New parents discover unexpected use for Ford F-150 Lightning's front trunk

Phoebe Wall Howard
Detroit Free Press

Emily Jaehnert regularly drives an all-electric Ford F-150 Lightning pickup truck more than 400 miles round trip with her 13-month-old daughter to Seattle for appointments with a neurologist and others who treat premature babies.

"I'll be honest, when my husband said we'd be getting a truck, I said, 'We don't need a truck. What are we going to do with a truck? We don't have a farm,' " Jaehnert told the Free Press. "But it's like a living room on wheels."

For decades, Ford has promoted its pickups as "Built Ford Tough." New parents are tweeting a different selling point with the Lightning — diaper changes. Jaehnert and her husband of Richland, Washington, discovered early on they can change the baby privately and easily in a spacious, protected front trunk, known as the frunk.

That's the spot that would hold an engine if a giant battery weren't tucked under the electric truck body instead.

Emily Jaehnert of Richland, Washington is changing the diapers of her daughter MacKenzie on Dec. 29, 2022.

"Having that space in that vehicle, especially with (MacKenzie) being premature, and avoiding any public areas and being able to do it in the truck on the go, it's not only peace of mind but super convenient and a little bit fun," Emily Jaehnert said. "We pop the trunk, people expect to see an engine and we’re changing a baby. We get people asking about the truck and seeing it as a family vehicle."

Parents in a pinch have always changed diapers while balancing children on back seats — rarely in trunks.

Yet no one thought to market the all-electric Ford F-150 Lightning to parents as the answer to germ-covered changing tables in rest areas, gas stations and fast-food restaurants. The whole world has grown more apprehensive about taking children into highly trafficked unclean areas, especially since the pandemic began.

Emily Jaehnert holds her daughter, MacKenzie, while their Ford F-150 Lightning  was charging. This is part of their road trip back from Wisconsin to Richland, Washington in September 2022.

"It's been fun seeing how our customers are using their frunks" — for everything from powering tools to changing babies, said Emma Bergg, a Ford spokeswoman who drives her F-150 Lightning with her son to Costco and puts groceries in the frunk. She rarely shopped in the old gasoline-powered F-150 pickup because groceries would either slide around the truck bed in back or get squished on the floor beneath her son's feet.

The enormous front trunk, and its potential for baby changing, is a feature the Jaehnerts exploited shortly after the truck arrived in the driveway, beside their Ford Mustang Mach-E.

Electrical outlets in the front trunk also allow for bottle warming on road trips. And the area, which some truck owners use to hold ice and beverages for tailgate parties at football games, has a plug to allow quick drainage for easy cleaning.

MacKenzie Jaehnert of Richland, Washington, rides in her family's all-electric Ford F-150. Here she is seen on Aug. 26, 2022 playing with a “Sketch” program that’s integrated into Ford’s navigation/infotainment system. While in park, MacKenzie can draw and doodle. She made the designs with her tiny toes while the vehicle charged during a trip to Wisconsin.

"We had the (truck) order placed before she was an idea," said Mac Jaehnert, who works in digital communications for a national laboratory. "We knew it was coming before she was coming. But this would be a perfect opportunity to put our ideas into action. We even joked about having a baby wipe warmer. We want to make the baby's travel experience as comfortable as possible."

In addition, there's a ruler stamped into the tailgate for construction workers to measure wood that the Jaehnerts have using to measure the growth of their child since her birth. Last check: 28.4 inches.

A ruler is stamped into the tailgate of an all-electric Ford F-150 Lightning so that construction workers can measure wood. Some new parents are using the ruler to track growth of their babies.

For Emily Jaehnert, the height of the truck is actually more convenient than changing her daughter on a couch or another surface at home.

"I feel my back straining," she said. "If it were as simple as walking out to the frunk every time we needed to change diapers? I'll just say the height makes it a much more comfortable experience for me."

The front trunk was designed to hold two sets of golf clubs. It officially measures 14.1 cubic feet.

Emily Jaehnert of Richland, Washington changes her little MacKenzie in the front trunk of her Ford F-150 Lightning in August 2022.

Mac Jaehnert tweeted an image of his wife changing MacKenzie on Dec. 29, 2022, while running errands in town from his account @macjaeh. Responses have been sweet and funny:

  • "We used to check the oil. Now we check the poop," tweeted @FCoy69 on Dec. 31, 2022.
  • "Heck yea! Mom win!" tweeted @jason_tsla on Dec. 31, 2022.
  • "I will do it with both boys when the weather warms up," tweeted @EZebroni on Dec. 30, 2022.
Mac Jaehnert of Richland, Washington, holds his daughter, MacKenzie, with an electric cooler plugged into the front trunk of his all-electric Ford F-150 Lightning. The cooler holds beverages and baby bottles at a Cars & Caffeine event in Pasco, Washington, on Aug. 13, 2022.

A dad with twin boys

Ethan Zebron, a military officer from Carrollton, Virginia, who tweeted about his twin boys, told the Free Press that he and his wife view themselves as electric vehicle ambassadors.

They have a Tesla Model Y SUV and traded their Tesla Model 3 for the Ford Lightning.

The front trunk of the Lightning has the space needed to change diapers, especially two babies at once.

Twins Lucas and Liam Zebron came into the world on Oct. 26, 2022.

Twins Lucas and Liam Zebron of Carollton, Virginia, pictured here on Jan. 16, 2023, rest in the front trunk of the family's Ford F-150 Lightning. Their parents bought an extra pad for comfort in the spacious area.

"If you're taking the truck out, which we actually prefer, there's more room and it's a better ride and easier for the babies to sleep," Zebron told the Free Press. "Typically, you have the bed of the pickup but that's kind of rugged and the bed liner is not as convenient to put babies on. This electric truck has a massive front trunk, there's a light that shines down, space for both boys, and we have a portable mat we put down to make it softer (to change diapers). It's perfect."

Not worrying about taking babies into Lowe's or Home Depot for changing is a relief, he said.

"The Tesla design is different. It's more of a storage compartment where it sits kind of deep in the well," Zebron said. The Ford space is flat and it doesn't dip down like the Tesla."

Andrea Zebron said the front trunk is watertight and clean. The couple traded the Tesla Model 3 for a Tesla Model Y because the sedan was just too small and the all-electric SUV was more practical. But the front trunk in the F-150 pickup, for new parents, is key.

"I grew up dancing my whole life and being a nurse, I'm constantly on my feet. My body takes a toll every day," Andrea Zebron told the Free Press. "The Lightning is higher up, chest high for me, so I don't really have to bend over much. And you can put the twins next to each other."

As a safety issue, she also mentioned the fact that their Lightning can recharge their all-electric Tesla if for some reason it runs out of battery charge in an emergency, or provide power to the house after a storm. The Lightning is essentially a generator on wheels.

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Child care experts weigh in

Anxiety about young children and their safety can be a serious issue for parents, experts say.

Jeff Gardere, a clinical and family psychologist who teaches at Touro University in New York, has four children over age 19 and two children under age 8. He has seen a shift in what's possible for parents.

"We went through the hassle of bringing kids into gas stations and rest stops or pulling off to the side of the road and changing diapers," he said. "It is necessary and can be very inconvenient. If you're a parent like me, you're concerned about cleanliness. Since the pandemic, parents are finding different ways to do things."

Dr. Jeff Gardere, of New York City, holds his children Nova, left, and Judah in August 2017 in Manhattan.

Gardere would not have changed diapers in a traditional trunk with its traditional uses, and spare tire, he said.

"This is promoting a new kind of ingenuity. Necessity is the mother of invention," he said. "Full disclosure: We're in line to get a Ford F-150 Lightning. We're on the list."

Potential solution for parents with older children

Sarah Douglas, a parent of three children who teaches child development at Michigan State University, said the Lightning may even help the many parents whose children have developmental issues that require toileting assistance at an older age.

"Look at it from the perspective of families who have children with disabilities, who support toileting and changing for sometimes their entire life," Douglas said. "What I’ve witnessed ... is parents who have to lay their child on the floor of a public bathroom. To be able to change them in a (truck) would be way better. This is all very stressful."

Sarah Douglas, a professor of human development and family studies at Michigan State University who specializes in autism and children with intellectual disabilities, is seen here on Aug. 19, 2017, in Okemos, Michigan.

Children with autism, for example, may have delayed toilet training or sensory issues, where flushing sounds can create discomfort. Many of these children have limited communication skills, she said. So they have needs that this sort of space can address for a family that might otherwise be forced to stay home, Douglas said.

"I have friends who struggled to travel with a child who has complex needs," Douglas said. "If they do travel, this is a huge issue. They go to a rest stop and everyone else can go to the bathroom but how do I change this child? This is about privacy and humane treatment and crucial to caregivers' mental health. I think this is big."

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Contact Phoebe Wall Howard: 313-618-1034 or Follow her on Twitter @phoebesaid.