than $40,000.
“You can’t ignore this”
“If you wonder when the inflection point will be for EVs, you can’t ignore this,” said Darren Palmer, Ford’s general manager of battery-electric vehicles. The Lightning, he told TheDetroitBureau.com during a background briefing last week, is “the most innovative truck we’ve ever built.”
The Detroit automaker was an early pioneer of electrification with models like the Lincoln MKZ hybrid and all-electric Ford Focus EV. But it fell behind some of its key competitors, notably including Tesla which led the way with long-range BEVs. The Mustang Mach-E launched last year is Ford’s first direct competitor, targeting Tesla’s Model Y SUV. And the Lightning will take aim at the upstart automaker’s upcoming Cybertruck pickup.
The Ford F-150 Lightning adopts a far more conventional design that the radically militaristic Cybertruck. If anything, it likely would be confused with a conventional F-Series model after a casual glance. But a closer look reveals a number of modest but significant changes.
Very much a truck
“It’s very much a truck,” said Chief Engineer Linda Zhang, though the overall body has been smoothed out, the Ford design team working to reduce range-stealing aerodynamic drag.
Up front, Lightning get standard LED projector headlights. They’re “light bending,” they can follow the path of the truck through curves and corners. The grille, meanwhile, is there largely for show. With less need for airflow than in a vehicle with an internal combustion, it’s largely sealed off. One of the most apparent signs that this is the F-Series BEV is the distinctive light bar stretching from corner to corner above the grille.
Around back, there’s a similar light bar connecting new LED taillights. The tailgate also is larger than the conventional F-150 models and is offered with a power option. The Lightning will be offered with a choice of wheels from 18 to 20 inches.
You’ll need to look still more closely to find other unique details which include full-length skidplates that protect the battery pack, even under aggressive off-road conditions. You’ll also spot a full-size spare tire. Next, pop the power-operated hood and you’ll discover an absolutely massive front trunk.
Plenty of unique features
The “frunk” holds 14.1 cubic feet and while Ford didn’t have precise numbers, its footprint appears to be nearly as large as that of the Escape SUV. It features not only cargo netting but a deep cubby that makes it easy to hold groceries or load up with ice to serve as a picnic cooler. (There’s also a handy drain plug.) A divider lets you divide up the space in several ways. Look closely enough and you’ll also spot a 110-volt electric outlet – which I’ll get back to shortly.
The cabin of the Ford F-150 Lightning hews closely to the design of the conventional F-150 – with features like the foldaway shifter that creates a large workspace atop the center console, and options like a fold-flat driver’s seat.
The most distinct exception is the 15.5-inch vertically oriented touchscreen. It’s similar in appearance and operation to the display in the Mustang Mach-E. It gives access to the latest version of the Ford Sync infotainment system while adding numerous other functions unique to the Lightning’s battery drive system.
Addressing the key issues
Among other things, you can switch to “One Pedal” mode which increases brake regeneration. Like other BEVs, Lightning uses a blended brake system that recaptures some energy normally lost during braking and coasting, sending it back to the battery pack to extend range. In One Pedal mode a driver can simply ease up on the throttle and the Lightning slows like a gas vehicle downshifted several gears. It can even bring it to a complete stop without tapping the brakes.
Range is, of course, a key issue in the world of BEVs. The old Focus EV barely managed 100 miles per charge. Like the Mustang Mach-E, however, the Lightning will deliver up to 300 miles with the optional, extended range battery pack. The standard pack will get you 230 miles before you need to plug in again. That, noted vehicle engineer Anthony Magagnoli, is enough to handle the day-to-day needs of 95% of commercial and fleet pickup customers.
(Ford isn’t revealing the precise size of either pack but based on other data it’s released, the extended-range Lightning appears to have at least 100 kilowatt-hours worth of lithium-ion cells packed into its skateboard-style platform.
Charging time is another issue for many potential buyers. Ford’s new pickup isn’t the fastest vehicle on the market in this category, But going from a 15 to 80% stat-of-charge using a 150 kilowatt-hour DC public fast charger will take an estimated 44 minutes for the standard pack and, surprisingly, just 41 minutes for the extended-range batteries.
Times using 240-volt Level 2 chargers varies significantly, depending upon their output. But one feature likely to appeal to customers is Ford’s decision to include an 80-amp system in the price of the F-150 Lightning, a sizable savings – though customers will still have to pay to wire it up. It’s among the fastest Level 2 systems available and cuts charging time down to 10 hours with the standard pack, 8 with the extended version.
The “plus” features
One of the “plus” features, as Palmer calls them, is the ability to use the F-150 Lightning as a mobile energy source. It can deliver up to 9.6 kilowatts through various 110 and 240-volt outlets in the frunk, bed and elsewhere. That’s enough to handle a fairly complex worksite, or even keep a typical house running for up to three days in a blackout.
Of course, the ideal way to utilize that energy is to power the twin electric motors all F-150 Lightning pickups use, one for each axle. The standard-range model punches out 426 horsepower, the extended-range package 563. Torque, with both models, comes in at 775 pound-feet.
The numbers are well under the 1,000 horsepower General Motors says the First Edition version of its GMC Hummer will deliver. It’s questionable whether many would care in practical use. The automaker claims a 0-60 launch of 4.5 seconds for the 300-mile Lightning. We’ll have more details coming live later this week when an embargo on driving impressions lifts. We’ll hint here that Ford is being quite cautious with that figure.
Maximum payload for Lightning comes in at 4,400 pounds, and the truck is rated to handle a 6,600-pound trailer. No, not a full-size pickup benchmark but certainly enough to satisfy the vast majority of potential buyers.
The entry-price bombshell
As impressive as all these numbers are, there’s one that could really shock the market and give future competitors something to worry about. The commercial/fleet-oriented Ford F-150 Lightning Pro with a standard-range battery will start at $39,974. That’s actually $16 less than an entry-version Tesla Model Y. And Ford buyers still qualify for federal tax credits of up to $7,500, an incentive phased out when its rival topped a 200,000-vehicle sales threshold in 2018.
The extended-range Lightning Pro will start at $49,974. Consumers only will be able to purchase the 230-mile Pro. But retail versions of the truck will also come to market about a year from now. They’ll follow the same step-up trim ladder as the gas and diesel F-150 line, all the way to the luxurious Platinum and King Ranch versions. For a fully-loaded, top-line package, Ford says, expect to pay as much as $90,474.
Ford appears to be playing an aggressive hand. Palmer and other company officials made it clear during the background briefing and today’s formal debut that they intend to retain the F-150’s dominant market position as other all-electric pickups come to market. And there will be plenty of them.
There’s the Tesla Cybertruck, for one. And the automaker claims to have received hundreds of thousands of advance reservations – though it remains to be seen how many will translate into actual sales once the repeatedly delayed Cybertruck finally goes into production.
Will it win over buyers?
By our count there could be as many as a dozen different BEV pickups by mid-decade, a figure that also includes the GMC Hummer, an all-electric version of the Chevrolet Silverado, and products from start-ups like Rivian, Bollinger, Atlas, Lordstown and others.
That’s a lot of product for a segment traditionally dominated by four brands and three manufacturers. Considering BEVs today account for just 2% of the overall U.S. market, there are plenty of skeptics who question how much demand Ford — and its competition — will find. Lightning does address many of the traditional concerns about electric vehicles, and another challenge, the lack of an easily accessible national charging network is something Pres. Biden hopes to address with his proposed infrastructure program. It calls for setting up 500,000 charger ports nationwide by 2030.
For Ford, the test begins immediately. The automaker began taking advance, $100 reservations on Wednesday evening. It expects to have the first F-150 Lightning pickups in showrooms about a year from now.