Are Electric Pickup Trucks A Waste Of Valuable Resources?

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Once in a while, I browse the EV sub-reddit forum just to see what’s going on in the electric vehicle world that may have escaped the notice of the mainstream media. Today, I stumbled on a conversation begun by reddit user jeremyedwards1111 with this provocative title: Unpopular opinion: Cyber truck and electric F150 are a waste of resources. I couldn’t resist delving into that discussion and found more than 100 comments had been posted within 5 hours after the conversation started. Here’s what jeremyedwards1111 had to say: (lightly edited)

These cars are going to have north of 150 kWh batteries in them. That’s just a huge waste of resources. People on here like to mention how they never use all their battery in their EV. Imagine how many kWh will be wasted in these vehicles?

{Pickup trucks] are already purchased largely by people who have no need for their capabilities. Selling electric ones just switches this problem to different resources. Yes, I know someone will say “I transport manure, haul dead deer on Wednesdays, and pull my boat on Fridays” but you are less than 10% of pick up sales. Pick ups are the most popular car sale in Detroit and Boston. Not much manure hauling going on round there.

Not to mention these cars don’t require pedestrian safety regulations. They are 3x as likely to kill a pedestrian in a crash as a car. That’s hundreds of deaths in the US, just because of pickup sales. The answer is moving away from pickups, not electrifying them. Every pickup sold will have the batteries that could power 3 cars.

Image courtesy of GM

OK, let’s begin by saying it right up front. What this reddit user has to say is an opinion and as we all know, opinions are like noses — everybody has one. Still, he raises an interesting question. To make an electric pickup truck that does everything a conventional pickup can do will require enormous batteries. There are rumors the e-trucks of the future will have battery packs rated at 180 kWh or more. It’s pretty easy to see the battery cells needed for such giant batteries could power 3-5 smaller cars like the Renault Zoe, 1000 e-scooters, or 10,000 e-bikes. What is better for a global community that is struggling to reduce carbon emissions — one humongous pickup truck or 10,000 electric bicycles?

Silly question, right? It’s like comparing apples to casaba melons. Totally different use cases. Try suggesting to most people they should be riding an e-bike or e-scooter to work through rain, snow, and fog. Ultimately, the question comes down to the utilitarianism of Jeremy Bentham, which held that all human activity revolves around seeking pleasure and avoiding pain, or the “free will” approach favored by John Stuart Mill, whose writings on the subject may have been the reason the words “pursuit of happiness” appear prominently in the Declaration of Independence.

In Bentham’s world, we would all drive Yugos. In Mill’s world, we have choices and one of those choices is to drive an enormous SUV or pickup truck to work or to transport the kiddies to ballet lessons. The question then becomes, what if something that makes us happy puts other members of society at risk — in this case by adding carbon emissions to the environment? This is a debate that has been going on for millennia, which suggests it won’t be solved anytime soon.

Let’s look at some of the issues about electric pickup trucks raised in that reddit thread:

Buy Or Rent

Pro: In an ideal world, we would not buy a large truck to tow the boat to the lake one week a year. We would simply rent one when we need it.

Con: Renting has its own problems. Rental companies often place large deposits on your credit card that aren’t refunded until long after you return the vehicle. If the rental is damaged, most rental contracts allow the company to charge you for its loss of use of the vehicle while it is being repaired, even if the damage is not your fault. Those repairs can take months.

One Big Battery Or Many Small Batteries

Pro: It makes sense that if battery cells are in limited supply they should be apportioned to provide the greatest good to the largest number of people.

Con: Make more batteries. The more we make, the lower the unit cost for everyone will be.

Tackle The Big Polluters First

Pro: Pickup trucks tend to be some of the worst polluters on the road. The sooner we replace them with zero emission vehicles, the better for everybody.

Con: We could replace 3 to 5 regular cars for every electric pickup truck sold.

Introduce People To The Joy Of Driving Electric

Pro: When people transition from driving a big honking gas guzzling pickup truck to driving a big honking electric pickup, they will be so enamored with their electric truck they will never want to drive a vehicle powered by an infernal combustion engine again. They will tell their friends and co-workers, who will tell their friends and co-workers, and soon the whole world will be driving zero emission electric vehicles and smiling a lot.

Con: It’s still the one big battery versus lots of smaller batteries conundrum. See above.

Big Batteries Mean Big Battery Recycling Headaches

Pro: Bigger batteries will have fewer charge/discharge cycles over their lifetime, which means they will last a really long time before they need to be recycled.

Con: Bigger batteries mean more emissions during the manufacturing phase before we ever get to the recycling phase.

Big Trucks Are Dangerous To Others

Pro: There really aren’t any pros here. The Insurance Institute For Highway Safety reports that pickup trucks with their massive grilles (put there by stylists to project an image of power) are much more lethal to pedestrians than ordinary cars.  They are even worse than large SUVs.

Con: Plenty. See above.

Lifetime Emissions

Pro: Any electric vehicle will have lower lifetime emissions than any comparable conventional vehicle.

Con: Manufacturing a ginormous electric pickup truck and the 150 to 200 kWh battery needed to power it creates more emissions than would be created by building a smaller vehicle.

Bollinger B2 electric pickup truck
Image courtesy of Bollinger

The Takeaway

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The case for electric pickup trucks assumes that people should be able to drive any vehicle they desire — and can afford. In general, we here at CleanTechnica are in favor of all electric vehicles, even the 123 ton eDumper used by Lithium Systems. But we would be less than honest if we said huge electric pickup trucks with a bazillion gigajoules of capacity don’t add some harmful emissions to the environment.

For the time being, John Stuart Mill and his ideas about the “purfuit of happineff” (that’s what the words look like in the original Declaration of Independence) carry the day. Any EV is a good thing if it replaces a similar gasoline or diesel powered vehicle. So drive electric. Be happy. Just don’t try to convince anyone that you bought that new Hummer in your driveway solely to save the planet.

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new."

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