Electric cars are a powerful weapon against climate change, but most Americans don’t buy cars, they buy pickup trucks. The Ford F-150 has been the bestselling vehicle in the United States for decades, and now Ford is making it electric.
The 2022 Ford F-150 Lightning borrows its name from a performance version of the F-150 sold in the 1990s and early 2000s. Instead of chasing speed records, the reincarnated Lightning’s mission is to convince truck buyers that electric power is the future, as well as maintain Ford’s truck dominance in the face of competition from old rivals and new startups alike. It’s a hugely important vehicle for Ford — and for the future of EVs.
“When the bestselling vehicle in America is reimagined [as] electric, you can’t not pay attention.” Ford battery-electric vehicle general manager Darren Palmer said in an interview with Digital Trends ahead of the truck’s reveal. “It’s a turning point in electrification, we believe, in America.”
Ford didn’t start with a blank sheet of paper, however. The Lightning is based on the current-generation F-150, which launched as a 2021 model with gasoline, diesel, and hybrid powertrains. The goal was to improve on that foundation, adding more power and features the internal-combustion F-150 doesn’t have to entice customers to make the switch. In a sense, Ford is competing with itself as much as it’s competing with other electric truck makers.
The Lightning uses the same cab as other F-150 models but gets a different grille and wraparound LED headlights and taillights to visually distinguish it from them. As with those other models, the cab, bed, hood, and fenders are aluminum to save weight, while the frame is steel.
That frame is still separate from the body, just like the internal combustion F-150 and every other truck Ford has built—going back to the Model T. That meant Ford couldn’t integrate the battery pack with the floor as part of the vehicle’s structure, as in the Tesla Model S and numerous other EVs. The loads on the pack would’ve been too great anyway, Palmer told Digital Trends.
Instead, the battery pack is isolated from the frame by its own structure, which Palmer described as a “protective cage.” The underside of the truck also has extra skid plates to protect the battery pack from getting bashed against obstacles while off-roading.
The interior is largely the same as other versions of the F-150, retaining features like a folding shift lever, which turns the center console into a small desk, and Max Recline Seats, which fold flat so you can take a nap in your truck.
However, Ford used the space normally occupied by an engine for what it calls the Mega Power Frunk. At 400 liters of volume, with a 400-pound payload capacity, Ford claims this is the largest frunk of any EV. It certainly overshadows the tiny plastic bins you get in many other electric cars and features four power outlets, two USB charge ports, cargo hooks, and a drain plug. Ford didn’t attempt to add enclosed storage space in other parts of the truck, like Rivian’s Gear Tunnel, claiming one giant enclosure is what customers want.
High-end Lariat and Platinum models get the 15.5-inch portrait-oriented touchscreen from the Ford Mustang Mach-E electric SUV, running the Sync 4A infotainment system. This includes wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and the entire vehicle accepts over-the-air (OTA) software updates. Previously seen on Lincoln luxury cars, Phone As A Key lets drivers use a smartphone in place of a conventional fob.
The Lightning also gets some features designed to make towing and hauling easier. It has built-in scales, allowing you to check the payload in real time using the FordPass app, and Pro Trailer Hitch Assist, which can automatically align the truck with a trailer, controlling steering, acceleration, and braking while the driver monitors.
Once the trailer is hooked up, drivers will also be able to use the BlueCruise driver-assist system from the standard F-150. It can control acceleration and braking while keeping the truck centered in its lane on certain stretches of highway. Ford also uses a driver-facing camera to guard against distraction or misuse.
The Lightning also gets the Pro Power Onboard system from the F-150 hybrid, allowing it to power tools or electronic devices using the battery pack. Because the Lightning has a larger pack than the hybrid, output increases from 7.2 kilowatts to a maximum 9.6 kW (depending on trim level), split between outlets in the cab and bed. To avoid draining the battery, Pro Power Onboard can be set to automatically shut off if the estimated range drops too low, Ford noted.
The Lightning can even run your entire house if the power goes out. If the truck is plugged in, bidirectional charging allows it to automatically cut in when an outage is detected. The larger of the two available battery packs can power a house for three days with everything — including air conditioning — running, or for 10 days with more conservative electricity use, Palmer told Digital Trends.
The Lightning is the most powerful production F-150 ever, and the quickest. Two electric motors (one powering each axle) develop a combined 563 horsepower and 775 pound-feet of torque, with zero to 60 mph in the mid-4.0-second range, according to Ford. That beats not only the Lightning’s predecessors but also the current F-150 Raptor performance model.
Two battery packs will be available. The larger Extended Range battery pack, which will also afford 300 miles of range, Ford said. The smaller Standard Range pack will provide an estimated 230 miles of range. Ford didn’t quote battery capacities, but based on other information we have, it appears they’ll be quite large.
The Extended Range pack comes with a 19.2-kW dual charger. That’s a lot more powerful than the single onboard chargers used in other EVs, but it still takes eight hours to go from a 15% charge to 100%, according to Ford. The Lightning is also equipped for DC fast charging at 150 kW, allowing for a 15%-80% charge in 41 minutes, per Ford. The automaker will also supply a mobile charge cord that can plug into 240-volt household outlets used by large appliances, albeit with slower charging speeds.
The Lightning has a 10,000-pound towing capacity and 2,000-pound payload capacity (when properly equipped), which falls short of some gasoline F-150 models, as well as the 11,000-pound towing capacity Rivian has quoted for its R1T pickup. The Tesla Cybertruck has a claimed 14,000-pound maximum towing capacity and 3,500-pound maximum payload capacity, but it’s much further away from production than the Ford or Rivian pickups.
Ford also gave the Lightning independent rear suspension, which is common in cars but unusual in pickups, which should give the truck a smoother ride on pavement. For off-roading, Ford included an electronic rear locker and an off-road drive mode for the truck’s Terrain Management System (Normal, Sport, and Tow/Haul modes are included as well). Drivers can also switch between normal and one-pedal driving, meaning less use of the brake pedal.
Pricing and rivals
Pricing for the 2022 Ford F-150 Lightning starts at $39,974. That’s about $9,000 more than the cheapest gasoline F-150, but the Lightning will get more standard equipment, including standard all-wheel drive. Range-topping versions will crest $90,000, according to Ford, which isn’t unusual for pickup trucks these days. Shoppers can put down $100 to hold a spot in line, but production isn’t scheduled to start until spring 2022.
That means Ford won’t be the first to bring an electric pickup to market. The Rivian R1T is scheduled to start production in June as the company’s first model. It’s smaller than the F-150, and with a $75,000 base price, it’s aimed more at the R.E.I. crowd than the traditional truck buyers Ford is courting.
The Tesla Cybertruck was unveiled in late 2019 with shocking styling and some impressive specs. Tesla quotes zero to 60 mph in 2.9 seconds and a 500-mile range with a tri-motor all-wheel-drive powertrain. However, it’s unclear when the Cybertruck will enter production, or whether the production model will differ from the concept version.
Ford also faces competition from arch-rival General Motors. The 2022 GMC Hummer EV is expected to arrive later this year with a claimed 1,000 hp, but also a six-figure price tag. The upcoming Chevrolet Silverado EV is a closer rival to the Lightning, as the internal-combustion Silverado is the standard F-150’s biggest competitor. Chevy is aiming for a Ford-beating 400 miles of range but hasn’t said when the Silverado EV will launch.