Ford Pro: Lightning pilot shows way to grow fleet electrification

June 8, 2022
Intelligent telematics, reliable charging solutions, and a ‘one-stop-shop’ approach are keys to seamless EV adoption in California’s most sustainable wine country—and beyond.

SANTA ROSA, California—The Ford F-150 Lightning is more than a way from Point A to Point B.

It can power the first location, empower users at the second, and deliver powerful performance, functionality, and serviceability at all points in between. That’s why Ford views the electric version of its best-selling pickup truck, and its Ford Pro business unit, as the revolutionary vehicles that will carry commercial and government fleets into a sustainable future.

“We’re pulling together all the fragmented businesses that serve the commercial industry,” said Elizabeth Kraft, Ford Pro’s communications manager. “They have a lot of concerns, and things to think about, when operating their fleets. They can be small business owners or very large business owners, and many of them have a lot of vehicles in their operations to help move goods, or perform tasks or services.

“So these vehicles are critical to their livelihood.”

Ford Pro was created as a standalone vehicle services and distribution business. The company said in May 2021 that its critical mission is to redefine the commercial vehicle market by increasing uptime, reducing ownership expenses, and enabling “higher productivity and performance.” It’s not-so-secret weapon is the Lightning. Ford began taking reservations for the battery-electric truck in December 2021, stopped after accumulating more than 200,000, and started delivering the vehicles to retail and fleet customers last month.

The manufacturer first introduced the Lightning, and new E-Transit, to dealers, fleet managers, reservation holders, and media last fall during an 18-city tour, which FleetOwner covered in October in Houston. Then Ford Pro, in collaboration with Sonoma County Winegrowers, in January launched a pilot program with three “forward-thinking” grape growers in Northern California to demonstrate how electric vehicles (EVs) and web-based fleet management tools can help commercial adopters increase productivity and improve sustainability—while lowering total cost of fleet ownership by up to 20%, according to a Ford case study.

Six months later, the “journey to electrification” is well underway for these pilot farms.

To update their progress; reveal new collaborations with Wilbur-Ellis, and Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E)—who intend to add EVs, and Ford Pro’s charging and software solutions, and E-Telematics, to their fleets—and give media members an opportunity to drive the Lightning, Ford hosted a follow-up event in what Kraft calls the “most sustainable county in the country” in May. Attendees learned how Vino Farms in Healdsburg, and Dutton Ranch in Sebastopol, are integrating telematics into their existing gasoline-powered fleets; and how Ford Pro plans to leverage partnerships, scalability, and its “one-stop-shop” approach to electrification, to accelerate commercial adoption—and build a “greater tomorrow” for us all.

“Our fleet customers, both commercial and government, are in the business of running their businesses,” said Muffi Ghadiali, Ford Pro Charging general manager. “They’re not in the business of operating fleets. This is a profound distinction when you see electrification on the consumer side. When you talk to consumers, they say ‘I love my EV. I love my Tesla,’ or whatever. They love those vehicles. When you switch to commercial fleets, they are anxious, curious, and worried—because for them, this is a tool.

“They cannot afford downtime.”

Point A (Vino Farms)

On fleet and power management

Marissa Ledbetter, who oversees Vino Farms’ North Coast operation, was awaiting the arrival of her Lightnings, and helping plan the design and installation of the charging infrastructure, when Ford and media descended on her family’s Healdsburg property last month. But the third-generation wine grape grower already was utilizing Ford Pro Intelligence, Ford’s proprietary cloud-based software platform, to manage 51 gas-burning, or internal combustion engine (ICE), vehicles, and look for ways to promote safety and save money.

Ford Pro Intelligence is the cornerstone in Ford’s plan to help fleets “seamlessly” transition to electrification. Ryan Southwick, a Fleet Commercial Services sales manager with Ford Pro, called it the “easy button” for ICE and EV customers. The vertically integrated, brand-agnostic suite of data services incorporates Ford Pro’s complimentary Telematics Essentials, E-Telematics, charging solutions, financing, and more.

Ledbetter called the insights generated by Intelligence “eye-opening.” Driver safety alerts help fleet managers modify behaviors, like not wearing seatbelts, and programmable “excess of idling” parameters allow for the identification of cost-saving opportunities. Vino’s trucks, which serve 16,000 acres statewide, traveled more than 20,000 miles one week last month, and consumed $573 in fuel while idling. By reducing idle times, or going electric, Ledbetter estimated they could save $25,000 annually—money that goes directly to the bottom line, and is investable elsewhere.

Vehicle health displays permit proactive maintenance, and live mapping tools provide the means to track trucks, study patterns, monitor for hard braking or speeding, and set geofences. “It all comes down to capturing good data, so [Ledbetter] can make better decisions for her farm,” Southwick said. 

Of course, once the Lightnings arrive, fleets will require reliable charging solutions. That’s where Ghadiali—who joined Ford last year after its acquisition of charging management firm Electriphi—comes in, helping prospective EV adopters overcome the pain of dealing with myriad utilities, construction companies, and electrical engineers by “stitching together” the essential elements to ease the transition.

Ford Pro provides comprehensive home, depot, and “on-the-road” charging options, from 11.5- and 19.2-kilowatt (kW) AC charging stations to 60-120- and 60-180-kW DC charging stations and cabinets, 200A/300A DC industrial and commercial dispensers, and aggregated access to leading public networks. And intelligent integrations extend to the infrastructure, with charging alerts and assistance, sustainability reporting, low-carbon fuel credit calculations, and automated battery pre-conditioning for range optimization. “Really, the magic is in the software that ties all of this together,” Ghadiali said. “[That’s why] we are evolving into a software and technology company, as much as an automotive manufacturer.”

The ‘wine’-ding road

On Lighting Pro power and performance

Before sending media to test the trucks on winding, wine-country roads, Linda Zhang, chief program engineer for the F-150 Lightning, delivered a don’t-crash course on the key features—Intelligent Backup Power (more on this later), Pro Power Onboard, and the Mega Power Frunk—she says drove demand beyond expectations, luring in reservation holders new to EVs (four out of five), trucks (three out of four), and Ford (one in two).

Pro Power Onboard, available on all three trim levels, enables up to 9.6 kWs of electricity that’s exportable from 22 power points spread across the Mega Power Frunk, cabin, and bed. Working fleets can use the power to run multiple tools at the jobsite, without a noisy generator, or to charge accessories while driving. Available connections include 120-volt/20-amp, and 240-volt/30-amp AC outlets, and USB ports.

The 14.1-cubic-foot front trunk, or frunk, is a high-tech, underhood cargo area. And Ford didn’t just remove the engine, Zhang said, instead reengineering the compartment to create “dry, lockable storage” that doesn’t compromise bed space, with 400 pounds of payload capacity, a drainable “cubby” under the floor, and 2.4 kWs of power (four 120-volt outlets, two USB ports) partitioned from the available 3.6 kWs in the cab, and 3.6 kWs in the bed.

These types of innovations establish an “and” proposition, helping Ford move customers from gas to electric vehicles, Zhang asserted. And because commercial customers don’t want a “science experiment on wheels,” Ford kept the truck’s traditional look mostly intact. Cab and bed “commonality” also allow the company to leverage F-Series scale, and ensures 90% of aftermarket accessories already available fit the Lightning. “We made sure commercial customers can easily adapt,” Zhang said. “We know they’re not going to change out their fleet all at once. It’s going to take time. So commonality with the base truck will help.”

The Pro model, designed with commercial fleets in mind, eliminates the frills available in other packages. The standard battery targets an EPA-estimated range of 230 miles, but customers can upgrade to the extended-range battery for 300 miles. “We’re trying to keep it to what’s necessary from a total-cost-of-ownership perspective,” Zhang said.

But the Lightning’s greatest selling point is on-road performance, Zhang maintained. “Seat time is literally the best seller for this truck,” she said.

No lies were detected here.

With no starter or engine, the truck springs to life silently. It’s so quiet, in fact, it’s difficult to tell it’s on. An all-new chassis with steel frames and an independent rear suspension—that still accommodates a full-size spare tire—deliver coupe-like handling on tight turns, and electric motors on each axle generate 775 lb.-ft. of torque, and 420 horsepower with the standard battery, for tire-screeching acceleration. But don’t fret fleet managers. Ford’s Smart Acceleration Truncation helps keep thrill-seeking employees in check.

Switching between normal, sport, off-road, and tow/haul modes is simple using the Pro’s 12-inch touchscreen display. The truck boasts 2,235 lb. of payload capacity, and tows up to 7,700 lb., with the standard battery. Among the most appreciated features here were the aerial backup view, and One-Pedal, which allows drivers to control the vehicle with only the accelerator, rendering the brake irrelevant.

Point B (Dutton Ranch)

On the power of teamwork, and the future

After completing the pre-programmed one- or two-hour journey to Dutton Ranch, media were welcomed by Wanda Young, Ford Pro’s chief marketing officer, and Steve Dutton, a fifth-generation Sonoma County farmer who pointed out that the pain of $6-plus gas in California has only increased his EV excitement.

“I see some instant savings here—as soon as we can get a Lightning,” he said.

His family’s 1,400-acre farm played host to Ford’s “Working Together for a Greater Tomorrow” discussion panel featuring Ford Pro CEO Ted Cannis; John Buckley, president and CEO of Wilbur-Ellis; Jason Glickman, executive vice president of engineering, planning, and strategy at PG&E; Karissa Kruse, president of Sonoma County Winegrowers; and Cynthia Williams, Ford’s global director of sustainability, homologation, and compliance.

They said adoption starts with overcoming resistance. Kruse admits the 1,800 growers she serves were skeptical, despite feeling the impact of climate change intensely—and routinely embracing innovation as a result—because trucks play a vital role in their businesses. But their enthusiasm is growing after experiencing the Lightning. “The proof is in front of us, and the creativity is starting to bubble up from folks thinking about the possibilities, and how they could do their jobs differently,” said Buckley, whose company is adding 10 Lightnings, including five in Sonoma County, to its fleet of 2,800 over-the-road vehicles.

PG&E saw the same resistance to renewables. Now 93% of electricity delivered through its wires is greenhouse-gas free, Glickman said, adding that the region is an ideal place for fleet electrification to flourish. “If you take the 300,000 electric vehicles already roaming around our territory—it’s the largest market for electric vehicles anywhere in the country—that’s the equivalent of three nuclear power plants’ worth of capacity.

“Imagine if we could unleash that at scale.”

Diverse partnerships—like this group of collaborators tailgating on electric trucks parked on a shady hill that overlooks a California vineyard—make it possible, the panel agreed, and the Lightning’s Intelligent Backup Power, which enables bi-directional charging, make it plausible. “It is a vehicle,” Cannis said. “But it’s like going from a flip phone to a smart phone. It’s actually a cell phone on wheels, and we’re really talking about a digital revolution and an energy revolution. We have not had this change in energy in 100 years.

“The last time it was horses, and they would stop at an inn, and eat hay at night to recharge.”

And horses can’t “regurgitate hay” to resupply the grid like the Lightning, Cannis quipped. Glickman, who dubbed this ability “two-way hay,” said it could make customers more resilient in outages. Fleets, for instance, could draw energy from EV depots to power facilities when demand spikes. “We could not be more excited about the potential of integrating these vehicles into the network,” he said. That’s why PG&E plans to test energy management improvements using Ford’s vehicle-to-grid technology.

Cannis said Ford is scrambling to reach a 150,000-truck production rate next year because of “overwhelming” demand. But commercial customers’ concerns remain a significant hurdle to fleet adoption. “We recently conducted a survey of fleet decisionmakers in North America, and about two-thirds said they want to go electric, but it’s going to be a headache,” he said. That’s why Ford Pro is here to support the switch. “All the benefits are coming, but it doesn’t come by just swapping it out,” Buckley said. “‘Well, you had a gas-powered vehicle, now you have an electric vehicle, good luck.’ That’s not the way it works.”

To fuel the movement, Ford is acquiring companies, and attracting software engineers and data scientists from places like Apple and Google, while also looking to partner with technology companies, and help educate users on how to interpret the data streaming in. “They’re going to have to have a higher level of analytical skills than they needed before, in order to be good consumers of that information,” Buckley said.

Ultimately, Kruse predicted, companies will train a “point person” to manage the fleet, making operating and maintaining trucks easier for everyone else. “It almost simplifies the thinking for entry-level people coming into our businesses,” she said. The opportunity to do more with less is one more reason wine-grape growers are happy to share their experiences—and show the way to a sustainable future.

“If we get this right, and we can help to explain how to do this, they’ll pick it up in commercial much faster, because you can do the math,” Cannis said. “It’s another Excel spreadsheet, another return-on-investment calculation.

“The math works.”

About the Author

Jason McDaniel

Jason McDaniel, based in the Houston TX area, has nearly 20 years of experience as a journalist. He spent 15 writing and editing for daily newspapers, including the Houston Chronicle, and began covering the commercial vehicle industry in 2018. He was named editor of Bulk Transporter and Refrigerated Transporter magazines in July 2020.

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Jason McDaniel | FleetOwner
Ford's 2022 F-150 Lightning Pro was designed with commercial customers in mind.
Ford's 2022 F-150 Lightning Pro was designed with commercial customers in mind.
Ford's 2022 F-150 Lightning Pro was designed with commercial customers in mind.
Ford's 2022 F-150 Lightning Pro was designed with commercial customers in mind.
Ford's 2022 F-150 Lightning Pro was designed with commercial customers in mind.