Mediocre driving range is the main thing we dislike about our long-term Ford F-150 Lightning test truck, and range (along with America’s currently hinky public charging network) are the chief hurdles to more widespread EV adoption among consumers. It’s no surprise, therefore, that the CES 2024 show floor was chockablock with technologies to improve EV range. We rounded up the most promising of these range-extending technologies, which we’d love to adapt to our Lightning pickup—so, consider this also an unofficial update on our long-term electric F-150, through the lens of how its range could be improved:
Smarter Navigation Routing
Before CES 2024 opened, mapping database provider HERE Technologies announced it would begin incorporating data such as road topography and roughness, and local temperature and wind speed and direction data into account in its routing algorithms. While at CES we learned that rival Mapbox has launched a similar system that also is able incorporate all the onboard data such as battery health and condition, HVAC use, etc. when fitted in a native navigation system (BMW currently incorporates Mapbox into BMW/MINI offerings). We also learned that because HERE gets telematic data back from vehicles as well, it’s able to notice things like EVs quickly leaving charging stations without charging, which prompts HERE to suspect a faulty station, flagging it as inactive and notifying its owner.
Today’s EVs are by and large software-defined, and it’s very possible that an over-the-air update including Valeo’s Predict4Range software could help alleviate some of our range anxiety—particularly when operating well below or above “room temperature.” This system predicts and executes the most efficient thermal management strategies for any given trip or driving situation, considering real-time temperature, wind speed, charging station maps, road elevation and electric vehicle parameters, helping extend driving range by up to a claimed 24% (on short trips in extreme conditions). Its tricks include coordinating vehicle charging to occur right before departure on a cold morning, so that the energy spent charging the battery pre-warms it (and the cabin). It also optimizes charging stops on longer trips, basing all recommendations on strategies sampled using a “digital twin” of the vehicle in the cloud. The software is also said to improve battery life.
Schaeffler Mechatronic Ride Height Adjuster
Screw-Jack Ride-Height Adjuster
Schaeffler dreamed up its Mechatronic Ride Height Adjuster a little while ago as a simple way to raise and lower a full-size truck through 1.6 inches. That’s not really enough to be useful for off-roading, so there have been no takers among traditional internal combustion truck producers. But lowering a big, bluff truck like our Lightning at highway speeds promises to trim aerodynamic drag considerably. A motor mounted to the side of this cylindrical unit spins a collar that works a lot like a trailer’s tongue jack. This system is vastly simpler to operate and install in a current suspension than one that alters height using air or hydraulic pressure, which reduces cost and simplifies maintenance.
Schaeffler Triple Roller Ball Bearing
Trifinity Triple Roller Ball Bearing (+2-5%)
In the good old days, all cars used tapered roller bearings at the front axle, but years ago, cars and lighter trucks began the transition to lower-friction ball bearings, which typically feature two staggered rows of ball-bearings to manage side loads. Bigger full-size pickups have generally stuck with the tapered rollers. Schaeffler’s Trifinity offering is a heavier-duty three-row ball-bearing setup for these bigger trucks, claiming the friction-reduction benefit (and maybe a 0.6-pound weight savings per corner) should be significant enough to yield a range improvement in the 2- to 5-percent range. It even simplifies assembly by using face splines to engage a drive axle (note the grooves radiating out from the center, replacing shaft splines). A mechanical solution to our digital-age problems? Yes please!
Camera Mirrors (-5.5%)
We’re on the verge of legalizing camera-based side mirrors in the U.S., so several manufacturers demonstrated different approaches, several of which were optimized for trucks—including Class 8 semis. Both of which require a little wing to put the camera’s vantage point out far enough to be useful when trailering. Such wings may not return the entire estimated 5.5-percent range improvement suggested by the AirShaper study of an F-150 PowerBoost, but they provide real estate for the additional camera(s) required for 360-degree views, and to place warning lamps for blind-spot monitoring.
Tier I supplier Forvia (formerly Faurecia and Hella) showed an eMirror concept, with the USP that by cleverly stitching images from the side and rear cameras, it can show an invisible car view that ghosts out the bodywork. This would be incredibly useful on our F-150 as configured now, with the AeroX cap shrinking our rear-view somewhat.
Stoneridge MirrorEye is aimed at the heavy-duty trucking segment, so its high mounted mirror wing juts forward enough for a fisheye lens to cover the enormous blind spot in front of the typical semi, which is now mandatory in Europe. Stoneridge claims a 2-3-percent fuel-efficiency improvement, which it says will save 5,000 pounds of CO2 per year on a combustion rig. Placing such a wing on our Lightning would probably reduce the range improvement to a similar percentage. Stoneridge cleverly engineered a way to connect a camera to the back of the semitrailer to provide rear visibility, connecting through a standard trailer wiring harness (piggybacking the video feed onto a ground or lighting wire), simplifying the task of connecting various trailers across a fleet.