The Ford F-150 Lightning was one of the first electric trucks out there, and to this day, it’s still one of only a few. The truck offers that much-loved F-150 design and hefty size, but swaps out the gas-powered engine for a super-quick electric powertrain that gives it the kind of zip you normally wouldn’t expect from a truck at all.
But there are still a few things that make buying and using an electric truck a little … challenging. After all, the use case for trucks is usually a little different than it is for a car, and that may complicate whether or not an electric truck is right for your needs.
Technically a beast
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The Ford F-150 Lightning is incredibly powerful. That’s immediately clear just by hitting the accelerator. It’s very fast, especially for a vehicle of its size — and some variants will get from 0 to 60 miles per hour in under 4 seconds. Many much smaller and lighter electric cars can’t even match that.
It’s able to tow heavy loads too. The F-150 Lightning is capable of towing up to 10,000 pounds, depending on the model you get. You’ll need the XLT or Lariat trim to tow that much, but even lower-end models can still tow up to 5,000 pounds, which isn’t bad at all. That’s enough power to tow a relatively large trailer.
It’s a joy to drive too. I love driving larger vehicles, and the F-150 Lightning is kitted out with touches that make the experience of using it even better. For example, the frunk has a drain hole that allows it to serve as a cooler or ice chest, and you can hose it out to clean it. There are power outlets dotted around it for things like power tools. And it feels as rugged inside as it looks outside.
But before you plan to buy the F-150 Lightning for your next long-distance road trip, you may want to think twice. Why? Well, it can technically tow those super-heavy loads, but it won’t get you very far.
Even after a few years of electric trucks being available, towing large loads still has a significant impact on the range of an electric truck. And considering the range of the F-150 Lightning isn’t all that great in the first place, using the truck to tow things like a trailer may just not be feasible at all for your needs. The current Ford F-150 Lightning has a range of up to around 320 miles.
The impact of towing heavier loads may be bigger than you might think, too. According to a report from MotorTrend, towing a 7,218-pound trailer brought the range down to just 90 miles, while towing a 3,140-pound trailer still brought it down to only 115 miles, which is considerably less than half the range of the truck when it’s not towing anything.
Even if you’re not towing at all, however, if you’re planning on carrying heavier loads in the bed of the truck, you should still expect to see a serious decrease in range when you do so.
To be clear, this isn’t an issue that’s isolated to electric trucks. Most estimates indicate that for every 100 extra pounds that a truck tows, gas mileage will be reduced by around 2%. So, towing a 7,218-pound trailer would decrease the gas mileage by around 72%. Considering that a gas-powered F-150 can get a little over 500 miles on a full tank of gas, towing that same load would bring the range down to 150 miles or so.
The difference? That’s still quite a bit more than 90 miles, and you can easily fill up a gas tank in a few minutes when you need to. With the F-150 Lightning, you’ll have to charge every few hours, and doing so will take 30 minutes or so.
Not all truck drivers are the same
None of this is to say that you shouldn’t buy the F-150 Lightning. It’s just to say that you should go in knowing what to expect.
Let’s be real. Plenty of truck drivers buy trucks simply because they like them — not because they’re constantly hauling big loads and towing trailers. I get it. Trucks are cool! Not only do they give you enough size to potentially remain safer on the roads, but they have that added layer of versatility. You may not be a construction worker, but being able to move between houses without renting a U-Haul can be helpful. Or maybe you’re that saint of a friend who helps everyone else when they move.
And there are plenty of use cases between towing a trailer and driving a totally empty truck. Maybe you’re a construction worker who regularly hauls tools and materials, and can charge your truck on-site or at home. These loads are unlikely to veer into the thousands of pounds, and you’ll still likely get enough of a range to drive around town as needed.
But maybe you are someone who really plans to get a lot out of owning a truck, like towing large trailers and hauling very heavy loads. In that case, perhaps buying a gas-powered truck, or a plug-in hybrid, is still the best course of action for your needs.
The future of trucks
So what can solve this? Put simply, better batteries with more range, as well as faster charging tech. We’ll never get trucks that offer the same range when towing a trailer as they do when not towing a trailer. Physics doesn’t work like that. But as battery tech improves and electric vehicles offer a better range, the impact of towing will steadily decrease.
Let’s assume you only get a third of the range when towing as you do when not towing. With a 300-mile range, you’ll end up with only 100 miles. But if your truck had 500 miles of range to start with, you’d get a much more manageable 160 miles of range or so. If solid-state battery tech really does deliver on the promise of 750 miles of range or more, you’ll end up with around 250 miles when towing. That’s impressive.
Charging plays a big role in making electric trucks more practical, too. A major reason it’s so much easier to tow with a gas-powered truck is that you can fill it up in a few short minutes, instead of having to wait nearly an hour. Fifteen-minute charges are a good goal for the next few years, but in the long term, hopefully we’ll eventually be able to fully charge an EV in only a few minutes. If that ever happens, it’s far off into the future, though.
Ultimately, after driving the F-150 Lightning for a week, I’ve found it to be an awesome electric truck. If you go into buying one with realistic expectations, you’ll love it — but if you expect to get the same towing experience from the F-150 Lightning as you would get from the gas-powered version, you’ll be disappointed.