There are good cars, and bad cars, and cars that vanish from history without making much of an impression. But rarely does a vehicle appear that changes the course of the industry forever. The Ford F-150 Lightning is such a car.
When the Lightning finally rolled out in 2022, with a 2,000-pound payload and a 7,700-pound tow capacity (with the extended range battery), and yet still had a range between 240 and 320 miles depending on the configuration, it was clear that from now on, electric cars would no longer just be playthings for Tesla fanboys. The F-150, the most popular vehicle in America from the company that had basically invented mass automotive transportation, was now in an all-electric form. With the Lightning, you could no longer ignore the coming ascendancy of the electric car.
I’d been out of the car-writing racket for nearly four years, which didn’t bother me much, but occasionally, a car would appear that had me wishing. This new F-150 floated in my vision from afar, like a celebrity who’d never talk to me at a party. When my editor reactivated me, the Lightning was my first priority.
Then, at last, on a Wednesday morning, they dropped one off in my driveway. This one had nearly 15,000 miles on it, ready to be put out from the fleet to stud; every car writer and their second cousin had driven it by that point. And yet I gazed at it with fresh wonder, like it was a piece of alien technology that had crash-landed in my yard.
I cruised silently across the highways of Austin, drifting above the carbon-spewing masses. The Lightning was high-end, magnificent, elegant and high-tech inside, without feeling pretentious. It wasn’t nimble, though. The truck was more than 19 feet long, including a five-and-a-half foot bed, and had a 12-foot wheel base, not easy to maneuver into a tight parking space. But it drove smoothly and quietly and with basically no vibration.
I loved it so much; floating inside that cab made me feel happy and prosperous. The base-level Lightning comes in at about $49,000, which is not a lot compared with what a new car costs. The one I received, on the other hand, was a Platinum edition, which comes in at $95,000.
If I were a successful construction contractor, I could run a whole business from in there, which has been the point of contemporary trucks for a while; they’re for people who do physical work, and they’re also mobile offices. The center console opened up to reveal a laptop tray. There was an outlet charger and a phone charger, and a large iPad-sized screen on the center console.
But given that the Lightning is fully electric, is it any good for someone who actually needs a truck to do truck things?
I posted a photo of my toy of the week on Facebook. A somewhat annoyed person posted:
“Here’s what I want you to do: Borrow a small horse trailer. Put 1200-1500 lbs of ballast in the back. Set a reasonable destination for yourself, say 500 miles away. Make it fairly rural and put some hills in the middle. Make it a warm day. Plan your route. Remember you have to stop to rest and
wateryour “horse” for one hour for every four hours of drive time. See how much longer it takes you to get there than it would have with a hybrid or full ICE vehicle. Do you get stranded anywhere? Then ask a large-animal veterinarian what the effects on a real horse would have been.”
Spoiler alert: despite the fact that the Lightning has 580 horsepower with the extended-range battery, the horse would have died because the car would have run out of charge. And it’s definitely true that the Lightning loses electric range rapidly when you try to tow or haul something. As a Ford representative said to me, “The 300-mile range is assuming you’re floating on marshmallows while tugged along by a unicorn.”
I don’t own a horse or a unicorn, and I wasn’t about to borrow a small trailer. I drove the F-150 Lightning to Costco. Then I drove it to The Lodge card house where I was playing in a poker tournament. I took it to trivia night at Billy’s on Burnet, to the Texas Card House down the street, back to The Lodge again, to the Alamo Drafthouse movie theater, and then to The Lodge a couple more times. This is where and how I drive. Occasionally we haul bags of mulch from the garden store. We aren’t truck people, but if I were to buy a truck, I would buy the F-150 Lightning. It’s the truck of the future.
But charging was definitely an issue. We don’t have a dedicated EV vehicle charger at the house. Ford told me about the local fast public charger that could rev my vehicle to 80 percent or so in 40 minutes. It was at the outlet mall in Round Rock, about a 20-minute drive from my house. That seemed like a lot of work.
So instead, I broke my usual habits and went to the grocery store on a Saturday night even though we didn’t really need groceries. The driving around to my hobbies had drained the battery to about 42 percent. I wanted to return it at about 50 percent. The Whole Foods at the Domain had free Chargepoint outlets. Of the six stations, five were broken. A Nissan Leaf occupied the other one. That was a bust. So I took the groceries home, and then at 11 PM, I drove to the nearest public charging station, at an office park two miles from my house.
I sat at the charger for an hour and a half. It cost me $2.40 from the local utility company. For that money, I added 14 miles of charge. Not wanting to drain the battery further before Ford came to pick up the car, I didn’t drive it until late the next night. I returned to the office-park charging station, where I sat for another hour and added another 10 to 12 miles of range. At that rate, it would have taken me 14 hours to fully charge the vehicle.
Even for a vehicle as uniformly superb as the F-150 Lightning, infrastructure is still clearly an annoyance at best, and a big problem at worst. But that’s about to change.
Ford has announced a deal that will allow its electric vehicles access to 12,000 Tesla superchargers nationwide via an adapter, meaning you can fully charge your vehicle in under an hour. And all Ford electrics, starting in 2025, will have a North American Charging Standard connector built in, eliminating a need for that adapter. This is the biggest, most important news in the history of electric cars, especially because General Motors, seeing that Ford was about to dust them in the EV race, signed a similar deal with Tesla the next week.
So in 2023, the age of electric cars is here, but there are still some huge hassles. By car-history standards, that makes this year 1906 or 1907, right before the introduction of the Model T brought motoring to the masses. This year, the F-150 Lightning is one of the most amazing personal vehicles to have ever existed, but infrastructure problems are keeping it from being fully effective. That’s about to no longer be a problem. Starting next year, you’ll be able to drive it just about wherever you want. You can tow to your heart’s content, and will no longer have to worry about your horse dying along the way.