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A silver 2024 Ford F-150 Lightning driving in a tunnel.

Unlocking the Ford F-150 Lightning’s Performance Potential

Though electric trucks are still an emerging segment in the automotive market, the fact remains that the electric future is here. Ford has been touting the F-150 Lightning as equal to the standard gasoline-powered F-150, which is fantastic news for drivers who rely on pickup trucks for towing, stowing, and going. However, there hasn’t been as much attention given to drivers who use their trucks to cross unconventional terrain while exploring the wilderness. Should off-roaders be looking at a Ford F-150 Lightning for sale?

While the 2024 F-150 Lightning isn’t off-road ready off the line, Ford is working dutifully to make this a reality in the very near future. In fact, the brand’s recent efforts at promoting the capability of the Lightning demonstrate that it doesn’t really take a lot to turn this electric pickup truck into a high-performance beast. Let’s take a look at how Ford is prepping the driving public for an electric truck that might just take over the off-road world.

Heads in the Clouds

In a step towards greater performance, Ford announced that an F-150 Lightning demonstrator will be entered in The Race to the Clouds, which is a huge step for any enthusiast-oriented vehicle. Formally known as the Broadmoor Pikes Peak International Hill Climb by Gran Turismo, this event is an invitation-only annual race up Pikes Peak mountain in Colorado. This isn’t just any old hill climb, though. First held in 1916, The Race to the Clouds is 12.42 miles long, including 156 turns on its winding path to the finish line, which is a cool 14,115 feet above sea level. Ultimately, this event tests a vehicle’s acceleration, braking, responsiveness, and reliability as contestants carefully navigate this steep path in hopes of having the fastest time.

Ford has been a part of the Pikes Peak race since the very first event, in which a Model T was among the field of cars attempting the climb. Last year was a banner year for Ford, though. Piloted by Pikes Peak speed record holder Romain Dumas, the Ford SuperVan won the Open Division with a record-setting time of 8:47.682. This time not only beat out the previous record in that division by 37 seconds but was good enough to put the SuperVan in second place of all vehicles summiting that day. Ford plans to defend the winner’s circle again in 2024 with a specially prepared F-150 Lightning. Based on the current Ford Lightning demonstrators, this should be an incredible competitor.

A man walking by a light blue 2024 Ford F-150 Lightning parked at a charging station.

Hoping for the Switchgear

The Lightning has also joined the Ford Performance Demonstrator program. This program allows the manufacturer to design and produce one-off or extremely limited-run specialty vehicles. The current lineup of demonstrators, including the SuperVan 4.0 and 4.2, Mustang CobraJet 1400, F-100 Eluminator, and Mustang Mach-E 1400, appears at automotive events to educate and demonstrate to drivers and auto enthusiasts the potential for electric vehicles.

The most recent addition to the Ford Performance Demonstrator program is the Switchgear, a version of the Ford F-150 Lightning that’s been fully outfitted for success in the wilderness. Designed through collaboration with drifting champion and off-road warrior Vaughn Gittin Jr.’s company, RTR Vehicles, the Switchgear isn’t too terribly different from the production model. The Switchgear is powered by the same extended-range battery and dual-motor powertrain that production F-150 Lightning drivers enjoy. Capable of 580 hp and 775 lb-ft of torque, this 131 kWh battery setup has a range of 320 miles.

The track width and ground clearance have been increased on the Switchgear, and the front and rear bumpers have been adjusted to improve approach and departure angles. As a result, this beast has 13.5 inches of ground clearance in the front and 11 inches in the rear. To accommodate the widest array of wild terrain, the Switchgear has been outfitted with FOX 3.0 internal bypass shock absorbers and a custom suspension with an 80-inch track. A set of 18-inch beadlock wheels and 37-inch Nitto Ridge Grappler tires finish out the Switchgear’s equipment, while carbon composite and steel keep the tender parts of the truck safe from the elements.

Ford CEO Jim Farley has been quoted as saying, “We want to own off-road. If Porsche has been the dominant brand in road racing, we want Ford to be the dominant brand in off-road racing.” While the Switchgear is not currently available to the public, many enthusiasts and experts have interpreted his words––combined with the Switchgear demonstrator––as signaling that a dedicated off-road Lightning may be coming in the near future. Are we hoping for a publically-available Switchgear…or even a Raptor? You bet, but for now, many drivers would settle for a Tremor package.

Ford F-150 Lightning Power and Performance

However, aside from these one-off performance models, what can we do with the Ford F-150 Lightning we have now? Actually, quite a bit. The estimated range for the standard range battery is 240 miles, which increases to 320 miles when the extended range battery is chosen. The extended range battery actually provides a lot of benefits, including extra horsepower––580 to the standard range battery’s 452––and a less than four-second acceleration time from zero to 60 mph. Both standard and extended range configurations provide 775 lb-ft of torque.

Another helpful feature for off-roaders is the Lightning’s dual electric motors. This electric truck has two inboard motors, one for each axle. This provides standard all-wheel drive to each and every F-150 Lightning model, regardless of trim or battery option. With an electronically locking rear differential, this setup offers stability on slick roads and in some off-road conditions. But bear in mind, this isn’t the type of four-wheel drive capability designed for rock climbing and tackling sandy dunes. To accomplish that, you’ll need some modifications. However, as evidenced by the Switchgear, this is absolutely possible.

The Ford F-150 Lightning is tough enough for the task of off-roading. While certain modifications need to be done to the body and suspension, the foundation is there. Take, for example, the Lightning’s overall capability. With a maximum towing capacity of 10,000 lbs and the ability to handle up to 2,235 lbs of payload, the Lightning definitely has the power and capacity to bully through deep mud and sand. It’s just a matter of having the gear to do it properly.

A front angle shot of a man walking way from a parked blue 2024 Ford F-150 Lightning.

Soon… Probably

There are quite a few factors that are working in favor of an off-roading Ford F-150 Lighting arriving soon. First, there are the encouraging words of Jim Farley. When the CEO of Ford explains that he is focused on off-roading, you believe him. Furthermore, we have plenty of evidence within the Ford lineup, such as the Bronco, Raptor models, and Tremor packages, confirming that off-roading is now a serious priority for the Ford team.

This is further backed by the fact that demonstrator vehicles like the Pikes Peak Lightning and the Switchgear exist. While Pikes Peak isn’t exactly an off-road race, it requires more of a driver and vehicle than a standard road race. Ford Performance is likely putting a great deal of effort into these vehicles, not only to promote the Lightning but also to understand what drivers need. After all, one of the most appreciated aspects of Ford vehicles is the great range of drivers they appeal to. But as a newer vehicle in the lineup, the Lightning has to wait its turn…for now.

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