A recent article in the Detroit Free Press issues a broadside attack on electric pickup trucks. Here’s how the story by Mark Phalen begins: “Who needs an electric pickup? Why? There’s no evidence consumers are clamoring for battery-powered pickups, but the auto industry and investment communities can’t stop talking about them.”
“Just this year Amazon and Ford have led investments topping $1.2 billion in Plymouth-based electric vehicle startup Rivian. Rivian’s EV pickup program also led to a technology sharing deal with Ford. On top of that, GM and Ford are racing to sell their own electric pickups. Tesla has promised one, too, in keeping with the EV specialist’s record of promising everything except consistent profits.
“That’s a lot of action for a type of vehicle whose track record so far consists of the short-lived Ford Ranger, a 1998-2002 compact pickup with electric systems so basic you couldn’t sell a lawn mower with ‘em today. There’s no evidence the people who buy pickups are clamoring for EVs. Why the rush?”
Good points, Mark, assuming you take the position that Americans should be free to kill their neighbors and neighborhoods with gasoline and diesel engine pollution. If your thinking is that shallow, then you are 100% correct to question the need for electric pickup trucks.
Phalen quotes with approval IHS Markit analyst Stephanie Brinley, who asks, “Who wants them? Lifestyle and luxury pickup buyers still want their trucks to be able to do pickup stuff,” like off-roading, and towing horse trailers and fifth-wheel campers all day. “An EV pickup still needs to perform.”
What Is A Pickup Truck?
Let’s see if we can gain a little clarity here. What, exactly, is a pickup truck and why do so many people want one? Let’s start by saying that there is direct, complex link between vehicle owners and their vehicles. If all we needed was basic transportation that would get us to work and back every day, a Yugo would suffice. Or even a godawful East German Trabant would get the job done, or an early Hyundai Excel.
Any qualified salesperson knows we make our buying decision on emotion and justify them later with facts. The automakers certainly understand this dynamic very well. They have used it to create an aura of rugged individuality that envelopes pickup trucks. That gloss is equal parts Marlboro man and American cowboy with a large dollop of patriotism rolled in. It is a distillation of the Monroe Doctrine and American exceptionalism and the auto manufacturers sell the bejezus out of the myth they have created.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t have any inherent bias against pickups. I have a friend who has a Ford F-150 Eco-Boost he uses to tow his camper from Prince Edward Island to Florida and back every year. I got to ride in it for a day earlier this year and I have to say, it was one of the smoothest, quietest vehicles I have ever been in.
It has tons of head, leg, and shoulder room. The engine is nearly silent, gear changers are imperceptible, and the ride is supple in a way few cars can match. For him, there is no other vehicle on Earth that can do what his F-150 can do and I understand why he loves his truck.
I also understand that some people use a truck as a work tool. They really do haul 1500 lb of cement or rebar or gravel every day. They really do tow bobcats and backhoes as part of making a living. They work on ranches or at construction sites where moving stuff around is part and parcel of a normal day’s work.
But I submit these people are not the majority of pickup truck owners, the ones I call “country club poseurs.” These are the people you see tooling on down to Home Depot in their Super Duties to pick up a 5 pound box of 12d nails and a half dozen 2X4’s. They use them to commute to work, go to the mall to buy BVDs, or ferry the kidlets to and from school.
They drive a pickup truck because they think if it says “Off Road” in big letters on the side, that means others will see them as iconic American macho men, powerful and brawny in a way that a Corolla or a Civic cannot. These willing sheep are easily sucked in by the marketing hype and only too willing to sign up for a 6, 7, or even 8 year loan so they can clamber up into the cab and be the envy of all around them.
The automakers make obscene profits on these vehicles and the gargantuan SUVs based on them and so they market the snot out of the pickup truck myth, knowing there are plenty of suckers our there ready to pay whatever it takes to become part of the good old boys club.
Why An Electric Pickup?
“Electric vehicle demand, for all sorts of reasons, is perpetually stuck in the low single digits” of market share, Eric Noble president of The Carlab, an Orange, California, consulting firm tells Freep without any pretense of supporting his assertions with actual facts. “Pickups are, by far, the largest segment in North America, so even a small percentage has the potential to break records.
“Of course, smaller, lighter EVs are more efficient than pickups, but that’s never been what consumers want, to scoot around in purgatorial Fiat 500s, Chevy Bolts, and Nissan Leafs. Buyers want big, red-blooded vehicles that are ready for anything, and they’d like them guilt-free,” he says.
“Purgatorial?” Up yours, Eric.
One thing that an electric pickup has more than any gasoline- or diesel-powered truck is torque — great gobs of stump-pulling, trailer-towing, hill-climbing torque — enough to gladden the heart of any truck owner. It also would cost less to maintain, less to service, and less to fuel. Those are things that should appeal to plenty of would-be buyers.
Concerns about charging time are relevant in some cases, such as people heading out for the lake house 5 states away with a ski boat in tow but a pickup with 400 miles of range like the Rivian should be recharged right at home in the garage 98% of the time just like any other EV. An argument can be made that if you need a truck once or twice a year, it would be wiser to rent one when you need it. Paying a loan for 6+ years and suffering with inferior gas mileage all the rest of the year makes little economic or practical sense.
“Consumers don’t express strong interest in buying EV pickups, but fleets might,” Autotrader executive analyst Michelle Krebs says. Like Eric Noble, she offers no basis for her statements about how there is no interest in electric pickup trucks. “EV pickups may best be suited for commercial fleets, such as those owned by energy companies.” Oddly enough, that is precisely the market being targeted by Workhorse, whose W-15 battery electric pickup has been designed from the ground up for fleet customers. It is expected to go into volume production later this year.
Gasoline- And Diesel-Powered Vehicles Are Killing Us
The larger question is, why should Americans think it is okay to fill the skies with fine particulates from burning gasoline and diesel fuel when those pollutants are known to have serious impacts on human health, leading to more disease and shorter lives? Is the macho man bullshit enough to excuse such antisocial behavior?
A tip of the CleanTechnica hat to Andrea Bertoli