Tesla Cybertruck. Rivian R1T. The guy at Home Depot strapping three 12-foot long 2x4s to the roof of his Nissan Leaf. What do all of these things have in common? Beyond being evidence of automotive evolution, they’re also all catalysts for change — particularly for a mainline automaker. And more change is coming.
That change is not always an easy thing to swallow, especially when it’s being applied to a bedrock principle or product. Getting around on volts is still weird for most car people. What’s it going to take to make electric transportation widely palatable? To make it commonplace beyond the early adopters, techbros and offbeat dreamers?
First, the product needs to be really good. Second, it needs to be packaged properly.
With that, I give you the all-new Ford F-150 Lightning — the first real attempt at an electric truck from a mainline, big-corp manufacturer in the United States.
The strangest thing about the Lightning is how normal it is. This is F-150 through and through, at least in the way it feels. The doors, dash, seats, bed, overall size — all of it is familiar. It’s standard. It’s welcoming.
Under the skin is a different story.
Once you’re inside, differences start to stand out. This truck is filled with touchscreens. The dash is all digital. And when you start it… nothing happens. There are Ford-characteristic audible bongs to let you know it’s “running,” but the silence is otherwise deafening.
Passengers will remark on how quiet it is as you back out of a parking spot. Other than a tiny whirr, the only sound is an added audible tone outside the truck, warning pedestrians about the otherwise silent 7,000-lb volted-up rig in motion. Pull the console-mounted shifter into “D” and you’re ready to go — but this Ford won’t move at all until you touch the accelerator.
Ford’s regenerative braking system works hard to train you not to use the brakes. You learn how to drive the thing using one pedal: Step down on the accelerator to go, let off to stop. Simple. Unless you touch the gas, it just sits, as if in park.
When you hit the gas, silence bleeds off to a louder whirr, offset by shrieks from your passengers as you lean into the throttle. Naming this thing “Lightning” is fitting, as it’s is faster than the supercharged F-150s of the 1990s and early 2000s. With the extended range battery, it makes 580 horses and runs to 60 in just 4.0 seconds.
Torque is what matters here — and not unlike an electric drill, it’s got mountains of it. Just like when that drill bit catches something and spins your wrist around, your passengers are never ready for a mash of the throttle.
It’s got a sport mode, too, which cranks up the power delivery even more and also lets out an audible grunt, grunt, grunt in the process. Think of it like cards in the spokes. $100,000 worth of them.
It also has a very low center of gravity — the twin motors and battery pack are mounted low in the chassis, which limits body roll. Independent rear suspension (compared to the gasser’s live axle) helps to level things out, too. So it handles well despite its heft.
Fill ‘er Up
My tester came with the big battery and Platinum trim, which when fully charged gave an estimated range of 300 miles. It also came with a 240-volt 30-amp home charger plug, which didn’t fit in my 240-volt welder’s plug in my shop. If it had, rebound time from 15% to full is about 20 hours, which isn’t bad considering the range we’re looking at here. Don’t even think about 110-volt plugs as a viable solution unless you’re OK with waiting for spring before you run your errands.
Public charging stations are the way to go here — fast charging had me nearly full in about 45 mins, and I was able to work from the F-150 while waiting. Stow the shifter, flop the console over to a desk, connect to wifi and off you go. Those jobsite-ready functions already within the F-series line really shine here.
The cost to charge varies by location and rate of charge, but suffice to say it’s cheaper than gasoline — at least right now. All-in-all, it’s user-friendly so long as you can get good use out of the on-board range. But there’s anxiety in finding reliable charging, particularly out on the road.
And therein lies one of the truck’s problems: The range calculator is ambitious, especially in hilly areas. “Miles” are not always real miles, and adding mass to the truck — especially when towing — will cut that range significantly, which you’ve probably already heard. That’s the main place where the F-150 bones underneath this thing don’t live up to the tech.
But that’s light criticism on something that’s far from the norm and designed to make it all seem normal. The product is good, and so too is the packaging.
The biggest problem here is price — this Platinum version started at just under the aforementioned $100k, thanks to all its techy add-ons, interior niceties and long-range battery. Cheaper version exist, including some fleet options at around $55k. Of course, the dealer network probably won’t be selling any without some kind of exorbitant additional dealer markup. And why wouldn’t they? New tech is interesting.
How interesting? People strained to take pictures of this truck as I was driving it. One neon-clad contractor hovered at the charging station, making laps around the truck as he was talking on his phone. “Yeah,” he said as he paced around it. “It’s exactly the colors I would order. I can’t wait.”
Another guy stopped as he was crossing a busy street, right in front of the truck, just to ask about it. “Is that the Lightning?” he asked me. “Is it awesome?”
Is it perfect? No. But it’s pretty good, and with efforts such as these, prices will come down over time and problems such as range and longevity will be ironed out.
This isn’t the final word on electrification, but it sure is one big bold step.
High Point: Fast. Usable. Front-mounted Frunk keeps your stuff dry.
Low Point: Price. Undeveloped infrastructure limits some of that usability.
Final Word: Not a curiosity anymore.
Fun factor/appearance: ***