Ford’s first electric pickup truck (actually, correction: they built a few Ranger EV trucks in the late 1990s) the 2022 F-150 Lightning, is finally here, so let’s look at the design of the thing because it’s a big deal. It’s not actually all that, um, exciting a design, if I’m being brutally honest, but that’s okay, because there’s a good reason: it’s an F-150, the best-selling vehicle Ford makes. It’s a known design that just works, and Ford would be bonkers to mess with it too much. Ford is not bonkers.
The fact that this is an electric F-150 has to be the baseline for any evaluation of its design. That’s why the inevitable comparisons of the Lightning to Tesla’s dramatically designed Cybertruck are going to be, depending on how cranky you are at the moment, interesting or annoying. They’re approaching electric truck design from the two opposite ends of the spectrum.
Before we compare the Ford to the Tesla, though, let’s just take a quick look at the design choices made on this new kind of F-150:
It’s pretty much an F-150 in overall design, proportions and scale. That’s a very good thing when you consider the huge array of accessories available for F-150s, from camper shells to ladder racks to utility-company bed units with all those compartments to ramp systems to any number of other types of utilitarian or recreational add-ons people get for their trucks.
It would be crazy to require designing new accessories from scratch, so the fact that this seems backwards-compatible with all that F-150 stuff makes a lot of sense.
Visually, the biggest changes are in the front end, which, freed from the burden of a hot, pulsating V8 engine, is no longer bound by dimensional or cooling constraints.
Ford could have decided to make a dramatically sloped front end with no hint of anything resembling a grille if it chose to. This could have dramatically improved visibility (and perhaps pedestrian safety) but it chose to keep the dimensions about the same as the combustion truck’s hood, and it chose to be conservative visually and have a stand-in non-grille panel that visually suggests a grille.
The plus side of this decision is that nice, vast front trunk:
In a pickup truck, an enclosed trunk is a huge advantage, allowing enclosed storage for tools or other items. It so important that aftermarket toolboxes are one of the most common truck accessories, and those eat up valuable bed room.
It’s not a new idea by any means; Volkswagen had a huge under-bed lockers in the Type 2 trucks since the 1950s:
...and of course there’s modern trucks, like the Honda Ridgeline that have under-bed-floor storage, though that design requires you to empty the bed to get access, which is not great.
A front trunk solution is ideal, or as Ford calls it, a Mega Power Frunk.
That’s a delightfully ridiculous name for a trunk. It’s got the same feeling as screaming SET GLOVE BOX TO MAXIMUM STORAGE! while you drive.
The faux-grille panel lifts up with the trunk lid to give good access, and while I’d have liked to have seen a headgate design here, I guess I understand why maybe Ford didn’t go that route for, um, legal reasons.
That front trunk dramatically re-casts the packaging of the truck, making the entire length of the vehicle usable for people or cargo: you have trunk, cab, bed, all usable volumes of space. The F-150 has been transformed into a machine with 2/3 usable volume to 3/3, and that’s a big deal.
Speaking of usable volume, let’s look at the rear:
Again, what we see here is very much the design of a truck intended to be doing, you know, truck stuff. I’m a big fan of the little details cast into the tailgate inner panel, like the grooves to keep pens and pencils from rolling away, a good flat work surface, that integrated ruler, all of that. These little details actually help a lot with the usefulness and livability of a truck, so I think they’re important.
There are a good number of tie-down points, multiple power outlets and lights, all of which are helpful when you need them. I do hope a non-crew cab version of this gets released, as a full-length bed will definitely be something I can see a lot of truck buyers wanting.
Fundamentally, though, aside from some detail changes in the lighting, it’s the back of an F-150. And, again, there’s a lot of reasons why this makes sense.
The interior feels pretty much like any other double-cab F-150 I’ve been in: A big, almost cubical volume of space, with wide seats front and rear, and enough space between the front seats to have a makeshift desk, upon which you can do all of your truck-math, like this guy:
Ford’s F-150 interiors have generally been well-appointed and roomy, and this appears to be pretty much just like what we’ve seen before, just with that massive tablet-like vertical display in the center of the dash. I wonder if the base-spec commercial variant might replace that with something more modest?
Okay, we may as well get to the inevitable Cybertruck comparisons. This is just a design breakdown, so I’m going to limit my discussion to design, and also because the specs for the Cybertruck aren’t finalized.
Remember, even 550 days after its introduction, there’s only that one hand-built Cybertruck prototype, so we don’t actually know anything about what the final production specs may be, whenever that happens.
If we assume the design will roughly be the same — again even this isn’t clear, as there seems to be various lighting and pedestrian safety regulations the design may require adaptation to meet — then I suppose we can do this comparison:
The biggest difference is, of course, one is designed like a conventional truck, and one isn’t. The conventional truck design may be pretty mundane to our eyes, but it got where it is from decades of finding out what works and, for a general use pickup truck, it’s a cab with a long, relatively-low-sided box at the rear.
The Cybertruck design appears like it would make a lot of basic truck use difficult; loading from the sides looks at best cumbersome and at worst unusable, the sharp edges and corners seem to introduce many new opportunities to damage cargo or the soft-ish area on your sides, above your pelvis, and I’m unsure about rear headroom or if they’re planning on some kind of front trunk.
Then there’s the lack of accessories like we talked about for the base F-150 design. So, from the perspective of actual usability, I don’t see a lot of benefit to the Cybertruck.
It is certainly more visually arresting, though, so there’s that. But I suspect fleet buyers who want electric work trucks are going to find working with the Lightning a much easier proposition.
So, there you go. Unsurprisingly, the F-150 Lightning is and electric F-150. It has the best packaging of any F-150 ever, it’s a radical change in technology, but, overall, it’s still an F-150. And that’s exactly what it should be.