Last week the Ford Motor Company announced that it is exploring the idea of making car parts from olive trees, but that’s just a side hustle. Today the news is all about the Ford F-150 Lightning EV. Ford launched the electric pickup truck in April of 2022 to great acclaim from MotorTrend, among others, and it is not resting on its laurels. The company has come just up with an attention-getting off-road racing version of the Lightning, and it’s ready to roll.
This Electric Pickup Truck Loves Dirt
Ford kindly shared a preview of today’s news with CleanTechnica, and here it is: A tricked-out version of the F-150 electric pickup truck will make its first public appearance at the notorious King of the Hammers off-road racing event in Johnson Valley, California on January 25 (see our complete F-150 Lightning archive here).
Called the Switchgear Demonstrator, the new truck was designed to show that an electric pickup truck can hold its own under grueling off-road conditions, and King of the Hammers is the just the place to do that.
“King of the Hammers was coined the toughest one-day off-road race in the world years ago because of the treacherous terrain and grueling courses,” King of the Hammers says of itself.
Not everyone who drives a pickup truck on unpaved roads will encounter the swoops and dives of King of the Hammers, but if Ford can pull it off the company can add yet another feather in its cap.
MotorTrend awarded its 2023 Truck of the Year honors to the F-150 Lightning electric pickup truck in a precedent-setting vote that saw unanimous agreement from the judges.
“It’s also only the second time an electric vehicle has won unanimously in the history of MotorTrend’s Of The Year competitions,” Ford notes.
“As the best-riding, best-handling, and best-driving F-150 yet, the Lightning is the first EV pickup to appeal directly to the existing truck market,” MotorTrend observed when it announced the award. “It does so with a trove of new engineering accomplishments wrapped in a practical, recognizable package truck owners have come to trust.”
“The Lightning so successfully bridges the gulf between the powertrain of the future and the pickup truck of today that we’ve named it our 2023 MotorTrend Truck of the Year,” they added.
What’s So Special About The Switchgear Demonstrator Electric Pickup Truck?
To be clear, you’re not going to get the same ride from your local Ford dealer. The Switchgear electric pickup truck is a one-off demonstrator with some very special features.
“Switchgear specifically provides a testbed for pushing the boundaries of what’s expected from electric trucks,” Mark Rushbrook, Ford’s Global Director of Ford Performance Motorsports, explained in a blog post today.
“The truck features custom independent double-wishbone suspension at the front, and multilink independent suspension at the rear with coil-over shocks, stabilizer bar and custom control arms,” Rushbrook noted.
He also took note of the carbon composite front fenders, bed sides and rear bumper cover, the steel fabricated rock rails and front skid plate, and limit straps, which support suspension and wheel travel.
Other features include an increased track width to improve stability on off-road conditions, along with more ground clearance and improved suspension travel, which refers to the up-and-down motion of wheels on rough terrain.
“To manage rough terrain, the suspension on F-150 Lightning Switchgear – named not just for its off-road capability, but its performance on asphalt (more on that later) – uses FOX 3-inch diameter internal bypass shock absorbers plus unique front and rear bumpers to improve approach and departure angles,” he added.
To gild the offroad lily, the Switchgear Demonstrator sports Ridge Grappler 37×12.5R18 tires from Nitto Tire, which is continuing its decade-long relationship with King of the Hammers as presenting partner this year.
Also, don’t forget the unique chase rack with two spare wheels/tires, Rushbrook reminds.
Leveling Up The Electric Pickup Truck Of The Future
One thing that will be within off-the-shelf reach of F-150 Lightning fans is a new “tech-forward” version of the electric pickup truck, the F-150 Lightning Flash.
“The F-150 Lightning Flash expands on the XLT model line by adding in-demand tech capabilities, including an extended-range battery, which has a targeted EPA-estimated range of 320 miles, available Ford BlueCruise1 hands-free highway driving, and a standard 15.5-inch touchscreen for seamless interactions and navigation,” Ford explained in a press release last October.
“The F-150 Lightning Flash is a direct outcome of engaging with and learning from our customers. This truck combines many of the technology-forward features our customers love in our EV lineup, at a more accessible price,” Ford added.
By more accessible they mean relatively more accessible. With an MSRP of $69,995 the Lightning Flash is somewhat on the pricey side but it is not the most expensive pickup truck in town, going by a 2023 rundown from JD Power.
The Lightning Flash MSRP is also less than other Ford Lightning electric pickup trucks listed as available for order in 2024 in the October press release: The extended Lightning Lariat ($77,495), the extended-range Lightning Platinum ($89,995), and the limited edition extended-range Lightning Platinum Black ($97,995).
Speaking Of Olive Trees…
Don’t hold your breath for some future version of the F-150 electric pickup truck to evoke the spirit of the Ford Woody Wagon, but Ford has been returning to the idea of deploying more natural and recycled materials in its vehicles.
The olive tree thing is not a gag. Earlier this week, Ford provided an update on its trial of car parts made of biocomposites derived from olive tree waste, under Europe’s “COMPOlive” project.
Aside from reducing the use of plastic in the auto industry, the COMPOlive project is aimed at reducing if not eliminating the air pollution that results from the routine practice of burning olive tree waste.
So far the experiment looks promising, and Ford dropped a hint about possible use in EVs.
“Engineers produced prototype footrests and parts of the boot area using olive tree waste. Testing has shown the parts produced are both robust and durable with Ford now evaluating the process for mass use, to potentially help deliver the next wave of electric vehicles,” Ford explained.
To be precise, the composite is not 100% olive tree. It consists of 40% tree fiber and 60% recycled polypropylene plastic, but it’s a start.
Inga Wehmeyer, who spearheaded the project for Ford, explained that “we had to experiment with different ratios of waste material and polypropylene.”
“It was hard work, but it ultimately enabled us to produce a material that shows no compromise in strength, durability, or flexibility,” she added.
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Photo (cropped): The new Switchgear Demonstrator takes Ford’s F-150 Lighting electric pickup truck on an epic off-road journey (courtesy of Ford).