We Need Electric Pickup Trucks, And Soon — From Tesla & Others

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Complete electrification of the transportation sector is essential to reduce CO2 emissions and improve air quality. Most current conversations about EVs focus on sedans and, to a lesser extent, autonomous vehicles. Pickups, SUVs, and crossovers, however, continue to hold the majority share of light vehicle sales.

For example, if trends continue, by 2020, 90% of Ford’s vehicles will be trucks and SUVs. Right now, the “Big 3” US automakers have shown little interest in electrifying these larger, heavy-duty vehicles, leaving the market wide open. So, why haven’t more electric pickup trucks become available for mass market purchase? What’s the holdup?

Image courtesy Workhorse Group

Global emissions studies, such as those informing the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), highlight the importance of the transport sector for climate change mitigation. In a recent article about the exponential growth of EVs, I included discussion about the huge and largely untapped markets for electric pickup trucks and heavy-duty trucks.

Partially, the efficiency problems in these sectors are because vehicle manufacturers have increased truck performance at the expense of fuel economy, maintaining sustained demand for high-performance load and towing capacity. Others say vehicle weight is too high to support freight needs. But there are actually several electric pickup truck and heavy-duty vehicle prototypes and first-generation vehicles nearing commercialization.

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Tesla Electric Pickup Trucks Could Quiet Naysayers

In November 2018, Tesla CEO Elon Musk sat down with Kara Swisher, executive editor of Recode, and chatted about what a Tesla pickup might look like. His previous statements indicated that the Tesla pickup would feature four-wheel steering, automatic parallel parking capability, seating for 6 people, a 240 volt connection for power tools, and a maximum towing capacity of 300,000 pounds.

Photo by Kyle Field | CleanTechnica

“I’m personally super-excited by this pickup truck,” Musk said. It’s something I’ve been wanting to make for a long time. And I’ve been iterating sort of designs with Franz. … I really wanted something that’s like super-futuristic cyberpunk. If there’s only a small number of people that like that truck, I guess we’ll make a more conventional truck in the future. But it’s the thing that I am personally most fired up about. It’s gonna have a lot of titanium. I think this is the kinda thing the consumer would want to buy, even if they don’t normally buy a pickup truck.

“So, anyway, that’s personally what I’m most excited about. But, like I said, it could be just, like, okay, I weirdly like it, and other people don’t. That’s possible. But we’re gonna make it anyway, and then we will just have a niche audience, I don’t know. But if it does, then we’ll make a more conventional pickup truck.

“I can’t talk about the details, but it’s gonna be like a really futuristic-like cyberpunk, Blade Runner pickup truck. You know, I actually don’t know if a lot of people will buy this pickup truck or not, but I don’t care. I mean, I do care, eventually, you know. Like, sure, I care. We wanna get gasoline, diesel pickup trucks off the road,” Musk said.

A little hyperbole, a little fantasy, and — as always — a few pop culture allusions thrown in for spice. That’s what we’ve come to expect from Musk, and he rarely fails to oblige. The takeaway from this podcast is that a Tesla pickup is inching its way to the top of the Tesla design list and will seem more futuristic than current pickups (likely due in good part to aerodynamics to reduce drag). It will be another vehicle in the Tesla catalog that will expedite the transition to a zero-emissions transportation world.

In a tweet in December 2017, Musk said a pickup truck will come right after the 2020 rollout of the crossover Model Y. Tesla is just reaching volume production of the Model Y’s sedan sister Model 3 and trying to fill the demand for this size of car, so it probably is hesitant to infuse any distraction of the next model at this moment in time. One thing at a time.

The advent of the Tesla electric pickup is likely more than just a couple of years away. It’s a shame, as Tesla may be missing out on a huge market opportunity and an important mechanism to introduce an entire audience to EVs.

Electric Pickup Trucks & the Challenge of Drag

While the electrification of the transportation sector is underway with consistently increasing market share, segments like light commercial vehicles (LCVs) have not seen any significant market penetration. According to a Journal of Electrochemical Society (JES) study, demands for electric pickup trucks must take into account battery chemistries, load profiles, and sets of vehicle-specific drive cycles. When a better understanding exists of the performance of the pickup truck battery pack in real-world driving conditions over long periods of time through study of the implications of improved specific energy, power, and vehicle design, production processes may result in performance more amenable to mass electric pickup truck adaptation.

The main challenge, the authors say, is the payload because pickup truck owners often want to carry stuff weighing 1,000 pounds — or even a ton. To get further range and a lower sticker price, the drag coefficient will have to be improved and the cost of the battery brought down. This can be accomplished through vehicle cost reduction at a system level through a vehicle re-design by reducing the drag through lowering of the drag coefficient to about 0.2–0.3. This would reduce the pack size requirements.

While these could enable initial market penetration, the JES researchers say there is a need for further increasing the driving range and performance for mass-electrification. Let’s see what a couple of new electric vehicle companies have to say about that.

Workhorse Group: Addressing the Needs of Tradespeople in the Field

Workhorse N-GEN
Image courtesy Workhorse Group

AMP acquired the Workhorse brand and the Workhorse Custom Chassis assembly plant in Union City, IN, in March, 2015 and now manufactures new, medium-duty truck chassis in the 14,500 to 23,500 GVW class. Known now as the Workhorse Group, Inc., the company will be offering heavy-duty vehicles for delivery and light construction.

The NGEN- 100 is a lightweight electric delivery vehicle with curb weight of only 4,000 lb and 1,000 cubic feet of storage space. With composite design, 100-mile range, and 6,000 lb carrying capacity,  it is to be available in 4cargo sizes – 250, 450, 700 and 1,000 cubic feet. The lightweight electric vehicle has just gone into production.

The E GEN delivery van has range up to 100 miles, a Level 2 onboard charger, 3 gross vehicle weights from 14,500/ 19,500/ 23,500 lb, capacity of 700–1100 cu. ft., and a payload of 5,000-7,000 lb.

The W-15 electric pickup truck is the first plug-in range-extended electric pickup built from the ground up by an original equipment manufacturer (OEM), or automaker. Lithium-ion battery cells from Panasonic provide an 80 mile all-electric range, while the onboard generator works to recharge while driving to get the job done.

The truck will enter production in Q1, 2019. It will have carbon fiber frame rails and composite body panels. Workhorse has received hundreds of pre-orders for the W-15 from Duke Energy, Southern California Public Power Authority, and Ryder Systems. In addition, municipalities like Columbus, Ohio, and Orlando, Florida, have orders pending for this plug-in hybrid pickup.

Welectric pickup trucksorkhorse builds for WB Mason, and UPS uses the 2 cylinder range extender engine from the BMW i3 REx. The difference, Workhorse CEO Steve Burns explains, is the W-15 needs to meet the demands of utility companies who may suddenly find they have to send crews to help with outages several states away. The delivery vans can pause to let the engine catch up during the work day, if need be.

“We designed an electric pickup truck specifically to meet the needs of professional tradespeople who also often use power tools in their line of work. The ability to plug in their tools to run off the EV battery is a big benefit to those working in rural and urban environments where power availability and/or noise regulations are a limitation to using gas generators,” notes Duane Hughes, President of Workhorse Group, in response to a request for comment from CleanTechnica.

CityFreighter and XPO Sales Collaborate: 100 CF1 Full Electric Class 4 Trucks

Electro-mobility is a disruptive technology, according to Michael Schoening, president of CityFreighter, Inc. By 2030, 70% of all people will live in bigger cities, which will impact urban logistics and increase demand for sustainable, compact, pollution-free commercial vehicles. Regulatory changes for inner-city traffic will lead to a rapid increase in the sales of commercial electric vehicles for urban deliveries, often referred to as the “last mile.” These vehicles will require a reach of approximately 100 miles and maximum, modular load solutions. The IDTechEx report Last Mile Electric Vehicles 2018–2028 estimates that the last-mile EV market will reach over $792 billion by 2028.

Seeing the possibilities surrounding the electrification of commercial trucks for last-mile distribution, Schoening toured various EV production sites then developed a modular concept, a new brand, and decided to outsource production to reliable suppliers in order to concentrate on R&D and final assembly. For Schoening, this was a way to start an automotive manufacturing company with relatively low investment by leveraging the inherent advantages of e-mobility.

CityFreighter, Inc., was founded in June, 2018 and recently announced that it has entered into a strategic partnership with XPO Sales, Inc., which has agreed to purchase 100 CF1 Full Electric Class 4 Trucks for the last mile. The prototype of the CF1 truck will be presented in Q2 2019, and delivery of 100 commercial units is planned for Q1 2020. CityFreighter’s approach for medium-­duty commercial electric vehicles for the last mile combines front and back end integration with customers’ value chains — the goal of which is to meet the needs and challenges of future urban logistics. The company’s modular approach reduces tooling costs and development time and supports fast go-­to-­market plans through quickly scalable production volume.

Michael Schoening, President of CityFreighter, offered his personal insights into the new relationship with XOP Sales, Inc., in an exclusive comment for CleanTechnica. “When we met the first time with XPO Sales, we already could feel a common synergy and spirit. The partnership will support our fast growth, and it offers quick access to the important LA market. By just exchanging the combustion engine with an electric motor, you do not solve the problem entirely. For example, our driver-oriented approach to make trucks more attractive looking and user friendly will help to get new drivers on board. We are focusing as well on lowering the operation costs and coming up with very attractive pricing. Sustainability should not automatically mean expensive.”

electric pickup truckselectric pickup trucksImages courtesy CityFreighter

CF 1 has been developed as a fully electric, front-drive vehicle and contains multiple weight-reducing features, such as a very low-­weight cargo box.

The truck has a range of about 100 miles with an overnight fast-charging option.

The payload capacity will be 2.5 tons and with a minimum of 706 cubic feet.

The low-­loading level will be at around 44 cm (ca. 18”), and the rear axle will be equipped with an electric air suspension, which avoids the need for an electric lift system, reduces loading/unloading times, and significantly lessens driver strain.

The CF1 also has another design approach that differentiates it from the current market — a driver-friendly cockpit design that offers features like digital mirrors and a keyless truck operating system. Naturally, removing the mirrors will require regulator approval before going live in a commercial vehicle.

To finance the prototype, CityFreighter announced a public offering in September, 2018.

electric pickup trucks
Image courtesy CityFreighter

Final Thoughts

It seems likely that, very soon, electrification is set to come into trucking in a variety of ways and models. Electric trucks will become a viable option for many 21st century fleets, will prove their worth in real-world fleet operations, and will return compelling total cost of ownership numbers.

Fleets will provide the entry into mass consumer adoption of electric pickup trucks and heavy-duty vehicles for private use. As they will require new methods of operation and maintenance, certainly, there will be necessary adjustments and adaptations for first adopters.

But shippers and consumers are increasingly open to the idea of electric vehicles in their professional and personal lives as cost-effective, clean, reliable methods of transportation. They will, by example, convince naysayers that electric pickup trucks and other small electric commercial vehicles are the way to go.

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Carolyn Fortuna

Carolyn Fortuna, PhD, is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. Carolyn has won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavey Foundation. Carolyn is a small-time investor in Tesla and an owner of a 2022 Tesla Model Y as well as a 2017 Chevy Bolt. Please follow Carolyn on Substack: https://carolynfortuna.substack.com/.

Carolyn Fortuna has 1251 posts and counting. See all posts by Carolyn Fortuna