WSJ Scribe Pens An Ode To The Ford F-150 Lightning

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The three most important vehicles ever made by Ford Motor Company may be the Model T, the 1964 Mustang, and the F-150 Lightning electric pickup truck. Trucks are what Ford does best. In fact, one out of every 10 new vehicles sold in America these days is an F-150. When you have the bestselling pickup truck for nearly 50 years running, you make changes to it the way porcupines make love — very, very carefully. It is crucial to Ford’s future existence that it gets the F-150 Lightning right.

The F-150 Lightning is now in production, and according to the Wall Street Journal, a publication that has shown very little fondness for electric vehicles in the past, it is a knockout punch that will keep Ford on top of the sales charts as the EV revolution picks up speed.

The WSJ article was penned by Dan Neil, an experienced automotive journalist with stints at both AutoWeek and Car and Driver. He is also the only one of his colleagues to win an Pulitzer Prize. He’s no lightweight, in other words. After experiencing the F-150 Lightning at a press event in San Antonio recently, he came away suitably impressed. Calling the F-150 Lightning an “existential stress test for management,” he writes the truck “represents an American manufacturing triumph, a brand resurrection, a win for working people, a vehicle segment stepping out of the darkness into the light.”

The Ford Marketing Strategy

Image courtesy of Ford

Truck people like trucks that look like trucks. That may be an issue when and if Tesla ever gets around to building its sci-fi inspired Cybertruck. The industry took notice decades ago when Jeep transitioned from round headlights to square ones. Sales plummeted and the company nearly went out of business. Once bitten, twice shy, they say. Elon Musk may see an alternate reality, but Ford is taking no chances.

“Being about the same size, shape and height as any Crew Cab 4×4 with a short cargo box, the Lightning will look comfortably familiar to Americans,” Neil writes. “That’s strategic. If Tesla’s Cybertruck is an angular modernist home hanging off the cliff of public acceptance, the Lightning is prairie revival. The cabin décor, digital UX, switches, and displays are almost all regular business in current models. Ford’s plan is a kind of production mainstreaming, whereby the electric trucks get knocked together, shipped, and sold pretty much like other F-150s.” In this instance, familiarity is assumed to be the key to sales.

One of the things that everyone finds appealing is that space in the front where gasoline and diesel engines used to reside. Called a frunk, it is now a secure carrying space that can haul up to 400 pounds of stuff — tools, blow up kayaks, bags of cement, whatever. The front motor lives beneath it and the battery is neatly tucked between the frame rails where the transmission and driveshaft used to go.

Featured image: F-150 Lightnings during testing in Alaska. Image by Ford.

Unlike some companies that are building only their most expensive electric models first (we’re looking at you, Tesla), Ford intends to take care of its commercial customers, the very people who buy all those conventional F-150s year in and year out. 20% of production will be devoted to the entry level Lightning Pro standard range that lists for $39,974 plus a delivery charged of $1,695. After applying the federal tax credit, that means a commercial customer can buy one for a net cost of around $34,000. Just try buying a work truck for that amount of money today. There are none to be had.

For that price, the customer gets “a fully credentialed, generously equipped Ford pickup with boxed steel frame, four wheel drive, 775 lb-ft of torque, locking rear differential, plus fun vinyl seats and floors. When fitted with the optional towing and trailer packages ($2,775 combined for Pro models), this donkey can tow 10,000 pounds and haul 2,235 pounds. And you are still out the door for less than 40 grand,” Neil writes.

He adds this editorial comment. “Finally, an EV that isn’t a soft-handed, overpriced toy for white collar commuters. Something I can use. Actually, the Pro SR looks like a pickup-based business owner’s best friend, the tradesman truck to launch a thousand sole proprietorships.”

V2L & V2H

Vehicle to grid system
“Home of the Future” — rooftop solar power + all-electric Ford F-150. Image credit: Sunrun

Neil was positively blown away by the auxiliary power options available with the F-150 Lightning. “Equipped with the optional Pro Power Onboard system, the Lightning can supply 9.6 kW of AC power to 11 outlets, including one 240V socket in the cargo bed. No generator, no noise, no smell, all day. You know what people can do with that kind of portable power? You could run a farrier’s electric forge, or a stick welder, a job site compressor the size of an elephant, or a mobile sailmaking shop, or shortwave radio station playing Swedish folk music they can hear in Sweden. I leave it to America’s entrepreneurial imagination to explore the possibilities.”

And if the power goes out at home? That’s when things get really interesting. “The Lightning supports vehicle-to-load charging. Paired with the Charge Station Pro, the available Ford Intelligent Backup Power — contained in a second wall-mounted device — monitors home electrical service and, if there is an interruption, automatically switches to the Lightning’s onboard battery, much like a Tesla Powerwall. Fully charged, the 131-kWh battery could keep the average house in the U.S. running three days at its usual rate, and up to 10 days with some power rationing. That should do the job.”

Charging & Range

The two questions every EV shopper ask first are “What about range?” and “How fast will it charge?” Neil says don’t worry. “Can the Lightning trailer a large and heavy powerboat up and down a hilly two lane at Texas speeds? Dude, yeah, literally like it wasn’t even there. That’s 775 pound-feet of seamless torque at the end of your toe. The Lightning is a land locomotive. I really like the optional onboard scales feature, which measures the load and tongue weight and helps calibrate brake bias for truck and trailer, baking in both regen and friction-braking force.

“What about range? Eh, it’s enough. Yes, you can expect to draw down the battery faster when towing/hauling, depending on the burden. You can expect a comparable hit to efficiency in a gas-powered truck, too.” That’s a message more people need to hear. Towing always reduces how far you can go on a tank of fuel. It’s the same with electric vehicles. The more important question is, how long does it take to recharge the battery?

“At a DC fast charger (150 kW) the Lightning can pack up to 54 miles of electro-range in 10 minutes. Homeowners with the optional Ford Charge Station Pro on their garage walls can fully recharge the ER battery in 8 hours — overnight, like a cellphone.” Once again, something we don’t hear enough about. Many people assume you have to go find a charger somewhere out by the highway whenever you need more electrons. Nope. It takes 30 seconds to plug in and 30 seconds to unplug at home or wherever the truck is parked overnight. That’s a lot less time than it takes to drive to a gas station and fill up.

The F-150 Lightning Takeaway

Neil adds that the best part is that the recommended scheduled maintenance for its new electric pickup truck is 40% less than for a comparable gas-powered model. And that’s before you start adding up all the money saved by not spending $100 or more every time you fill the tank these days. “When working America gets a load of these babies they’ll never go back. That’s strategic, too,” he says.

His glowing report makes the F-150 Lightning seem like a grand slam in the bottom of the ninth inning, a field goal from the 50-yard line with no time left on the clock, and a total smackdown of the competition. His final verdict? Drive electric. Be happy!

[Note: for specifics about range, battery sizes, and list prices, please see our article from March 18 that has actual window stickers for all models from the entry level Pro standard range to the top of the line Platinum version.]

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new."

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