One ride in the new electric Ford F-150 told me everything I needed to know

By Jordan Golson

Earlier this year, Ford unveiled the F-150 Lightning.

It’s an all-electric version of its best-selling F-150 pickup truck, and it’s poised to reshape the entire electric vehicle industry.

The Lightning is revolutionary not for what it is, but what it isn’t. It’s not trying to be anything except for a pickup truck. Ford representatives emphasized when they revealed the truck that it was an F-150 first and electric second. Any F-150, even one with a plug and a host of batteries, first needed to live up to the company’s “Built Ford Tough” mantra.

It sounds like a mere marketing slogan, but Ford’s truck designers and engineers see it as a mantra to live up to — one decades in the making. The F-150 Lightning won’t begin shipping until next 2022, but when Ford asked if I wanted to get a closer look at one, I jumped on a flight to Detroit.

Getting inside Ford’s Dearborn Development Center is not easy. Formerly known as the Dearborn Proving Ground and even more formerly known as the Ford Airport (the airport was the first in the U.S. to have concrete runways, scheduled passenger service, an airport hotel, and more), Ford’s on-campus testing center is highly secure.

Automobile manufacturing is a cutthroat business, and spying on development vehicles undergoing testing is common. Dedicated automotive photographers will ply common testing areas looking for camouflaged vehicles to snap pics. The need to engineer vehicles far from prying eyes is why these private development facilities are essential for carmakers.

After passing through several security checkpoints and climbing into a van that exists solely to shuttle visitors around the facility, I finally make it to the inner sanctum and find a preproduction F-150 Lightning. It’s my first chance to get up close with the truck, and, perhaps unsurprisingly, my first reaction is that it looks an awful lot like a Ford F-150 pickup truck.

That’s intentional. Ford already antagonized Mustang fans when it released the Mustang Mach-E, which is electric and, perhaps worse, has four doors. Truck buyers are a protective and loyal group, and the company wanted to build a truck that was electric but also did everything F-150 buyers expect and more.

The “and more” bit is what makes the Lightning so interesting: One of the best features is the ability to plug your Lightning into a special residential charging station that can fill the Lightning with energy, but, when power is lost, it can also power your entire home for days. Some other electric cars allow owners to plug in one or two devices at a time, but no one has gone so far as to juice up an entire home.

I knew all that when I went in. I was here to get a ride — Ford hasn’t let anyone outside the company drive the F-150 Lightning except for President Biden. His verdict? “This sucker’s quick!

POTUS is right. It’s lightning-fast, to excuse the pun. It reminds me of the first time I rode in a performance Tesla Model S more than a half-decade ago. It takes a second for your brain to adjust to something this big is accelerating this quickly.

The F-150 Lightning takes off like a rocket… silently.

At the hands of chief engineer Linda Zhang, the F-150 Lightning took off like a rocket… silently. With 573 horsepower and 775 lb-ft of torque, Ford says the Lightning can hit 0-60 MPH in less than 4.5 seconds. I didn’t time it, but it feels about right. Maybe even faster. We got up above 90 MPH, and then Zhang informed me that 90 MPH was the speed limit at the test track, though it could get above 110 MPH if you pushed it.

After a few runs around the banked turns of the bit of the test track we could try, it was back inside to see another preproduction truck. I checked out the enormous front trunk (with four 110-volt power outlets inside to charge up all your gear) and the 12-inch touchscreen that looks ripped from the Mustang Mach-E (or a Tesla).

The F-150 Lightning can tow 10,000 pounds, and the Ford engineers told me that they worked hard to make the bed dimensions the same as the internal combustion F-150. However, it’s very different underneath, thanks to a new suspension and those enormous battery packs. The goal was to make aftermarket accessories like toolboxes and the like easy to swap between the trucks.

It’ll take more than a 10-minute ride-along, and a quick peek at a preproduction model for me to declare the Ford F-150 Lightning a winner, but all the pieces are there. Buyers think so too: Reuters says Ford has doubled the Lightning production target thanks to strong demand ahead of its launch next year, with the company aiming to build more than 80,000 units in 2024.

Ford has already shown it knows how to build an awesome EV with the Mustang Mach-E, and I’m really excited to take the Lightning out for a spin. The company has taken its two biggest names — Mustang and F-150 — and made them electric. And perhaps the biggest surprise about the Lightning is simply that it’s so unsurprising.

Ford plans to begin deliveries of the F-150 Lightning next Spring.

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