Update: Several commenters note that the aerodynamics of the front are probably alright, but there are other notable aero issues with the truck (like the bed and the big mirrors). As noted in the article, good aero can be deceiving and can look like bad aerodynamic design, so there may be more hidden tricks at play here than we know. Also, I will reiterate what I wrote in the article a few times: aero and enormous range are not big matters for a lot of use cases, and there should be plenty of such use cases at the moment to appreciate and make use of the electric F-150, good aerodynamics or not. Also see: “7 Ways Ford Did Everything Right With The F-150 Lightning.”
I recently wrote about why the Ford F-150 Lightning’s Mega Power Frunk could be a huge consumer attraction, and I certainly stand by that, but it could also be the vehicle’s Achilles heel.
I have not seen the F-150 Lightning’s drag coefficient (Cd), but “judging a book by its cover,” the aerodynamics don’t look great. Keeping with the F-150’s traditional design, the front portion of the truck is almost like a giant brick.
Well, there’s a little bit of curvature going on there, but the general impression is that this vehicle was made to resemble a traditional, normal Ford F-150 more than it was designed for superb aerodynamics.
Conventional diesel or gasoline trucks don’t really “get away with” such designs, as they do lead to horrid fuel economy, and thus very high fuel and operational costs. However, efficiency plays a special role with electric vehicles since it is a critical portion of the calculation that determines driving range on a single charge, and that’s probably still the technical factor that holds back EV sales the most (excluding limited battery supply and limited production capacity, not to mention soft barriers such as lack of awareness or poor marketing and sales approaches). Also, the aerodynamics matter more at higher speeds, which are associated with longer trips — and you don’t really want your range expectations to drop the most when driving far.
Let me just reiterate quickly, though: sometimes, good aerodynamic design can be deceiving. Some designs have much better aerodynamics than one may think. The are some rules of good aerodynamic that seem illogical on the surface. However, I’m not very optimistic in this case. As noted above, the F-150 Lightning adopts traditional F-150 style quite a lot (obviously), and these trucks are not known for good aero and fuel economy — quite the opposite.
I’m not saying the F-150’s range and specs for the price are horrible. To the contrary, I was positively surprised at the cost–specs balance Ford achieved, and the almost identically priced base Cybertruck has an estimated single-charge range of 250+ miles, just about 30 miles more. But the top concern with this model is that the range won’t be adequate for a large number of buyers for a pickup truck, and if the giant frunk wasn’t sitting there and Ford instead rolled out a much more aerodynamic truck, could range be a significantly smaller issue? Could the F-150 Lightning have 250+ miles on the base trim?
But one thing to remember is that the F-Series gets nearly a million sales a year in the US, and those buyers are not all the same. In fact, there’s tremendous variation among purchasers and what they purchase the vehicle for. For those who are not as concerned about range and want a nice, big, easy place to store groceries and such, the Mega Power Frunk may be what wins them over — whether they were also considering the conventional F-150 or the Tesla Cybertruck. Also, primarily using the common Ford truck design immediately opens the door to many buyers who are hesitant to change too much too quickly. A leap to electric with a newfangled design may be too much for them, but an electric F-150 that looks like an F-150 may be just what they’re looking for — and having just 230 miles of EPA-rated range may not matter. (Personally, as I’ve explained many times, I think 230 miles of range is plenty for many consumers, especially considering the average American driver drives about 40 miles miles a day and most households have more than one vehicle in the household, meaning both vehicles probably don’t need to be ideal road trip vehicles.)
So, this is not to say that Ford should have done it differently, but I think it should be recognized that poor aerodynamics — due to the giant front block (which enables the giant frunk) — could be keeping the range too low for many a buyer and that could be the dealbreaker for them. Hopefully the F-150 Lightning has so many sales nonetheless from consumers who are cool with 230 miles of range that we don’t even think much about this drawback as sales pick up.
An interesting thing to watch in coming years, though, will be how Ford adapts its electric trucks to improve aerodynamics and squeeze more range out of them. Or if Ford decided to mostly keep rolling with traditional F-150 structure because that’s what people are use to and that’s what they want — and because people love that Mega Power Frunk so dang much.