Electric Pickups Loom

April 21, 2021

As pickup trucks have achieved more popularity than ever, truck makers have piled on the amenities and jacked up model sizes, weights, and horsepower—as well as their profit margins—but the race to develop electric-powered pickups is well underway and holds some promise for fuel- and environment-conscious fleets.

The first questions fleet managers will likely have about electric pickups, however, center on their range and acquisition cost. Secondary concerns will likely be about the availability of charging infrastructure, especially in rural areas, and battery life.

As for conventional gasoline- and diesel-powered pickup trucks, their costs have gone up, due in part to “premium” items added to many models to make them more like mobile offices and luxury cars, and sheer weight.

Truck makers have also taken advantage of increased popularity and robust market conditions to boost profits. In May of last year, pickup trucks achieved a first: More pickups were purchased than cars in the U.S.

Pickup truck prices

According to a recent article on Bloomberg.com, the average pickup truck in the U.S. sells for almost $50,000 now, a 41 percent increase in the last decade.

Also, pickups have gained nearly 1,300 pounds on average, with some weighing close to 7,000 pounds, nearly the equivalent of three compact cars.

In 2020, 85 percent of pickup trucks sold had crew cabs or extended crew cabs, which are usually two sets of seats for five people, and often with four doors. The trend has proven so popular that Ram has stopped offering single cabs in its best-selling models.

Buying larger hasn’t automatically translated to increased losses in fuel efficiency.

A 2021 Ford F-150 hybrid can achieve 25 miles per gallon in the city, six more than a Honda Odyssey minivan. “We have gotten better at making them more efficient,” Benjamin Sovacool, a researcher who studies energy transitions, told Bloomberg.

Thankfully for equipment managers, larger commercial pickups also qualify for a 100 percent depreciation bonus upon year one.

The business tax structure also encourages many business owners to opt for the bigger F-250 over the F-150, making the added cost almost negligible, Bloomberg.com reported. The F-250, Ram 2500, and Chevy Silverado 2500HD have commercial vehicle regulatory status.

Who makes electric pickup trucks?

In addition to an electric version of the popular Ford F-150 and a recently announced Chevy Silverado electric pickup by conventional truck makers, at least seven other manufacturers are moving forward with electric pickup trucks. Some may yet debut in 2021, but as with many product launches, plans were pushed back due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Truck makers not only sense a more receptive customer base, but they also benefit from advances in battery technology—and reduced prices.

Since 2010, battery prices have fallen 87 percent, according to Colin McKerracher, head of transport analysis, Bloomberg.net. Profit margins are becoming more reasonable for battery packs and bulk purchases by manufacturers.

How much does an electric pickup truck cost?

Price estimates released so far for electric pickups range from $39,900 to $125,000.

At the low end of that price range is Tesla’s Cybertruck. Elon Musk’s company, unlike some of the other prospective electric pickup manufacturers, already has a track record of bringing electric vehicles to market.        

Tesla says it is bringing three models to market. The Cybertruck is a single-motor rear-wheel-drive unit, with a range of 250 miles, a 0 to 60 mph time of under 6.5 seconds, and 7,500 pounds of towing capacity.

A dual-motor all-wheel drive (AWD) model will have a range of 300 miles, travel 0 to 60 mph in less than 4.5 seconds, and tow 10,00 pounds.

The tri-motor AWD version will have a range of 500 miles, reach 60 mph in under 2.9 seconds, and tow 14,000 pounds.

According to The Verge website at the time of the Cybertruck’s unveiling in 2019, the three models will cost $39,900, $49,000, and $69,900 respectively. Tesla’s site is heavy on specs and images but does not currently show electric pickup retail prices.

Another electric pickup manufacturer, Lordstown, which produced its Endurance truck prototype and Alpha builds in 2020, at press time had entered its Endurance Beta skateboard chassis in the 2021 SCORE International San Felipe 250, part of the SCORE World Desert Championship race series. The 290-mile single loop race starts and finishes in San Felipe, Baja California, Mexico. The Mexican desert race course is considered one of the most grueling in the world, according to a press release on the event.

Forbes says Lordstown is gearing up to race the “guts” of the truck—a skateboard chassis and powertrain—across the desert. The main reason for testing the truck in an unfinished state is to make sure the finished product will be able to haul the gear and deliver the power truck buyers are looking for.

The Endurance is slated to be a full-size, all-electric pickup that has a range of 250 miles, the equivalent of 600 horsepower, and can tow up to 7,500 pounds.

“We feel that it is quite a significant milestone for the electric vehicle community that an electric pickup truck can compete in an environment as demanding as Baja California,” said Steve Burns, CEO of Lordstown Motors. “Our goal is to be the first electric vehicle to ever complete the San Felipe 250.”

Lordstown is named after the Ohio town in which it has established its plant and headquarters. The company bought a shuttered GM plant that formerly manufactured the Chevy Cruze. GM is said to be a supporter of the company.

GMC is reviving the Hummer brand with the Hummer EV pickup, claiming more than 1,000 horsepower and the ability to go from 0 to 60 mph in approximately three seconds.

The Hummer EV Edition 1 (MSRP $112,595) is slated for fall availability, and GMC says “reservations are full.” Other, less expensive models (there will be four, in all), can still be reserved for deliveries ranging from fall 2022 to spring 2024, the company says.

The Nikola Badger will be equipped with a hydrogen fuel cell and have a range of 600 miles. Both Nikola and Lordstown have drawn negative attention from short-selling firm Hindenburg Research.

The firm has asserted Lordstown misled investors about demand for its product and its production capabilities. Hindenburg accused Nikola of fraud last year, leading to its founder stepping down. Both companies continue their work unabated.

Rivian’s R1T pickup truck, to be produced in a former Mitsubishi plant in Normal, Illinois, has attracted Ford and Amazon as part of its investor group. It has signed a lease in Brooklyn for a New York City retail store. The lease spans more than 12,000 square feet and will be a showroom for electric vehicles. The company is also creating showrooms in Chicago and the Los Angeles area. Rivian was preparing to deliver its first Launch Edition R1T pickups and R1S SUVs as early as June, according to the Pantagraph newspaper in Bloomington-Normal, Illinois. The company’s site now says the R1T will be delivered in January, 2022.

Interestingly, the company is seeking to sell directly to consumers and not use dealers. The starting price for an RT1 is $69,000 but options could reportedly run it toward $100,000.

There is also the Bollinger B2 ($125,000), and Atlis Motor Vehicles, which is looking to produce its XT electric pickup.

It is specifically aiming at fleet owners and promises to offer a service body configuration, as well as a flatbed option.

All of these companies offer slick websites with varying degrees of information, and some still openly court investors on their homepages, perhaps signaling availability may be later rather than sooner.

Will electric pickup trucks perform?

What remains to be seen, outside of acquisition cost and actual electric pickup models being sold and seen on the road, is whether they will stand up to the job and a fleet’s bottom line.

Potential issues include loss of range when towing a load, adequate charging infrastructure, whether in the yard, on the road or at far-flung job sites, and battery life. And when batteries do need to be replaced, how much will they cost?

Managers will have consider all the angles—and do the math—before adding electric pickups to the fleet.