The Ford F-150 Lightning Shows How Great EV Towing Will Be
Charging remains a big concern, but there are so many benefits to working with an electric truck.
Folks have their doubts about putting electric vehicles to work, and they can't be blamed for that. Public charging is far from perfect, and when you've got a load on, an EV's range is going to drop. But after having experienced it myself in the fancy 2022 Ford F-150 Lightning, I can't help but think a lot of gas and diesel diehards will see the light, especially as the charging situation improves. Not only is the power intoxicating, but the fundamentals seriously feel that much better with battery power.
Now, I refer to the F-150 Lightning as "fancy" not because every trim is decked out in luxury—the Pro trim has vinyl seats and rubber floors—but because its core layout is so much more advanced than what I'm used to. It's important to run through that so you can see exactly where I'm going with this. And just keep in mind, this is coming from someone whose daily driver is an old body style Ford F-350 with the 7.3-liter Power Stroke. I'm a truck guy—promise!
No matter which F-150 Lightning you pick, it has two permanent magnet electric motors—one at the front and one at the back. That gives it full-time four-wheel drive, which isn't really the norm for working trucks; if you own a 4x4 pickup, you probably don't run down the highway with your front axle engaged, loaded or not. In this truck's case, however, it's key for delivering 580 horsepower and 775 pound-feet of torque in Extended Range guise. For what it's worth, the Standard Range gets 452 hp and that same colossal torque figure.
You might've read or seen by now that the F-150 Lightning also has independent rear suspension instead of a solid rear axle. That's even more unique to a full-size truck than electrification, as others are only just now starting to move away from leaf springs. Heck, even the regular gas F-150 has leaf springs, but likely not for long. The IRS on this thing doesn't have air assist, but it rides just as good as other coil-sprung trucks with bags, which is a huge plus.
This powertrain and suspension combo collaborates to make trailering easy, controlled, and comfortable. It can be done, and with more immediacy than even a diesel could ever hope to manage.
Since there's not a honking iron-block engine hanging over the front axle, the F-150 Lightning's weight distribution is almost 50-50. The battery pack, although seriously heavy on its own, is situated between the frame rails and underneath the floor. This means the truck is already well-planted before you load up on tongue weight, and available onboard bed scales help you hit the sweet spot when positioning the load behind. These are all smart features that prove the F-150 Lightning to be more than a gimmick; it's an EV that's built to work.
Building off that, it also uses another key EV feature to its benefit: regenerative braking. This is something that doesn't get talked about enough when we discuss electric pickups. We've seen just how effective regen tech can be when it comes to recovering spent energy and feeding it back into the battery for more range, but it comes into full bloom with a trailer attached. As the F-150 Lightning's Vehicle Engineering Manager Dapo Adewusi explained, that's when you really see it at work.
"The vehicle compensates for [the added weight]. So when you're going down a steep grade, that's when you get the most regenerative braking," Adewusi noted. "The vehicle knows it's going downhill, it's got to slow you down, but when you're driving on the flat ground, it's not intrusive, either."
If you tow often or at all, you've gotta be familiar with engine braking. This is effectively doing the same job, just without the engine. It keeps the wear off the truck's friction brakes, makes the load easier to handle when off the throttle, and in my experience with the F-150 Lightning, it's super easy to manage.
"We drove it from Denver to Eisenhower Pass [with 10,000 pounds], which is like 80 miles," Adewusi continued. "Going up and down the grade, it's quiet, you're not stomping on the brake because [regen] is strong as-is. I've driven gas trucks too, of course, and it's screaming at you like you're gonna break something. It's all surreal because it's just so quiet."
I'll definitely miss the noises of gas and diesel trucks. That said, part of me is excited I won't have to wince when the transmission downshifts and the engine screams to keep me from plowing down a hill. Regen like this also makes a tangible difference in the pickup's range, and you can even see it increase as the range gauge pulses while off-throttle.
Ford's using that to boost driver confidence, alongside tech that's cloud-based and learns as owners log more miles with trailers behind them. This is the aspect that has to improve over time. Even though the truck can tell you whether or not you'll need to charge before reaching your destination, it still takes too long to top off your battery when making a long-haul trip.
If you're able to find a 150-kilowatt DC fast charger, an F-150 Lightning with the Extended Range battery can recharge from 15 to 80 percent in 41 minutes. That's a lot more time than it takes to refuel a gas truck, and public chargers are almost always tricky to fit into with a trailer. This infrastructure holdback is the monkey wrench in this whole ordeal if you're looking to road trip from one National Park to the next, or tow much more than 100 miles with a near-capacity load.
It's important to be realistic when considering how people use their trucks. Anyone who's hauling around the F-150 Lightning's max every day might need a Super Duty anyhow, and as of today, electric just isn't the answer for hauling long distances. The range reduction is similar to the mpg hit a gas truck takes, but the idle time you spend while charging really adds up.
Once this admittedly complex problem is solved, though, we'll be in great shape with electric trucks. As I talked about in my review of the F-150 Lightning, the power is unmatched, and I can't imagine being more pleased with the delivery. Factor that in with how composed this Blue Oval is when loaded down and I'm pretty darn optimistic about the future of work and electrification.
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