The Ford F-150 Lightning has a targeted normal range of between 230 and 300 miles depending on which version you get, according to Ford. It can also tow up to 10,000 pounds, according to Ford. What Ford is apparently not willing to say right now is how much range will decrease when hauling or towing. It sure seems like it’ll be a lot.
I emailed a Ford spokeswoman to ask just how much, and she has not gotten back to me yet, but Vice had similar questions for Ford and got the following non-answer:
Ford spokesperson Said Deep did not share any specifications regarding the vehicle’s range when towing or hauling, but said the F-150 Lightning will “come equipped with ‘Intelligent Range’, which more accurately predicts range with factors including payload, towing information and weather so the customer knows how many miles they have left.”
Ford is aware decreased range while hauling or towing could cause complications for drivers, hence this Intelligent Range system, but the seriousness of those complications in part depends on how much shorter the range is. The truck is already pretty beefy, coming in at 6,500 pounds (according to MotorTrend); increasing weight the motors need to push forward to 16,500 pounds — the weight of the truck itself plus up to 10,000 pounds being towed behind it — is going to require significantly more power.
Of course, it’s not just about weight. Many trailers aren’t particularly aerodynamic and, to get the biggest range possible, aerodynamics is very much on the mind of EV designers these days (ask Mercedes).
Designing an EV to tow is tricky. A big difference in the electric F-150 compared to the ICE version, is that the battery alone is very heavy, or 1,800 pounds, according to Joe Biden. Increasing battery size might improve towing range, but it will also add even more weight, weight that the truck’s electric motors will also need to push around. It will also add more cost. So that leads us to the question: Is it worth compromising the vehicle’s packaging space, weight (and thus efficiency), and cost in order to produce a stellar tow vehicle with lots of range? Modern trucks do require buyers to make compromises in order to have a good tow vehicle (suspensions are a bit stiff in the rear, frames are a bit heavier/stronger, tanks take up a bit more space), but with an EV, the compromises to achieve good range would likely be too large.
All of which sets up what might be a very, very hard problem to solve for electric truckmakers. Here, for example, is how Ford imagines an F-150 Lightning owner’s typical day:
Look at how many times this hypothetical person is plugging their dang truck in and/or making sure there are charging stations nearby! I’m on record as saying that range anxiety is largely stupid but if I had a Ford F-150 Lightning and had to regularly tow or haul heavy things I would have range anxiety.
Because, in the absence of any information from Ford, let’s try to guesstimate a little, using Teslas as examples. Take the Tesla Model X 100D, which weighs around 5,500 pounds, and in which one driver a couple years ago saw range drop up to 60 percent while towing a 3,800 pound trailer.
Earlier this year, the driver of a Model 3, which weighs between 3,500 and 4,000 pounds, said they saw a 40 percent range loss when towing a 750-pound trailer.
Also: Camp365 is a company that has actually makes a camper with aerodynamics and EVs in mind, and it got 30 percent less range towing its 1,480-pound trailer with a Model Y.
I would expect that the big drop-off in range on Teslas is in part because towing anything with a Tesla adds weight but also disrupts the car’s aerodynamics, but aerodynamics on the F-150 Lightning already look pretty compromised.
Still, based on the Tesla numbers, and also considering how ICE fuel mileage drops while towing, I would expect at least a 50 percent drop off in range when the F-150 Lightning is at full towing capacity at highway speeds, and maybe a whole lot more than that, since the Teslas here are towing things well below the weight of the car, while the F-150 Lightning’s 10,000-pound towing capacity is almost twice the truck’s weight.
It’s hard to know, of course, but I am sure, in any case, that Ford knows the numbers, as it built a whole feature — Intelligent Range — to estimate it for drivers. I don’t know what hiding the numbers will do for Ford in the meantime, other than generate a bunch of outrage when the truth comes out. It will be interesting to know what form those numbers take. What will the test conditions be? Will it be a towing range on flat roads in 80 degree weather at 65 mph? Is there a standardized towing range test?
Anyway, Ford, you have my email, please explain to me how wrong I am when you get a chance.
Updated 3/4/22 with new details.