Ford F150 Lightning: $40bn pickup truck goes electric in industry-changing shift

This could be a transformative vehicle for one of the world’s most influential car makers

You could argue that having an endorsement from US president Joe Biden is as bad as it is good for the new all-electric Ford F-150 pickup truck. After all, there are at least as many people who view Biden as a political aberration as there are those who feel the same about his predecessor in the White House.

Nonetheless, it was more than a small coup by Ford to put the incumbent US president behind the wheel of its new electric truck for a short run on a closed track – generally, presidents aren’t allowed to drive at all for safety and security reasons, but Biden is a well-known petrolhead, and the owner of a Corvette sports car, so he was never going to stick to that rule.

The more important rule, perhaps, is that it is the F-150 that has made modern Ford. Forget the Model T, forget the Focus, forget the Cortina – since it was introduced in 1948, the F-150 and its various derivatives have made $41 billion (€33 billion), and counting, for Ford. It’s no exaggeration to say that Ford makes the F-150, and then a few other, smaller vehicles on the side. In 2019, Ford sold almost a million of them.

The reverberations of pick-ups' switch to electric power will rattle windows in Frankfurt and Paris as surely as it will those in Shreveport and Chicago

Now, the big Ford truck is going electric, and while pickups have never, on this side of the Atlantic, been as big a deal, the reverberations of the switch to electric power will rattle windows in Frankfurt and Paris as surely as it will those in Shreveport and Chicago. While the F-150 range, as a whole, isn't turning fully to electric power (petrol and diesel models will continue to be sold for some time yet) this could be as significant a change as the creation of that epochal, original Model T.


Even the mighty River Rouge factory in Detroit – Henry's colossus, built originally to make Model Ts and, as legend would have it, the home of the first mass-production line (it wasn't, but sometimes the legend takes a stronger hold than the history) – has been refitted for an electric future.

Once a symbol of the crumbling power and waning influence of the Detroit “Big Three” car makers, River Rouge has been refitted and upgraded, and now includes the “Rouge Electric Vehicle Centre” thanks to a $700 million (€573 million) investment, part of a $22 billion (€18 billion) global investment in electric vehicles.

The electric car, sorry truck, that it’s making will be called the F-150 Lightning, reviving a badge once reserved for a slightly crazy 1990s high-performance pickup which used a mighty 380hp supercharged V8 engine.

Ford reckons that you could run your home for three days from your fully charged F-150 Lightning, or maybe as much as 10 days if you rationed the power a bit

Sorry, did we say mighty? We meant puny, because the new electric Ford F-150 Lightning gets a robust 550hp from its twin electric motors, one powering the front wheels and one powering the rears. There’s an astonishing 1,050Nm of torque too. Two battery capacities will be offered, giving the F-150 Lightning ranges of between 370km and 480km depending on the model. It’ll rapid-charge at 150kW DC power, and also has a “power-out” socket, which you can use to run power tools, or even connect to your home in the event of a power cut.

Indeed, Ford reckons that you could run your home for three days from your fully charged F-150 Lightning, or maybe as much as 10 days if you rationed the power a bit. Perhaps it would be unkind at this stage to point out that the extreme weather events which might trigger such a power cut might have something to do with the climate changes triggered in part by all those previous F-150 sales.

Out the back is the usual vast load-bed, which can tackle 970kg of cargo weight (rather less than a standard F-150, but that’s the price of battery weight) and the truck can tow more than 4,000kg on a braked trailer. Strikingly, because there’s no engine, there’s now a massive 400-litre “frunk” storage area under the nose. To open that, almost the entire front end of the truck opens up, like some gigantic Thunderbirds toy.

Inside, there’s a 12-inch digital instrument panel and a vast 15.5-inch infotainment touchscreen, both lifted more or less directly from the Ford Mustang Mach-E electric SUV.

This could be a transformative vehicle for Ford, driving a revolution at one of the world's most influential car makers and giving it the resources to back more brave choices

"For both Ford and the American auto industry, F-150 Lightning represents a defining moment as we progress toward a zero-emissions, digitally connected future," said Bill Ford, the company's executive chair, and Henry Ford's great-grandson. "F-Series is America's best-selling truck for 44 years, the backbone of work across the country, and a trusted icon for generations of customers. Now we are revolutionising it for a new generation."

How significant is this for Ford in Europe, or indeed in Ireland? Not massively, in a direct or immediate sense. It's massively unlikely that the massive F-150 will ever be sold here. Even with the temptation of zero-emissions motoring, it's just too big a car, sorry truck, for European roads.

However, it’s emblematic of not just Ford’s, but the whole motor industry’s ever-faster pivot to electric power. If it’s successful – and no vehicle in the world has a more impressive sales CV – then it could be a transformative car for Ford in a global sense, driving not only an electric revolution at one of the world’s most influential car makers, but also giving Ford both the confidence, and the coffers, to make the sort of brave product decisions that previously gave us cars such as the Sierra, the Mondeo, and the Focus.

Neil Briscoe

Neil Briscoe

Neil Briscoe, a contributor to The Irish Times, specialises in motoring