Let's just get this out of the way - over the past year I've driven a dozen or so EVs ranging from compact cars to 10,000+ trucks. I remain as optimistic as ever in terms of the fact that electric vehicles have the potential to be a superior alternative to the classic internal combustion petrol and diesel-powered options that dominate the market today. As part of this though, I also refuse to sit back and simply select facts to promote the benefits. Quite frankly, while EVs are a fabulous option for homeowners with moderate commutes - long road trips are not the best measure of an EV's value. With that being said though, I like to push the limits. I want to see what it looks like doing something that will be normal in five years. That's why Heather and I decided to drive a 2023 F-150 Lightning from San Diego to Vegas. Here's what we learned from the experience.
NOTE: We were not able to complete our drive and take original photos due to flying directly from Las Vegas to Ohio due to a family emergency.
The Ford F-150 Lightning is Ford's latest push into it's goal of having a fully electrified portfolio and it is based on one of the best mid-sized pickup trucks on the market today. In fact, unlike what GMC did by introducing it's EV truck as a halo vehicle in the format of the Hummer EV with crazy specs and a price tag to match, Ford decided to make the Lightning look at feel like the conventionally powered F-150. If you are a Ford truck customer ... you will have no problem transitioning to this one at some point in the future.
Hopefully the Silverado EV and ultimately the Sierra EV manage to pull themselves into the lineage alongside their gas and diesel brothers but that's a discussion for a different time.
For our drive, we had the Platinum, Extended Range and that topped out at around $100k but it had every possible feature that you could possibly imagine - including massaging seats and Blue Cruise, two features we ended up using more than I expected. However, you can also get the F-150 Lightning in a Pro trim starting at $55,974.
With the extended range battery (131kWh vs 98 kWh) the truck is expected to have a range of 230 miles or 320 miles with the extended battery and a theoretical charging time from 15-80% of only 41 minutes on a 150kW DCFC.
These numbers are about the same as the Mustang EV and for everything aside from a road trip ... well within the scope for commuting, errands, client meetings etc.
About Our Road Tripping Route:
The route from San Diego to Las Vegas is about 330 miles and usually we do that route in about six hours, maybe seven if we stop for lunch somewhere or a visit to a roadside attraction along the way. This route is fabulous for testing vehicles because it has long open stretches of highway, mountains to climb, and stop and go traffic.
It can also have horrendous backups due to road closures if an accident occurs. This was one of those days ... and we didn't plan for that!
What We Learned On Our Road Trip:
Usually when we have a truck for a week it's simply a cool experience where we talk about features and such but this time, I want to talk more about what the future looks like and why should buy an electric truck like the F-150 Lightning and who should possibly wait five to ten years for more robust charging networks and better battery technology.
Predicting The Actual Range
Ford does an excellent job of leveraging data from your driving style and route to predict the actual range and recommend places to stop and charge. This however is VASTLY different than what you might plan using Google Maps the night before. There are two main reasons for this - real world conditions differ from theoretical ones and you will almost never run an EV battery from 100% to <5% the way you might in an ICE.
For example - on our route I was predicting a stop in Baker (240 miles from San Diego and well within the 320 mile range). Instead, I stopped in Riverside to fill up since I was very nervous about what might happen if I got stuck in traffic going over the mountains and indeed how much more battery would drain during the 4,000-foot climb.
In this case, 100%-20% is about 256 miles of range and because it was pouring rain that morning I was departing on 75% charge anyhow, instead of topping off before our journey.
Once on the road though, the range prediction was nearly perfect and despite our anxiety when we got stuck in traffic for 3 hours ... the truck didn't fail to keep an accurate talley of how much longer we could go before being out of juice.
Actual Driving Experience
The actual driving experience of an EV is something that has captured my heart and mind. Smooth acceleration without rough gear changes, quiet power, minimal vibration, and a noise level in the cabin that allows for a casual conversation instead of feeling the need to shout or at least talk over the road and engine noise.
This is the future, this is what I love about driving EVs.
Navigating Charging Station Networks
The actual charging experience on the other hand is something that despite innovations that Ford has made with their layer on top of the mishmash of charging networks, remains a sour note in the otherwise stellar experience of driving an EV.
For example, on our drive - the first stop I made in Riverside was at a Walmart where all of the stations were full and a couple chargers were broken. So I went another 20 min out of our way to a mall where there were plenty of DC fast chargers including some promising 350kW charging. I got there and was lucky to plug in ... but we reached far lower peak charging than that and instead of 40 minutes was nearly an hour on the charger. This did give me a chance to chat with other EV owners who confirmed that this was a normal experience but at this point EV ownership is still very much a club of enthusiasts who are willing to overlook these inconveiences.
One other challenge that I quickly noticed was that this charging station, the "member rate" was far cheaper than the "guest rate" and so while we waited, I installed the app, created an account and signed up for a monthly subscription. This worked for this particular network but would be impractical to have EVgo, Electrify America, ChargePoint and whoever else accounts just to save on the charging cost.
What Happens If You Get Stranded And Run Out of Charge?
This this last point was something we quite literally had three unexpected hours to ponder. The short answer is that the F-150 Lightning can actually aid in helping stranded EV motorists get a boost so they can make it to the next charging station. Roadside assistance companies will increasingly have this ability too.
That wasn't very comforting to us though since we were stuck in the desert 100 miles from Baker with literally nothing between us and there.
What we discovered though, was that when it's not moving, the F-150 Lightning uses remarkably little electricity. This consumption can also be reduced further by avoiding turning the heat or AC high but we sat comfortably with the massagers on and music playing at were able to get more comfortable with the fact that EV road trips are right on the edge of being practical.
In all seriousness, I probably wouldn't do this route again as it required us to do two charging stops and about an extra 90 min of time added to the route. However, if you look at destination that you can do on a road trip that are closer to 200 miles, the possibilities are nearly endless.
For instance, Chicago to Indianapolis is 185 miles ... Seattle to Portland is 175 miles ... DC to Richmond is only 110 miles.
Overall, I'm very impressed with what Ford has delivered with this F-150 Lightning Platinum and I can't wait to see how the market continues to develop.