Eighteen months ago, Tesla CEO Elon Musk threw down the electric pickup gauntlet, introducing the sci-fi Cybertruck at a Los Angeles news conference as a vision of the future. In so doing, he mocked Detroit Three pickup designs, saying “they all look pretty much the same.” Promising “something different,” his stainless-steel exoskeleton EV opened a new battlefront in the pickup wars.
This week, Ford responded.
The 2022 F-150 Lightning enters the EV market using the same tried-and-true three-box, ladder-frame formula that has made the gas-powered F-150 the King of Trucks for the last 44 years. Then it spices the recipe with signature features only electrics can offer.
The Lightning sits an all-new, ladder-frame skateboard architecture built around a massive battery. Up front, it boasts the industry’s biggest “frunk” (front trunk) where an engine traditionally resides. With a jaw-dropping 775 pound-feet of torque and 563 horsepower, the Ford can dash from zero to 60 faster than the Ford Raptor super truck. The Ford even uses its massive battery to double as a home generator should the lights go out.
“Our customers told us they wanted distinct, but not different,” said F-150 Lightning marketing manager Jason Turnbull, who threw some shade at Cybertruck’s radical design. “They did not want it to look like a doorstop or a spaceship.”
Like Ford’s first EV, the Mustang Mach-E, Lightning is aimed directly at Tesla, even matching its entry-level price — $39,974 before destination fees and government tax breaks. Yet unlike Mach-E, Lightning is determined to win over customers with an evolutionary — not revolutionary — design.
The Lightning name is even a throwback to the wicked-fast 1992 F-150 Lightning pickup. “Like the original, this is a truck that reinvents the way we look at trucks,” Ford North America president Kumar Galhotra said.
With this 6-foot-5 reporter riding shotgun, the Lightning’s development team recently demonstrated the e-truck’s prodigious capabilities at Ford’s sprawling 3,880-acre Proving Grounds in Romeo, with media riding shotgun in upper Lariat and Platinum-trimmed prototypes.
You’ll know the Lightning by its bold horizontal LED running light running across the plastic, non-functional grille like a unibrow. And a driver’s side charging port.
The Ford vaults from 0 to 60 in the mid-four second range despite its 6,500-pound curb weight. To achieve this freak of nature, Lightning operates in constant all-wheel-drive mode to maximize traction while putting its instant torque to asphalt. The mid-4 second figure is shy of the Cybertruck’s claimed sub-3 second shot (not to mention the reigning gas champ, Ram 1500 TRX’s 3.7 seconds) but beats the 5.3-second time of Ford’s fastest gas beast, the F-150 Raptor.
Mega-torque also pays towing dividends.
The F-150 effortlessly clean-and-jerked a 6,000-pound trailer up and down steep Proving Ground grades (maximum tow rating is 10,000 pounds, shy of the 13,200-pound figure claimed by the F-150’s 3.5-liter turbo-6 cylinder). With a single-speed transmission, Lightning pulled smoothly up a steep grade where its gas-engine counterpart would have to shift down to low gear to make the climb.
All-wheel-drive, independent rear suspension and a low center of gravity also pay dividends off-road. The big truck sped through a serpentine dirt trail like an oversized rally car — the weight in its belly minimizing head toss. Thanks to state-of-the-art electronics, Lightning integrates all extra-terrain modes into a single “Off-Road” mode (Normal, Sport and Tow-Haul are also available). The pickup also features a lockable rear axle for when the going gets really tough.
Ladder-frame trucks are typically rugged, and Lightning showed off its macho chops by harmlessly slapping its belly over uneven moguls. Thanks to the flat battery drivetrain, however, Lightning appeared better protected by full under-body skid plates that didn’t have to protect a low-hanging muffler or rear “pig” (differential).
Passengers survey this capability from a familiar F-150 interior with options first introduced last fall on the 2021 gas model, including a stowable gear shift and work table.
The interior departs from its gas sibling with an available, vertical 15.5-inch console touchscreen. It echoes the Mustang Mach-E’s tablet with swipeable pages and a giant volume knob. The touchscreen is paired with a fully digital instrument display behind the steering wheel.
Cybertruck debuted a clean, integrated box design — but that limits the ability to screw on different-length beds. Lightning sticks to the familiar pickup box design with no Cybertruck tricks like a rolling bed cover or kneeling rear.
Sold separately from its vehicles, Tesla offers battery-powered “power walls” to light your home. Ford one-ups Tesla by offering Lightning as a home generator. The estimated $10,000 option is targeted at the gas generator industry that installs “engines-on-a-slab” for homes — and telegraphs Lightning’s ambitions to go after higher-income truck buyers.
With an industry-best power output of 19.2 kWh on board, the pickup’s power can be routed through a wall-mounted inverter to run a home during a power outage for up to three days.
Even without the generator option, Lightning offers 9.6 kW of onboard power (first seen on the F-150 Hybrid introduced last fall) that can be used to charge tools at a worksite or a TV at a football tailgate. The bed bristles with three 110-volt outlets and a 240. The frunk? Three 110s and three USBs.
The yawning frunk is Lightning’s killer app. Pickups alienate many due to the lack of covered cargo space. Not this pickup. Its frunk can swallow two golf bags or three pieces of luggage.
Lightning also comes with batteries’ inherent drawbacks. Chief among them is range.
The standard battery offers 230 miles, with an optional extended-range unit rated at 300 miles. That’s on par with the Mach-E — but well shy of, say, the F-150 diesel’s 850 miles.
Towing with any engine sucks juice — whether gas or electrons. TFLTruck.com reports that towing degrades mpg in a gas or hybrid-powered F-150 by 70%. Ford estimates Lightning will see similar degradation. But when the diesel runs out, there is ample fueling infrastructure. Not so the nation’s fast-charging grid. And when the Ford does stop for charging, it will take longer than a gas pump fill-up — think 10 minutes for 50 miles of range.
With the F-150’s six engine options, pickup owners have a lot of choice. Naturally, Lightning is targeted at the higher-income urban toy truck customer. Construction or landscaping pros seem a natural audience as well.
At the end of the day, the big EV can be recharged in about eight hours and be back on the job in the a.m.
The race is on for the first EV pickup, and the Lightning will compete with the GMC Hummer, Lordstown Endurance, Bollinger B2 and Rivian R1T due next year. In addition to its conventional styling, Ford thinks customers will appreciate the conventional dealer network. Some 2,300 Ford dealers are already certified for service.
Expect it to arrive on dealer lots in the middle of next year. Your move, Tesla.