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The Workhorse W-15: The Electric Truck With A Lower Total Cost Of Ownership Than A Ford F-150

Today at the ACT Expo in Long Beach, the Workhorse Group unveiled its W-15 Plug in Hybrid Electric Pickup Truck. The electric truck has 80 miles of all-electric range (AER) paired with a gasoline-powered BMW range extender to enable a total range of 390 miles on a full charge and a full tank of gas.

Today at the ACT Expo in Long Beach, the Workhorse Group unveiled its W-15 Plug in Hybrid Electric Pickup Truck. The electric truck has 80 miles of all-electric range (AER) paired with a gasoline-powered BMW range extender to enable a total range of 390 miles on a full charge and a full tank of gas.

The unveiling of the production version of the Workhorse W-15 PHEV pickup truck, which we have covered a few times previously, shows the world the new standard for fleet pickup truck efficiency and effectiveness. For the gearheads in the room, yes, the W-15 can lay down the rubber with 460 horsepower and full torque available at zero RPMs, which enables this beast to go 0-60 in just 5.5 seconds.

The battery pack is 60 kWh nameplate with 45 kWh usable to ensure a long life for the pack. This nets out to about 1.78 miles per kWh, which is not great, but for a 7,200 pound truck, it’s about what you would expect. On the gasoline front, it gets 32 mpg highway and 28 mpg city, which is very respectable for a truck.

The Workhorse W-15: Built for Fleets

The W-15 was designed from the ground up as a new take on the pickup truck, with an aim to meet the vast majority of the needs of fleet managers with a zero-emission footprint.

Perhaps equally impressive is the fact that the W-15 is priced at an extremely competitive $52,500, which, due to fuel savings and lower maintenance, comes in at a lower total cost of ownership (TCO) than a comparable Ford F-150. While new technologies always feel risky for fleet managers who bank on predictable track records and stable returns on investments, the financial bottom line is a powerful motivator when it comes time to purchase the next batch of vehicles.

As with most battery-electric vehicles, the W-15 does have a higher sticker price than a comparable internal combustion truck but it makes up the difference over the life of the vehicle with lower fueling costs and lower maintenance. I spoke with Workhorse Group CEO Steve Burns about the W-15 and he shared that it costs 20% as much to charge as a comparable diesel vehicle.

The savings add up quickly, paying off the purchase price premium in around 2 years, meaning that fleet managers will be able to rake in these savings for the rest of the life of the vehicle, resulting in the lower TCO. The W-15 is currently only for sale to fleet managers, which is almost the perfect audience for a financial picture like this, and one that turns traditional models on their heads.

All signs point to Workhorse Group having designed a product that resonates with fleet managers, as it previously announced that it had secured Letters of Intent (LOI) for 1,000 W-15s — enough for Workhorse to move the vehicle into production planning. In addition, Steve Burns shared that Workhorse will announce additional orders it has secured at the ACT Expo this week.

A Plug-In Hybrid Electric … Truck?

Truck owners have a reputation for being tough, for needing a truck that can take a beating, that has endless power and a full tank (or two) of gas (or diesel) that can get them anywhere in the world, on the road or off. So, on the surface, it seems like a rough market for a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle. Digging into the details, however, reveals a compelling set of facts.

Many fleet vehicles travel predictable routes for the most part. Duke Energy trucks, for example, travel an average of 40 miles per day. That means that Duke could convert its fleet of thousands of trucks to a PHEV like the W-15 and run them almost every day on fully electric power (that it also happens to provide), resulting in real cuts to emissions and real financial savings.

As with most consumers, the tough use cases are on the fringes — that handful of times per year when a hurricane hits or a big job is happening in the next state over and Duke needs to get its teams from the region on site. That’s where the range extender (REx) kicks in. In addition to the 80 miles of all-electric range, the W-15 can travel an additional 310 miles on the BMW REx, which is the same unit that the BMW i3 uses. The Workhorse team views the REx as an insurance policy for niche use cases and to give fleet managers the peace of mind that they’re not losing functionality by purchasing a PHEV. It can still do everything that an internal combustion vehicle could do … and then some.

workhorse w-15

That’s not to say that the W-15 is a shoe-in. While it does appear to have strong traction with fleet managers and even a few consumers who have expressed interest in the truck, there are a number of very real, very difficult hurdles the group has to overcome to achieve success with customers. First and foremost, service. Tesla found out firsthand that it is one thing to get a few thousand vehicles on roads around the world, but that it is another matter entirely to be able to keep them running.

Workhorse Group must ensure fleet managers have what they need in terms of regional support to give the W-15 a fighting chance of survival. With many fleet managers handling their own maintenance and the W-15 not needing nearly as much maintenance as a comparable diesel or gasoline truck, it already has a headstart, but service is definitely an area to keep an eye on as the W-15 moves into production.

Who is Workhorse Group?

The Workhorse Group was originally established in 2007 as Amp Electric Vehicles as a “developmental stage electric vehicle company” that started out with electrifying 2-seater roadsters (sound familiar?). It has fleets in its blood and over the last decade has worked tirelessly to bring innovative solutions to fleet managers around the world. Most recently, Workhorse developed and delivered an electric box truck to market.

The team stepped up its efforts with electric vehicles when the USPS put up the largest request for vehicles in history — it requested bids to upgrade its entire fleet of 180,000 vehicles to electricity. Workhorse saw an opportunity that was too good to pass up and built up a vehicle for the submission. 60 manufacturers initially put in bids, which have since been whittled down to a final 5. While the specifics of the contracting process are still under wraps as part of the agreement, Burns shared that Workhorse is one of the final 5.

Burns shared with me that, “in September, we gave the prototypes of our vehicle to the post office.” He’s hopeful that Workhorse will know within a year who won the bid. It was the learnings from the rigorous process for the USPS bid that convinced the team that the W-15 was possible and that the potential existed for it to disrupt the fleet pickup truck market. “We realized we had basically built a pickup truck.”

A PHEV Pickup for the Masses

It’s clear that fleets are the core focus for the W-15 at launch, but it has gained a surprising following with consumers. They are attracted to the immense torque the W-15 puts out at zero RPMs, the onboard power output capability, and the cost savings vs a fossil fuel truck. CEO Steve Burns shared with me:

“Nobody likes getting 15 miles per gallon. If we can make a pickup that gets the equivalent of 75 miles per gallon, that could be enough to sell a lot of trucks to consumers.”

The W-15 is compelling for all the usual reasons as well. It looks like a beast. It was built with a full steel chassis to ensure durability with carbon fiber (!) body panels to keep the weight to a minimum as much as possible with the onboard 60 kWh battery pack (45 kWh usable). It ditched the conventional leaf springs found in trucks for a 4-wheel independent suspension that provides a much smoother ride and better control of traction.

Traction is a common issue in high-power pickup trucks, as the rear wheels have very little of the vehicle weight on them. The improved suspension paired with the additional weight of the centrally located battery pack gives the W-15 far better traction than comparable pickups, but at a cost — it comes in at a curb weight of a staggering 7,200 pounds. Burns shared, however, that “we anticipate it to get better traction than any gasoline or diesel all-wheel-drive truck” as a result.

Safety First

Similar to the Tesla Model S and Model X, the W-15 has a frunk that gives it a much larger crumple zone than internal combustion vehicles. It is not in production until late 2018, so it has not been through the NHTSA safety rating process, but Burns is confident, noting that, “we think it’s going to be the safest pickup developed.”

Beyond the crumple zone, Automatic Emergency Braking is standard on the W-15 on all trim packages, giving every W-15 driver the benefit of this advance safety feature. This is a feature familiar to CleanTechnica readers, as it has recently been in the news for Tesla, which only implemented the feature on Autopilot 2.0 vehicles last week after getting dinged by Consumer Reports for the missing feature.

The Elephant in the Room

Tesla. With Tesla having recently announced that it is building a pickup truck that will be revealed in 2018, the competition faced by the W-15 in the plug-in truck market is clear. Having said that, Workhorse has already established a clear position in the market and has earned footholds with major fleets across the United States.

Steve Burns talked with me a bit about Tesla, noting that, “We have great respect for Tesla but a pickup truck is very different than a passenger vehicle. We know fleets. We know truck drivers.” It is out of their deep knowledge of trucks and fleets that Workhorse has built its W-15.

The W-15 will move into production in late 2018 in its Union City, Ohio, factory and has already secured orders for the first year of production. Workhorse has the capacity to ramp up to 60,000 vehicles per year depending on demand. At launch, the vehicle will have a base set of options that the team believes will satisfy the needs of most fleets, and it has plans to add more options in the future based on input from customers.

Watch the Reveal

The big reveal of the W-15 was on May 2nd, 2017, at 5:00 pm Pacific Time, but you can replay it on Workhorse Group’s Facebook Page to take in all the action firsthand.

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I'm a tech geek passionately in search of actionable ways to reduce the negative impact my life has on the planet, save money and reduce stress. Live intentionally, make conscious decisions, love more, act responsibly, play. The more you know, the less you need. As an activist investor, Kyle owns long term holdings in Tesla, Lightning eMotors, Arcimoto, and SolarEdge.


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