5 Fun Facts About the 2021 F-150’s Onboard Generator

ford-f-150-2021-17-oem 2021 Ford F-150 | Manufacturer image

Ford unveiled the redesigned 2021 F-150 full-size pickup truck today, and while the super-mild sheet metal revisions and mostly carryover powertrains aren’t much to get excited about, two new additions to the lineup are definitely worth a second look. First, there’s a first-ever F-150 hybrid, featuring a 1.5-kilowatt-hour, liquid-cooled lithium-ion battery and a 35-kilowatt electric motor sandwiched into the 10-speed automatic transmission. And while we expect this will be pretty nifty for fuel economy and towing purposes, the hybrid system enables Ford to offer something truly unique: the new Pro Power Onboard electrical generator system. 

Related: Redesigned 2021 Ford F-150 Offers Hybrid and Plenty of Power (Outlets)

Essentially, the Pro Power Onboard system turns your truck’s engine into a generator that provides power to an inverter, which then transforms it into energy you can use to power any number of appliances from laptops to TIG welders, loudspeakers to electric griddles, camper trailers to — in an emergency — potentially your entire home. The system sends power to outlets in the truck’s cabin and in a new dedicated panel in the truck’s bed. Here are five things you need to know about Ford’s novel new Pro Power Onboard generator.

1. There Are Three Configurations

Three different levels of Pro Power Onboard are being offered: a 2.0-kW system available on any gas-engine F-150 except the standard 3.3-liter V-6, a 2.4-kW system that’s standard on the new F-150 hybrid and an optional 7.2-kW system only available on the hybrid.

ford-f-150-2021-16-oem 2021 Ford F-150 | Manufacturer image

The 2.0-kW system can be added to any F-150 equipped with the 2.7-liter V-6, 3.5-liter V-6 or 5.0-liter V-8 engine. When activated, the system runs the engine to provide power to the inverter and two 120-volt, 20-amp three-prong outlets in the bed of the truck. It operates while the vehicle is parked or while it’s in motion, enabling you to keep items plugged into the outlets in the bed that might need recharging as you’re driving to a worksite or campsite. It provides up to 2,000 watts of power for whatever you want to plug in. This is a considerable upgrade from what most 120-volt outlets presented in trucks currently are usually limited to 400 watts, which is enough to power portable speakers or maybe a small television at a tailgate party. But now with 2,000 watts to play with, you can theoretically power some speakers, a TV, an electric heater, a mini-fridge and a blender, perhaps all at the same time.

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The F-150 hybrid comes standard with a more powerful version of this system, putting out 2,400 watts of electricity. But unlike the regular F-150, it first uses energy stored in the 1.5-kwh onboard battery to power whatever it is you’re using before activating the 3.5-liter twin-turbocharged PowerBoost V-6 engine when that battery starts to run low. Like any standard generator, the engine boosts its rpm when a significant draw is detected — fire up a 1,000-watt air compressor and you might not notice a difference. Fire that up plus a circular saw, and the engine will start to rev a little faster to keep up with the power demand. 

But the ultimate system is the optional 7.2-kW version that’s offered as an option on the hybrid. Like the 2.4-kW version, it draws first from the battery before firing up the engine. But unlike the lesser versions, it offers four 120-volt, 20-amp outlets and one twist-lock NEMA L6-20 240-volt, 30-amp outlet and can provide up to 7,200 watts of electricity. That’s enough to power most people’s home fridge, freezer, computers, TVs, etc. Most RVs only bother with a generator in the 3,000-4,000-watt range. Ford says this kind of portable power built into a truck can deliver electricity to remote construction locations, enough to power all the tools necessary for a team of builders to actually frame a house. 

2. It Makes the New F-150 the Ultimate Camping Truck

That kind of power delivery could make the F-150 the new ultimate camping truck. 

“You can plug in a crock pot when you leave home, and by the time you get to your campsite, you’re ready to eat!” said Nigar Sultana, lead feature owner for the Ford F-150 Pro Power System. 

“And you can run a hair dryer now too,” she continued. “Or in the morning, plug in your coffeemaker and start your day.” 

While the lesser 2.0-kW and 2.4-kW systems could indeed make tent camping a lot more comfortable (provided you don’t mind having the truck idling next to you), it’s the 7.2-kW system that really has the potential to be the ultimate camper trailer rig. That 240-volt, 30-amp output is more than enough to run all the systems on a huge camper trailer. The trailer’s air conditioner, fridge and freezer, lights, and just about everything else can be run even while the truck is pulling it, not just when it’s stopped and parked. Don’t need to keep the camper powered? It can also recharge your electric all-terrain vehicles or dirt bikes while you’re driving. And Ford says there’s no impact to the hybrid performance while you’re running and the Pro Power Onboard system is activated.

3. You Can Run It All Night

Say you want to park somewhere remote and use the truck to power that camper. The hybrid 2.4-kW system will run for 85 hours on a full tank of gas at maximum load of 2,400 watts. The 7.2-kW system will go for 32 hours under the same max load conditions. If you’re not using all of those 7,200 watts, the system will continue for much longer, the company said. Normally, any Ford truck left idling and undisturbed will turn itself off after 30 minutes, according to Ford, via the built-in automatic idle shutdown function. But the generator mode disables this function, allowing it to go much longer, provided there’s at least a 400-watt draw on the system. So as long as the system detects that it’s powering something, the truck will continue to run.

4. You Can Control It With Your Phone

The FordPass app for smartphones allows you to both monitor and even control the Pro Power system. You can see what the load is on each circuit, if the system is activated and more, from anywhere that you have connection. If you want to control it, however, you have to be within the truck’s onboard Wi-Fi range of about 30 feet. From that range, you can turn things on and off, and adjust as necessary. Wake up sweaty in the middle of the night and feel the need to activate your camper’s air conditioning unit? With the FordPass app and the truck connected, you won’t even have to get out of bed to power everything up and get the cool air flowing. 

5. Safety Is Built-In

Of course, all kinds of questions pop up when you’re thinking about leaving your truck running all night next to your camper, even if you are well out in the woods. Is it safe? Can someone just open the door and make off with the truck (with me in the trailer)? What happens if there’s a short or a fault? Ford’s secure idle and utility idle functions come into play here, meaning the truck can be left to idle and be locked. So no worries about plugging it into the camper and going to bed — the truck isn’t going anywhere. If the system detects a ground fault, it immediately shuts off, giving the user the option to reset the system via the interior console touchscreen or the FordPass app. If it detects a critical fault somewhere in the system, it will disable itself and require a trip to a dealer for diagnosis, also notifying the owner via warnings on the screen and phone app.

We don’t yet know how much the new system will cost, either as a stand-alone option for the 2.0-kW system on the gas trucks or the 7.2-kW upgrade for the hybrid. We don’t even know how much the F-150 hybrid itself will cost; details like this will be known when we get closer to the truck’s on-sale date later this fall. But we can tell you this much: We can’t wait to try the system for ourselves. 

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Detroit Bureau Chief Aaron Bragman has had over 25 years of experience in the auto industry as a journalist, analyst, purchasing agent and program manager. Bragman grew up around his father’s classic Triumph sports cars (which were all sold and gone when he turned 16, much to his frustration) and comes from a Detroit family where cars put food on tables as much as smiles on faces. Today, he’s a member of the Automotive Press Association and the Midwest Automotive Media Association. His pronouns are he/him, but his adjectives are fat/sassy. Email Aaron Bragman

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