When you’ve been building the best-selling pickup truck in America for the last 40 years, which also happens to be the best-selling vehicle in the country outright, launching an all-electric version of it is big news.
When you invite on stage, a vice president of the United Auto Workers (UAW) to announce it - that’s groundbreaking, because it puts American workers at the center of the story and right now, that’s very welcome indeed.
Gerald Kariem, VP of the UAW’s Ford Department asserted before “pulling the covers off” the all-electric Ford F-150 Lightning on May 19 - with a bold statement that the new vehicle is going to be important for Ford workers, sustainability and the nation.
And though saying it’s important for the nation may be a little hyperbolic, it’s inarguably a very significant development from the blue oval, given the place the F-150 holds in America.
So, important in fact, that if this is the future of the F-150, they have to get it right. After all, Ford isn’t inventing a category - it’s building on a brand and the reputation that comes with it. An electric F-150 has to be a workhorse, and frankly, given that it’s a pickup, it’s going to have to prove to prospective buyers of such vehicles, that it’s every bit as good, if not better than its gasoline powered stablemates - with which it will coexist.
Using the Lightning sub-brand sets Ford’s intention with this truck. F-150s that have worn the Lightning badge in the past came out of Ford’s Special Vehicle Team (SVT), high performance unit, so clearly Ford has positioned the electric F-150 to put up some impressive numbers. It doesn’t disappoint.
Zero to 60 miles per hour in the mid four seconds range should persuade the performance oriented that it means business. That’s achieved by the extended-range versions outfitted with two inboard electric motors developing 563 horsepower and 775 foot-pounds of torque. Apparently, according to Bill Ford, when President Biden visited Ford in Dearborn earlier this week to preview the vehicle, he left some rubber on the track during his test drive. So, safe to say, it’s fast.
As for distance between charges, the top specification versions equipped with the extended range battery is good for an estimated 300 miles, though the less expensive entry level versions will be good for a still-respectable 250 miles.
In this category, vehicles have to be able to demonstrate they can tow stuff and the F-150 Lightning delivers here, too. It can haul a 10,000-pound trailer and accept a 2,000-pound payload in the flatbed. All wheel drive means weekend warriors will find it a very capable off-road vehicle too, and because there’s no internal combustion engine up front, the F-150 Lightning comes with a power “frunk” providing additional storage space to secure all your gear.
All of which is to say, the F-150 Lightning is pretty much a match for its gasoline powered stablemates. But it has another trick up its sleeve that is really impressive.
The chief engineer of the F-150 Lightning, Linda Zhang, pointed out something this F-150 can be, which its gasoline powered brethren cannot, and that is “your own personal power plant.” The Lightning comes with 11 power outlets distributed throughout the vehicle, which means as a work truck, it can operate power tools if you are working somewhere off the grid. And remarkably, in the event of a grid outage, Ford claims it can off-board up to 9.6 kW of peak energy to power a home for up to three days. A true utility vehicle!
Pricing is competitive, too. The commercial oriented version is set to start at just under $40,000 but fully kitted out vehicles will see that price top out at around $90,000, though buyers have options in between.
At this point, perhaps we have to address the elephant in the room. When Tesla announced its Cybertruck, we noted at the time that Elon Musk had the F-150 in its crosshairs. Tesla even conducted a video tug-of-war between an F-150 and a Cybertruck. The Cybertruck won.
But that was before the electric F-150 Lightning, and though it’s true, based on power statistics, the Cybertruck still wins that tug of war battle, there’s more to this competition than brute force. So, which is the better electric pickup?
In terms of price they start at the same place, with identical range targets, though the Cybertruck tops out at a lower $69,900. The Cybertruck promises a better range for its tri-motor version at 500 miles, which is hard to argue with. But if you use your truck as a work vehicle, are a traditionalist or a fan of the F-150 aesthetic - it’s easy to see buyers opting for something practical, and less outlandish than the Cybertruck.
And it has to be said, the F-150 Lightning still measures up with impressive performance figures. It also comes with creature comforts like handsfree highway driving via Ford’s Blue Cruise system and boasts other premium features. It’ll be built in Ford’s Dearborn Rouge Center, which Bill Ford says is the cleanest plant in the country.
So, it probably comes down to what you think a pickup truck is all about. It’s hard to be on the fence with the Cybertruck - you either love the way it looks, or you hate it. It promises to be at least as capable as a pickup. But Ford has the best-selling pickup in America; it can’t afford to mess up the formula, and the Lightning avoids doing so.
With that in mind, while the Cybertruck certainly makes a statement, the F-150 Lightning on the other hand, for most buyers, probably makes more sense.
Image credit: Ford
Phil Covington holds an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School. In the past, he spent 16 years in the freight transportation and logistics industry. Today, Phil's writing focuses on transportation, forestry, technology and matters of sustainability in business.