Study: Can Electric Trucks Do Truck Stuff?

AAA: Ford F-150 Lightning Range Falls with Heavy Loads

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• Full Research Report


DENVER (June 6, 2023) - If you're a Coloradan thinking about buying an electric truck, you probably expect it to do "truck stuff" like hauling feed on the ranch or managing runs to and from the lumber yard (or, at the very least, Costco). Per new research from AAA's Automotive Engineering division, the range of Ford's electric F-150 Lightning drops off significantly when loaded up, though it's unlikely many drivers will push the truck to its limits.

The Test
The Ford F-150 Lightning is America's best-selling all-electric truck. After its introduction in the spring of 2021, it had a three-year backlog of over 200,000 reservations - with 15,617 sold in 2022. 

To test its range capabilities with payload, AAA researchers loaded a 2022 Ford F-150 Lightning with 1,400 pounds of sandbags, along with a driver and test equipment. That brought the loaded test weight to just 110 pounds under the vehicle's maximum. For context, 1,400 pounds is roughly the same as hauling around 70 bags of mulch or 20 bags of concrete mix. 

The Results
The Ford F-150 Lightning, in an unloaded condition, had a combined driving range of 278 miles.

With the added payload of 1,400 pounds, the driving range dropped to 210 miles - a reduction of 68 miles, or 24.5%. 

The Context
In this test, the vehicle was loaded to near its maximum capacity. Most drivers will likely use the truck with a lighter load, resulting in a much smaller range reduction. 

The driving range of any vehicle, whether gas-powered or electric, is affected by weight. As battery technology continues to improve, EV range will likely increase.

Even with current technology, electric vehicles are still more energy efficient than gas-powered vehicles. For example, the loaded test vehicle had an energy efficiency equivalent to 47 miles per gallon. That's significantly more than its gas-powered counterpart (2022 Ford F-150 Platinum SuperCrew 5.5 ft bed), which features an EPA-reported combined fuel economy of just 20 miles per gallon without a payload. 

Still, the Ford Lightning's range is markedly less than its gas-burning cousin, which may get over 500 miles per tank when unloaded. 

Buyers concerned about EV range should consider the driving they will be doing and choose the right vehicle for their needs. The difference, for now, is that it is easier to gas and go than stop and charge.

In general, heavier payloads will reduce the range of an EV. This is because the extra weight requires more energy to move. The type of driving also plays a role. Highway driving, which typically involves higher speeds and less regenerative braking, will further reduce range. Unlike gas-powered vehicles, which perform more efficiently at highway speeds, EVs thrive in urban driving conditions due to regenerative braking from more frequent stops. Regenerative brakes capture the energy from braking and convert it into the electrical power that charges the vehicle's high-voltage battery. This electricity can then be stored in the car's battery or power other electrical components.  

In the case of battery electric pickups used as work vehicles, permanent loads (such as equipment racks, toolboxes, and equipment trays built into the vehicle) will aways reduce the range, even without additional cargo. Weather conditions, and the use of in-cabin heating or cooling, can additionally decrease range.

The Bottom Line?
"Because the Ford F-150 Lightning maintains more than 75 percent of its range even when fully loaded, it's a great option for most folks who generally intend to use their truck as trucks are meant to be used," said Skyler McKinley, regional director of public affairs for AAA. "In some cases, the range reduction might require a little extra planning, something additional AAA research indicates drivers get mighty used to, mighty quick. For regular heavy-duty, commercial, and industrial use, towing, or for multiple long-distance trips to and from job sites, your mileage may vary - so evaluate your needs before you buy, and know that both battery technology and infrastructure continue to improve significantly, year after year."

Please refer to the full report for methodology details, including specific testing equipment and test track characteristics.