Ford's head of EVs explains how the new F-150 Lightning conquers range anxiety

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Ford's head of EVs explains how the new F-150 Lightning conquers range anxiety
Ford achieved its 300-mile range estimate with 1,000 pounds in the bed, Palmer told Insider.Ford
  • We sat down with Ford's general manager of EVs, Darren Palmer, to talk about the F-150 Lightning.
  • Palmer explained how Ford is looking to reassure F-150 Lightning customers concerned about range.
  • Precise range estimates that get better over time are critical, Palmer said.

Seeing as the F-150 is already America's best-selling truck, Ford has a distinct leg up as it looks to sell an all-electric version: the F-150 Lightning. But the Michigan automaker still has its work cut out for it when it comes to convincing buyers to ditch their gas-fueled pickups for zero-emission ones.

Electric vehicles still only make up less than 2% of new car sales in the US. And study after study cites range anxiety - the worry of running out of battery without a charging station nearby - as one of the top hurdles to widespread adoption of EVs. That concern may even be heightened in pickups like the F-150 Lightning, since people depend on them to tow heavy trailers and haul hefty loads - both activities that can suck up energy and deal a blow to range.

For Darren Palmer, Ford's head of EVs, the key to winning over electric skeptics isn't just promising them loads of range - it's providing super-accurate, real-time range estimates that reassure drivers they won't run out of juice unexpectedly. The idea is to give buyers the confidence to use up most of their range and still trust that they'll get to a charger in time.

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"Whatever you ask it to do, it's going to tell you if it can do it. That's what really matters because every situation is different," Palmer told Insider in an interview.

That all starts with factoring in a huge amount of variables beyond just battery level since range can vary widely depending on how a driver uses their truck.

Ford's head of EVs explains how the new F-150 Lightning conquers range anxiety
The Ford F-150 Lightning.Ford

Ford's Intelligent Range system creates a profile for each driver and assesses how far they can expect to travel between charges based on their driving habits. It also factors in the topography on a given route to account for any battery-draining climbs or energy-saving descents, Palmer said. Wind speed, weather conditions, and traffic are downloaded from the cloud and added to the calculation, too.

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Ford introduced Intelligent Range in the Mustang Mach-E crossover, and Palmer claims he drives his Mach-E down to 20 miles before looking to charge because he's learned to trust the vehicle's estimates.

"It says what it does and it does what it says," according to Palmer.

Read more: Ford's CEO reveals how it beat flashy electric-truck rivals to market with its upcoming $40,000 F-150 EV

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But Ford added some key capabilities to Intelligent Range for its debut electric pickup. Onboard scales measure the weight of what's in the bed, cab, and frunk, though Palmer says bed payloads don't tend to affect range all that much. Similarly, when customers want to tow something, the truck can estimate how heavy the trailer it's hitched to is and fold that into range calculations.

Moreover, Palmer says, drivers can create a "trailer profile" by inputting the width, length, height, and weight of their trailer for an even more accurate prediction. Dimensions matter because, in addition to weight, a trailer's aerodynamics can have a major impact on range.

Ford's head of EVs explains how the new F-150 Lightning conquers range anxiety
Ford F-150 Lightning.Ford

All in all, Ford takes in much more data than its rivals when generating range estimates, which it says are some of the most precise in the industry. And by virtue of over-the-air software updates - a function that Tesla pioneered and other automakers are starting to adopt - range calculations will improve over time, Palmer says. His team will continually assess how actual range stacks up against pre-trip estimates and correct the system to make it increasingly accurate.

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Another strategy Ford employed to assuage the range-anxious is to underpromise and overdeliver. The company is targeting an EPA-estimated range of 300 miles for its extended-range model, and, according to Palmer, it achieved that with 1,000 pounds in the bed and without a bed cover. So drivers may end up surprised by how much range they're getting rather than disappointed by it, especially if they add a drag-reducing tonneau cover and don't haul very much.

In the end, though, Palmer says consumers will simply need to get over their mental hangups with range anxiety and charging.

"The only thing you have to do with electric is charge on a long journey. And that just means pull up, plug in, get coffee, go to the restroom, come back, and go," Palmer said. "It's effortless."

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