And, we’re off! There are seven fully electric pickup models racing to come to market in less than two years. While the market for electric passenger car models blossomed, there was little tangible development news of electric pickup models — until an explosion of news starting last fall.
The development lag should be taken in the context of the mission of pickups. Unlike passenger cars, they’re bought to tow and haul stuff, which notoriously drain battery life — meaning it’s much harder to build an electric version at a reasonable price point with acceptable range.
Why is the market heating up now? Pickups are the second largest (to crossovers) yet most important vehicle segment in the U.S. It took a handful of newcomers — Rivian, Lordstown, Nikola, and of course Tesla — to jumpstart the action.
With its reveal at the 2018 Los Angeles Auto Show, Rivian’s R1T pickup was planned to be the first out of the gate with a fourth quarter release this year, but the coronavirus pandemic got in the way. Rivian shut down its Normal, Ill. production plant, the one it bought from Mitsubishi, in March.
Rivian seemed to be the furthest along in the production process, as the manufacturer was in “partial production” by mid-2019. However, the trucks now won’t reach buyers until 2021, though no timeframe within the year has been announced.
The R1T is clearly not aimed at fleets. With a starting MSRP of $69,000, the R1T is positioned as an “upscale lifestyle” model that looks to conquest Range Rover over Ford Ranger.
However, Rivian will factor into the commercial vehicle sector with its planned electric delivery van model built for Amazon. Unlike other independent electric vehicle manufacturers during the electrification 1.0 era, Rivian’s $1.3 billion in investments from Amazon, Cox Automotive, and Ford make it a serious player.
Another independent manufacturer, Lordstown Motors, is going directly after fleet business with its electric Endurance pickup, which had been planned for a December release. Lordstown, born from the Workhorse Group and famous new tenants of GM’s Lordstown Assembly Plant in Ohio, did have an engineering head start with the Workhorse W-15 electric pickup prototype.
Yet Lordstown Motors announced that the coronavirus pandemic affected its production as well, and it went so far as to put out a press statement that production will be delayed for a total of one month — from December 2020 to January 2021, with vehicles in fleets' parking lots by mid-2021.
Lordstown is still finalizing the plant architecture and had only recently started engineering of the manufacturing line. This timeline to production is truncated compared to Rivian’s, making a January 2021 production launch a task for both Hermes and Hercules.
Preorders for the Badger open June 29, with production planned for 2022. Nikola has yet to secure a production partner or facility to make the hydrogen-electric (or electric-only) pickup. For those following release timelines of alternative fuel vehicles, “less than two years” is a common refrain.
Nikola, which has yet to sell a truck, saw its market valuation surge to $31 billion — higher than Fiat Chrysler and Ford — in its first week of public trading.
And then there’s Tesla. Remember the independent animation Bambi Meets Godzilla? Tesla’s announcements seem to shake up the market with the same effect.
Elon Musk unveiled Tesla’s Cyberpunk (er, Cybertruck) last November to fanfare worthy of PT Barnum. The Cybertruck is due “by the end of 2021.” Tesla has yet to choose a production facility for the Cybertruck, making 2021 production another lightning-fast timeline.
General Motors revived the Hummer nameplate for its electric pickup, which is also slated for 2022 production. (Remember Arnold Schwarzenegger’s all-electric H-1 prototype?)
As the GMC Hummer electric is still in development rather than production, CEO Mary Barra indicated during the company’s first quarter earnings call that the Hummer and other planned electric models are “still on track” despite pandemic disruptions. However, this timeframe was moved back from a pre-pandemic announcement of a 2021 release.
GM announced a $2.2 billion investment to retool its Detroit-Hamtramck plant for EV production, including the Hummer.
And then there’s Ford, which decided to give some Tesla-style sizzle when it released a video of its electric F-150 prototype pulling a train. The electric F-150 was rumored to arrive “as early as 2021” as well, but the pandemic also pushed back Ford’s electric F-150 production timeline to mid-2022.
This puts Ford at the other end of the pickup truck electrification releases. Or perhaps it’s a sober assessment from a 117-year-old company that knows a bit about production timelines?
The stakes are high for all seven manufacturers, particularly for electric pickups, where performance is everything.
While Ford and GM haven’t released specs, the upstart manufacturers haven’t been shy. And they’re eye popping — proclaiming zero-to-60-mph times in three to five seconds, payloads of up to 3,500 lbs. and ability tow 11,000 lbs., while jumping tall buildings in a single bound.
Oh, and the entry price for the Cybertruck is $39,000. Manufacturers always lead with the lowest possible price and the most eye-popping specs, but the two never aligned in real life.
The stakes are seemingly the highest for Ford — its electric F-150 must perform like, well, the best-selling truck in the history of the world. (For this reason, perhaps GM chose to stick its e-pickup under the Hummer nameplate as opposed to Silverado.)
We’re in uncharted territory with electric pickups. These manufacturers have yet to release prolonged, real-world testing that reveal how normal pickup use will drain the range. It’ll take a while before we can see something like a traditional engine’s “B-Life” rating for life expectancy.
Let’s face it, automakers are never castigated too much for delayed release dates, as long as the product eventually arrives in a relatively similar form.
Ford’s motto here seems to be “You don’t need to be first; you need to get it right.”