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Ford Wants to Boost F-150 Lightning Pickup’s Range Through Software Updates
A series of constant upgrades could push the Lightning's capabilities forward after release.
BY HAZEL SOUTHWELL SEPTEMBER 1, 2021


FORD

The Ford F-150 Lightning has proven immensely popular since its launch and there's already serious talk that its range could be bigger than the declared max of 300 miles. Like, much bigger—think 450 miles or more. That's exciting enough but when The Drive interviewed Ford CEO Jim Farley, he heavily foreshadowed there being even more range to come via updates.

"I think the demand for F-150 is so robust right now, we really just need to do a great job launching that product," Farley explained, saying he believed the F-150 Lightning was a car with a future into the next era of EVs. "Is it exciting for us, and does it encourage us to make other investments? Yes, absolutely. The most exciting thing for us is this: most people think this kinda second inning of electric [cars], the first innings of electric played out the last 10 years, maybe the last 100, but the last 10 were most prominent… the next innings that we’re entering, you’ve got vertical integration to bring the cost down to $80 a kilowatt-hour."


FORD

[Editor’s note: The Drive recently interviewed Ford CEO Jim Farley, a full transcript of which can be found here. This is one of several accompanying stories we’re publishing to highlight the most newsworthy details from the conversation.]

Hardware-wise, bringing down the cost per kWh is great but there's also the option of working smarter, not just with more lithium-ion storage. Farley said that EVs in the current era are a software product as much as they are a hardware product, but ultimately, Ford has to make good cars at launch.

"People are creating a software-driven product, like a digital product," Farley said. "There’s a lot of things happening differently than in the first innings. The first innings, most of the logic was, 'well these are rational buyers like with the Prius, so let’s make some kind of compact, affordable electric cars.'

"And what we kind of found out was that what early adopters, the early majority, wanted was the good stuff. So now we’re making the good stuff, like F-150, and E-Transit, which is very emotional for our van family. We’re the number one van maker in the world, with Transit, and we’re the number one sports car company with Mustang, and that’s now electric. So I think that’s definitely the direction. But we have to make sure we pull it off commercially."

Some of the pressure to deliver a good product at launch is definitely hardware-based, wanting to avoid woes like Chevrolet's with the Bolt recall. But looking to the future, Farley said, involves planning to continuously update cars from launch onwards.

"The most important part of that is the software part. Is that F-150 Lightning’s range 20 miles longer the year after it launches? The same one. We gotta get out of this job one mentality, where anything good comes from a new product."

This would be far from the first time an EV maker extended cars' range after release. Jaguar gave I-Pace owners an update that boosted range by eight percent after it transferred software lessons from a race series it ran using modified versions of the SUV to implement more efficient regeneration and energy use in the road car.


FORD

When asked specifically if Ford would implement OTA updates to improve ownership after purchase, Farley replied, "Yes. And the experiences, it may be a physical experience, like pick up and delivery. Maybe, who knows. There are lots of things we’re thinking about on the physical service side that’s enabled by a connected car. I think that’s the real test of our fitness.

"Not like, how many different versions of the Lightning we should make. That day will come, we think 40 percent of our lineup in a few years will be electric, and we’re building that variety. But for us right now, we got our heads down on what the second innings wants.

"And that’s iconic products, electrified not just in propulsion, but a digital vehicle. Power your house for three days—all that stuff is important. The most important thing is the fitness of the company to use that platform to make a better experience for the customer. That to me is a more important test than if we’re gonna have a Raptor Lightning."
 

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I know they're promising that these updates will make the vehicle better, but all these car companies bragging about OTA updates make me nervous.
I'm sure I'm probably paranoid, but I shudder at the idea of walking out to my truck one morning and finding it's been bricked.
What about you guys?
 

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2021 Mustang Mach E First Edition, 2016 Nissan Leaf, 2003 Toyota Tacoma, F-150 Lightning reserved
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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
I know they're promising that these updates will make the vehicle better, but all these car companies bragging about OTA updates make me nervous.
I'm sure I'm probably paranoid, but I shudder at the idea of walking out to my truck one morning and finding it's been bricked.
What about you guys?
So far the OTAs have not bricked vehicles but there have been a few hiccups. Ford is rolling out the OTAs more slowly than they originally planned and are being very cautious to make sure the vehicles keep operating.
 

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I had a 2015 Jeep Cherokee a few years ago that was a blast to drive, I brought it in for maintenance and while there the mechanic said it was due for a service update. I got it back and it drove like shit, shifted horribly, no pep, mechanic said the transmissions were going bad too soon and Chrysler changed something with the update to prolong its life. I traded it in a month later. So yeah….I’m a bit leary about software updates
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
I had a 2015 Jeep Cherokee a few years ago that was a blast to drive, I brought it in for maintenance and while there the mechanic said it was due for a service update. I got it back and it drove like shit, shifted horribly, no pep, mechanic said the transmissions were going bad too soon and Chrysler changed something with the update to prolong its life. I traded it in a month later. So yeah….I’m a bit leary about software updates
At least there’s one thing in your story you don’t have to worry about: like most EVs it’s a single speed so no shifting worries outside of park, drive, and reverse.
 

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I would imagine that there's a confirmation for the installation of any OTA so theoretically you should be able to skip or delay installation.
 

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I would imagine that there's a confirmation for the installation of any OTA so theoretically you should be able to skip or delay installation.
Hopefully they publish what they are fixing or new features they are adding so each person can decide whether to take the update or postpone.
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
Hopefully they publish what they are fixing or new features they are adding so each person can decide whether to take the update or postpone.
So far skipping or postponing hasn’t been an option for Mustang Mach E OTA updates.
 

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So far skipping or postponing hasn’t been an option for Mustang Mach E OTA updates.
The software developer side of me actually likes this. Truthfully you want everyone to take the updates and be on the same software version. However I understand people's hesitation when they rely upon the vehicle.
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
The software developer side of me actually likes this. Truthfully you want everyone to take the updates and be on the same software version. However I understand people's hesitation when they rely upon the vehicle.
That has been one of the issues in the Mustang Mach E. Folks who get all OTA updates have one set (if they are up to date), folks who have received updates at the dealer have another set, early production and late production start out different at delivery. Yes, configuration control has been an issue so far.
 

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Want more range out of your truck? Upgrade your software.... for only $999.

Kind of like Toyotas plan to charge to use your key fob.
 

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1 year down the road, 5 years down the road and beyond, being that the batteries will be easy to service and change on this thing, as battery technologies improve, i could see being able to swap out the entire pack with something that will get insane mileage, with research companies working on the next generation of solid state batteries, it will only be a matter of time before we could start seeing 1k miles per charge
 

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Want more range out of your truck? Upgrade your software.... for only $999.

Kind of like Toyotas plan to charge to use your key fob.
That's the EV model, your lightning battery capacity is not 100% useable to you. As the battery degrades, Ford will update the software possibly changing the charging and cutoff parameters and or allowing you to access more cells in the pack. This is what Tesla does. This why they say the pack will last 8 years they have a heavy hand in controlling the lifespan.
 

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These concepts can cause some to be wary, but they are an integrated part of today's vehicles, especially the EV world. I doubt Ford will go as far as Tesla, and that is likely a bad thing, but software updates are truly a good thing. Tesla pushes one every 6 weeks or so as they tweak and improve (and sometimes change the GUI - and that isn't always better.)

However as miles are put on the trucks and feedback gets back to Ford they will be able to tweak and adjust power and the BMS for controlling the charging. They can change the charge curve as they understand how millions of charges affect the battery vs the thousands they've been able to test up to now. As they understand and learn more about the heat generated they can update range, etc. It is a good thing and will be required I'm sure. If you ever have a service issue the first thing they will do is make sure your software is up to date.

I won't even be able to remember a small part of the list, but since the Model 3 hit the road, Tesla added a built in camera recorder. Pop a USB drive into the USB port and the cameras will record when someone gets too near the car. Google the number of people that have been caught keying a Tesla from this feature alone.

Just in the last couple of months they have now added viewing your cars camera remotely from the phone app. Yep - you get a trigger of an alarm - you can view the cameras within a few seconds from your phone.

There have been many app updates. At one time you could just see your car was charging. With updates you can now control the number of amps it is currently charging at, adjust on the fly. Fully control the AC and all seat heaters, See and view any SW updates and trigger them from the phone. You can completely schedule service through the app and if your car has detected a problem - say a 12 v battery problem, it can send the code to Tesla and set up your initial appointment for service.

From the phone you can view the car on a live map. You can limit the speed and set a valet code too. Some of these have been available since day 1, but many have been added. Lets just say software updates can and should continue to add value over time. You'll need to learn to embrace them up front. I'm just hopeful Ford is truly learning from the competition and will continue to add a little value by some tweaks and updates along the way vs just letting this thing just become a rotten tomato and give it no love over the years.
 

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i think ford has a real winner. The only weak area that has my concern is the battery composition Ford selected; Lithium Nickel Manganeese. It’s lays down a ton of power and charges super quick; but has the lowest cycle count and is the most volatile heat wise of all the lithium batteries. They are doing a complex cooling system on the battery but I am curious to see how this pans out long term. I guess we will all find out together.
 
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