The Ford F-150 Lightning is surely the most anticipated vehicle of this year, electric or otherwise. Theoretically, North America’s first mass-production, all-electric pickup truck has been available since the summer – Ford’s been cranking them out since April from its new assembly plant in Dearborn, Mich., trying to meet an order sheet of more than 150,000 trucks – but I’ve not yet seen one on the road. At least, not until I saw my test vehicle in November.
There are three different versions available to the public, starting at $68,000 for the XLT and rising to $110,000 for the Platinum. There’s also a stripped-down work truck sold to fleets that starts at $58,000, but my tester was the $80,000 Lariat. Its battery pack was upgraded from the standard 98-kilowatt-hour unit to the extended-range 131-kilowatt-hour, which cost an additional $13,380.
It was soon clear that nobody else in town had seen one on the road, either. At my local Tim Hortons, where I sat emissions-free and guilt-free in the drive-through line, the guy in the lifted F-150 ahead of me yelled back that I was in a sweet truck and paid for my coffee (and yes, I paid it forward). At No Frills, a woman in a beaten-up F-150 couldn’t believe my truck was so quiet and loved the light bar around the grille.
When I went to collect firewood from my friend Ralph Robins, a former ice-road trucker, he’d never seen an electric pickup and was impressed with my reports of 580 horsepower and 775 lb-ft of torque. He was just as impressed with the 400-litre storage frunk (front trunk) under the hood and the various power points for charging equipment. But, he asked, what’s the driving range?
Ah – the classic EV question. Ford claims a range of 370 kilometres for the standard battery and up to 515 kilometres for the larger unit in my tester. That’s on a balmy summer day, of course, and with nothing in the bed or on the hitch. What’s the Lightning like when you actually start working with it?
Robins dropped a face cord of firewood into the back of the Lightning and the on-board scales showed it weighed 462 kilograms. That’s a comfortable weight: the test truck was fitted with the $1,200 Tow Technology package and the $1,120 Max Trailer Tow package, so it could carry just over 1,000 kilograms and tow more than 4,500. All those options – the ones that help add a third more capacity to the standard battery and which you want if you’re serious – turned the Lariat tester into a $100,000 vehicle, plus taxes.
There was a hint of snow in the air and the truck’s thermometer said the temperature was 2 degrees Celsius. I reset the mileage and drove the 30 kilometres home, watching the battery gauge closely.
Until that point, the unladen truck had told me it was using power at an average rate of 36 kilowatt-hours every 100 kilometres. Basic math says that will give a range of 364 kilometres in single-digit temperatures with the larger battery pack. Most of this was driving on Highway 401 at the speed of traffic, which was about 115 kilometres an hour.
With the wood in the back and driving at the 80- kilometer-an-hour speed limit – though barely aware in its handling that there was even any weight on the truck – the Lightning said it was using power at a much more reasonable 26 kilowatt-hours every 100 kilometres. I unloaded the truck the next day and carried on driving for about another 200 kilometres on slower secondary roads. The consumption barely changed, giving a total range of just over 500 kilometres, still in single-digit temperatures.
During this time, a friend who used to own an F-150 came over for a ride in the Lightning. His truck was fitted with the 3.5-litre Ecoboost engine and he told me it would consume an average of 11 or 12 litres of gas every 100 kilometres in normal driving; however, when he hooked up his 3,550-kilogram camping trailer, that would change to at least 20 litres and sometimes up to 30 litres every 100 kilometres.
“I drove slowly on the highway with it and held up traffic,” he said. “I couldn’t afford to drive any faster. It’s not the weight that’s the killer – it’s the speed.”
When the time came to return the Lightning, it had 30 per cent of its battery charge left, good for an indicated 107 kilometres. I’d need more than that for the drive to the other side of Toronto to drop it off. I plugged it in to a Level 2 charger that showed it would take almost 10 hours to reach full capacity, so instead, I took it to a nearby Petro-Canada station.
Only one of the two DC fast chargers was working, but using the working charger took a half-hour to reach an 80-per-cent charge. The Lightning can handle a 150-kilowatt charging rate, and the Level 3 charger topped out at 132 kilowatts. Normally, that would cost about $10, but for some reason, the charge that day was free. Thanks.
I reset the gauges for the final drive to return the truck. It was early in the morning, at 2 degrees Celsius, with the cruise control set to 115 kilometres an hour. This time, the unladen Lightning showed an average power consumption of 40 kilowatt-hours per 100 kilometres, for a total range of 328 kilometres with a full charge. The cabin was warm and the digital analysis said 8 per cent of my power use went to maintaining its climate, and an extra 6 per cent to ”exterior temperature” (power being drained by driving in a cooler-than-optimal temperature). The drivetrain itself had used 85 per cent of the power.
Clearly, for any EV – for any vehicle at all – it’s the speed that makes all the difference. Slow down a bit and you’ll spend less time parked at your local charger, cursing the battery.