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Ford F-150 Lightning Switchgear Demonstrator Takes the EV Pickup to On- and Off-Road Extremes

by | January 17, 2024

Ford wants to show what a high-performance version of its all-electric pickup is capable of and today rolled out the F-150 Lightning Switchgear Demonstrator. It will make its first public appearance at the grueling King of the Hammers off-road race next week.

Ford F-150 Lightning Switchgear - throwing mud

Ford is looking to make an impact with the F-150 Lightning Switchgear Demonstrator.

There’s a Ford F-150 pickup for just about every possible application, including serious performance driving. Now, the automaker wants to show that its all-electric F-150 Lightning is more than capable of keeping up, on-road and off.

That’s where the Ford F-150 Lightning Switchgear Demonstrator comes in. The one-off prototype will make its public debut the hard way, competing in the challenging King of the Hammers off-road race in Johnson Valley, California Jan. 25.

“A playground for engineers”

“It’s 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 — that showcases the possibilities of what an electric vehicle can be and provides a playground for engineers to advance learnings quickly for future electric vehicles,” Mark Rushbrook, global director of Ford Performance Motorsports, said in a blog post released this afternoon.

Ford F-150 Lightning Switchgear - side jumping

Lightning Switchgear was developed as part of a collaboration between Ford and RTR Vehicles.

Lightning Switchgear was developed as part of a collaboration between Ford and RTR Vehicles and was “inspired” by the 2016 F-150 RTR Ultimate Fun-Haver project vehicle.

The automaker isn’t laying out specific future plans for the Switchgear but we might take as a hint the fact that it’s confirmed it will build the Baja-ready Mach-E Rally version of its all-electric SUV. For now, Ford said in a statement, the Switchgear Demonstrator will “take F-150 Lightning where it’s never been … to learn lessons that could be applied to future Ford electric trucks.”

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“Pushing the boundaries”

The upgrades to the stock Lightning are extensive and are reminiscent of what Ford has done with the latest F-150 Raptor R, which also has proved its mettle in Johnson Valley.

To start with, said Rushbrook, it gets a significantly widened track and replaces its standard rubber for 37-inch NITTO Ridge Grappler 37×12.5R18 off-road tires. The engineering team also has made a number of changes to suspension travel, while ground clearance varies between 7 inches up front and 5 inches in the rear in the on-road configuration and 13.5 inches and 11 inches, respectively, when configured for off-roading.

Few courses are tougher than King of the Hammers and to take that punishment, Switchgear goes for 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.

Improved approach and departure angles

New bumpers, front and back, also help to improve approach and departure angles.

Switchgear, meanwhile, gets new carbon composite front bumpers, bed sides and rear bumper cover. But steel fabricated rock rails, along with a new front skid plate, help take the blows that the rocky King of the Hammers course is known for.

Ford insiders have told Headlight.News that they intend to start adding more variants to the automaker’s EV lineup. The Mach-E Rally will be the first to come to market. But, considering what we already see offered for the conventional F-150 line, few should be surprised to see Ford follow with a production off-roader based on the Switchgear Demonstrator.

Ford could use a halo version of the Lightning. Even before the EV pickup came to market in spring 2022 the automaker was flooded with advance reservations. Initially, it couldn’t keep up with demand, convincing the company to more than quadruple the production capacity of its Rouge Electric Vehicle Center in Dearborn, Michigan. Demand has settled back in recent months, however, and Ford recently announced it will cut one of two production shifts at the factory.


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