Ford aims to push to new extremes when it debuts a “demonstrator” version of the all-electric F-150 Lightning pickup at the grueling King of the Hammers off-road race next week. Dubbed the F-150 Lightning Switchgear, it features a broad array of suspension and body updates — though it retains the same twin-motor drive system powering the retail version of the EV truck.
For now a one-off project, it will serve as a testbed “for future electric vehicles,” Mark Rushbrook, the Global Director of Ford Performance Motorsports, said in a blog post. Ford is already testing the waters with the Rally edition of its Mustang Mach-E SUV coming to market later this year.
Rushbrook noted that the Switchgear is “the latest in our Ford Performance Demonstrator program — joining SuperVan 4.0 and 4.2, the Mustang Mach-E 1400, Mustang CobraJet 1400, and the F-100 Eluminator. He added that these “… vehicles showcase the possibilities of what an electric vehicle can be and provide a playground for engineers to advance learnings quickly for future electric vehicles.”
The demonstrator was “inspired” by the 2016 F-150 RTR Ultimate Fun-Haver project vehicle, Rushbrook wrote in a new blog post. That truck was developed with the help of Vaughn Gittins Jr., as well as the folks at Nitto, who came up with the rubber for the Switchgear.
From the Ground Up
While not a complete makeover of the now-familiar F-150 Lightning, Switchgear literally has been updated from the ground up. This starts with its 37-inch NITTO Ridge Grappler 37×12.5R18 off-road tires.
Some of the biggest revisions have been made to the demonstrator’s suspension. To handle a course like the King of the Hammers, Switchgear gets Fox 3-inch diameter internal bypass shocks. Up front, it has a double-wishbone suspension. In back, engineers opted for a multilink independent suspension with coil-over shocks, a stabilizer bar, and custom control arms.
Other changes to the suspension yield additional ground clearance — 13.5 inches up front and 11.5 inches the rear — when set up for an off-road course. When in on-road configuration, ground clearance drops to 7.0 inches up front and 5.0 inches in the rear.
When in off-road configuration, Switchgear gets new carbon composite front bumpers, bed sides, and a rear bumper cover. There are new steel fabricated rock rails, along with a new front skid plate, to help the truck take a pounding.
Completing the package, Switchgear gets a roof spoiler with integrated brake lights. In the bed, Ford kitted the truck out with a chase rack and two spare tires.
For street racing, Switchgear swaps out the carbon composite front bumper for one with an integrated valence. It adds carbon composite rocker skirts and a Ford Performance tonneau cover.
Ford Switchgear Powertrain
Switchgear is motivated by the same, twin-motor all-electric drivetrain found in the retail version of the Ford F-150 Lightning. It pushes out 580 horsepower and 775 pound-feet of torque.
The system draws power from a 131kWh lithium-ion pack, also the same as in the production version of the F-150 Lightning.
Ford hasn’t released any performance specs for the Lightning Switchgear. The fastest production F-150 Lightning model, the Lariat, can hit 60 in 3.8 seconds and run the quarter-mile in 12.4 seconds.
Ford F-150 Lightning Switchgear’s Future
While the Ford F-150 Lightning Switchgear is being billed as a one-off, it’s likely to have a direct influence on future products. A senior official within the automaker’s EV program recently told me that he sees opportunities to bring off-road versions of both the Lightning and the Mach-E to market.
The first real test will come with the launch later this year of the Baja-style Mach-E Rally.
Look for the Switchgear to make its official debut on January 25 at the King of the Hammers race in Johnson Valley, Calif.