America’s most popular vehicle is going electric, and it’s coming to dealerships across the country.
The first demo models of the Ford F-150 Lightning, an electric version of the best-selling pickup truck, have started arriving at dealerships, and a few vehicles have been delivered to the first customers on a very long waiting list.
Starting at $40,000, the F-150 Lightning could steal thunder from Rivian, the electric truck maker that has stumbled with a slow production ramp-up. More broadly, the Lightning is being heralded as a potential game-changer for electric vehicles, incorporating the burgeoning technology into a utility truck that can haul cargo and rival the speed of a Porsche.
“It’s every bit as capable as our current trucks, and it’s the fastest F-150 we’ve ever made,” said Jasen Turnbull, F-150 Lightning marketing manager at Ford. “It’s huge for us.”
The Lightning kicked off production in April at the Rouge EV Center in Dearborn, Michigan, and Ford’s first job is to fulfill pre-orders for the truck. Ford halted online reservations in December after receiving nearly 200,000 pre-orders. The automaker plans to increase annual production to 150,000 vehicles by next year.
The Lightning’s $40,000 starting price is the same as the comparable commercial gas-powered F-150, with higher-end versions costing upwards of $90,000. The price is offset by a $7,500 federal electric vehicle tax credit, and many states offer their own incentives. Buyers in Illinois, for example, are eligible to claim a $4,000 rebate on electric vehicles in the state starting in July through the Climate and Fair Jobs Act, enacted by the Governor JB Pritzker in September.
Sales of electric vehicles, which accounted for 2.6% of the U.S. auto market in 2021, are expected to nearly double this year to a 5% market share, according to Jessica Caldwell, executive information director for the shopping website. Edmunds cars. Demand has been boosted by soaring gasoline prices, but the lag in production makes it difficult to gauge how fast the adoption of electric vehicles will progress, she said.
“We’re definitely seeing people buying more electric vehicles,” Caldwell said. “The problem with electric vehicles is that you really can’t get your hands on a lot of them.”
Caldwell said supply chain issues, including the global shortage of semiconductors, could continue to disrupt auto production next year. But as automakers prioritize the transition to electric vehicles, production could ramp up at electric vehicle factories, she said.
Rivian, the startup electric truck maker that launched production of its R1T pickup truck in September, has struggled with a slower-than-expected ramp-up of a converted Mitsubishi plant in Normal, Ill.
The company, which builds an R1S SUV and two electric delivery vans for Amazon, has produced about 5,000 vehicles as of May 9. The plant has the capacity to produce 150,000 vehicles a year, but is expected to build 25,000 electric vehicles this year, hampered by supply chain issues.
California-based Rivian, which went public in November, has $17 billion in cash and received 90,000 orders for its R1 consumer electric vehicles as of May 9. Rivian is also building 100,000 electric delivery vans for Amazon, one of the company’s early investors.
While Rivian has a head start on electric truck rivals, its first-mover advantage could evaporate as Ford and General Motors ramp up production of rival pickup trucks, Caldwell said.
Along with the F-150 Lightning, truck fans got their first in-person glimpse of the 2024 Chevrolet Silverado EV pickup truck at the Chicago Auto Show in February. The truck, which starts at $40,000, is expected to launch in fall 2023.
“It’s been such a long ramp up for Rivian, and now you have these mainstream automakers who have more brand recognition and much bigger marketing budgets with these vehicles,” Caldwell said. “The F-150 is definitely going to have more mainstream appeal.”
Take a test drive
The 200,000 customers who have reserved a Lightning are invited to place a firm order, which can be placed online but will be delivered through a local reseller. Turnbull said it will take until mid-2023 to build and deliver these vehicles, so new customers are relegated to a waiting list to even begin the ordering process.
These potential customers can, however, get behind the wheel of a Lightning this summer at many Ford dealerships. Ford will deliver 2,400 demo versions of the electric truck to dealerships across the United States by July, Turnbull said. Demonstration vehicles will be in the field for six months before dealers can sell them, giving Ford time to ramp up production.
“We really thought it was important to get test drives,” Turnbull said. “So anyone can come in and talk to a local dealership for a test drive.”
The Lightning goes from zero to 60 mph in over four seconds, has a towing capacity of 10,000 pounds, a maximum payload of 2,000 pounds and a range of up to 320 miles when fully charged. But perhaps his real test was how he navigated potholes, construction work and rough urban terrain on Chicago’s North Side.
At first glance, the F-150 Lightning looks like the ubiquitous combustion engine F-150 trucks. But up front, where the engine would be, is a large, easy-access storage box, commonly known as a frunk. Dual inboard electric motors are located on the front and rear axles.
The cabin also looks familiar, but a large touchscreen in the middle of the dash includes features like Propulsion Sound, which replicates engine noise for those unaccustomed to the quiet power of an electric vehicle. and 1-pedal control, which makes the brake pedal a seldom-used appendage – tapping and releasing the accelerator is enough to handle most stop-and-go city driving.
After getting behind the wheel of a top-of-the-line $93,000 Platinum Lightning, we drove off, the air conditioner blasting movie theater chill. The Lightning maneuvered through orange cones and heavy construction equipment, excelling on a de facto obstacle course in town.
Next, we headed down the Kennedy Highway, looking for an open road to unleash the 580-hp Lightning. Heavy mid-morning traffic limited the zero to 60 mph acceleration test. A few momentary bursts, however, generated sudden G-forces and curious looks from other drivers, who apparently weren’t expecting a Ford pickup to pass like a Ferrari.
Leaving the freeway, we turned onto Central Park Avenue, a narrow, typical Chicago residential street lined with three apartments and poorly parked vehicles. Switching to off-road mode from the touchscreen, we navigated the rugged path with thumbs to spare, traversing speed bumps, twisted sidewalks and gaping potholes like a robot car. ‘exploration.
After an hour on the road, we returned the Lightning to the Fox Ford dealership in the Bucktown neighborhood, with nearly 300 miles of range and barely a scratch on its Atlas Blue finish.
Ford is aiming to hit 2 million electric vehicle sales by 2026 and is counting on the Lightning to propel the automaker toward that goal, Turnbull said. Customer deliveries began last month, with the first Lightning in Illinois going to Ken Stepps, a landscaper and handyman who lives in suburban Wheaton.
An EV enthusiast, Stepps traded in his 2017 Tesla Model 3 to buy the $80,000 Lightning Lariat from Hopkins Ford of Elgin, Illinois. He and his husband topped the 200,000 pre-order list through careful planning and execution.
“We knew Ford was going to announce the F-150 Lightning, so we had our laptops open and ready on the reservation page,” Stepps, 42, said. “And we were able to place our reservation before (Ford CEO) Jim Farley even announced the truck.
Stepps said he kept his place at the front of the line by monitoring the production process “like a hawk”. As soon as he got an email from Ford inviting him to customize and place the order, he did. Stepps then contacted the dealer to ensure the order was processed quickly.
The couple had previously reserved a Rivian R1T pickup truck, but switched to the F-150 Lightning when it became available. Stepps, who recently sold his gas-powered F-150, thought the Ford EV would be more practical for his job, wondering if he wanted to “haul mulch” in the back of a Rivian.
“What I love about the Lightning is that it’s a no-compromise vehicle,” Stepps said. “It comes with all the power I was used to in the Tesla and all the capability I was used to in our old F-150.”
Stepps also cited large electrical outlets to plug in its tools and a soon-to-be-installed home charging system to allow the Lightning to provide home backup power during extended outages as advantages of the electric version of the F-150 over the gas version.
In an April interview at its Normal production facility, Rivian CEO and founder RJ Scaringe said the evolution of the electric truck segment was not a winning competition. But the arrival of the F-150 Lightning at dealerships could certainly raise the temperature this summer.
“I really deeply believe that the perspective that there is only one winner is just not an accurate representation of space,” Scaringe said. “I think Lightning…can be wildly successful, and so can we.”
Buyers, meanwhile, “have no choice but to wait” for electric truck production to catch up with demand, Caldwell said.
Stepps, which shifted its order from Rivian trucks to the R1S SUV as a “family hauler”, received an email from the automaker in early June pushing back the delivery window, once again, from April-May to August -september.