So where are we with the electric pickup?
November was another solid month for electric vehicle sales in America: As InsideEVs reported, 13,337 all-electrics and plug-in hybrids were sold, 32.4 percent more than during November 2015.
But let’s put that figure in perspective. From Nov. 1-30, Ford sold 72,089 units of its F-series pickup alone, according to PickupTrucks.com. If you add in the Chevy Silverado, the Ram, the GMC Sierra and the Toyota Tacoma, the five most popular truck models outsold all EVs by more than 14 to 1. (See monthly and year-to-date pickup figures at right.)
Americans love pickups: They love the versatility, the power, the ability to haul hundreds of pounds of stuff from Home Depot, and to tow large toys like boats and motorcycle trailers.
And a big obstacle to widespread EV adoption is that the industry hasn’t come up with a viable, mainstream alternative for the segment of the population that has made pickups the most popular vehicle of any kind in the U.S.
Theoretically, Tesla Motors would change that by getting into the lucrative pickup market. On July 20, in a blog post authored by co-founder and CEO Elon Musk, he revealed the company’s “Master Plan, Part Deux” (a decade after Part Un). The array of ambitious ideas included a passing mention of the pickup:
Today, Tesla addresses two relatively small segments of premium sedans and SUVs. With the Model 3, a future compact SUV and a new kind of pickup truck, we plan to address most of the consumer market.
Musk floated the idea in 2013 as well. But in nearly three months since Deux was unveiled, neither he nor Tesla has elaborated on this “new kind of pickup.” I queried Tesla, and a spokeswoman replied: “Our Master Plan blog post is the extent of what we’re sharing right now.”
Of course, Tesla has been busy with its Solar City merger and SpaceX. But if it ever gets around to designing a pickup, it will find just how difficult the challenge is.
Read this July 21 Teslarati post from Aaron Turpen, a car expert who’s extremely smart about both pickups and EV technology. And I’m not just saying that because he’s from my home state of Wyoming (he lives in Pine Bluffs, near the Nebraska border). He catalogs the many obstacles for Tesla to build a “T-150,” a full-size pickup that would take market share away from Ford, Chevy and GM.
- The powertrain Tesla has used in the Model S and X “would not be sufficient” in a pickup. Driving it “under load,” while pulling a trailer, for instance, would drastically reduce the battery range. Weekend warriors who just want to get to the lake and back won’t like that.
- A truck would have to be durable for off-roading, and the Model S has had previous problems with “undercarriage breaches on the highway,” Turpen writes. A skid plate would provide protection, but it’d have to be long enough to cover the motor and battery pack. This would only add to the vehicle’s weight.
- “Another big roadblock is going to be the price tag.” Buyers likely would pay a premium to achieve the fuel savings inherent in an electric truck, but what’s the tipping point?
- The dealership dilemma. Many pickup drivers are outside Tesla’s demographic strongholds — the West Coast and big cities. Dealers everywhere have fought back against Tesla’s direct-to-consumer model. In Texas, the company isn’t even allowed to sell that way.
Turpen cites slow sales of an already-in-existence plug-in hybrid pickup, made by VIA Motors, as evidence of the challenges. VIA’s chairman, the 84-year-old Bob Lutz, who helped bring the Volt to market for GM, unveiled the hybrid pickup in early 2015. But Turpen says the vehicle’s combination of electric drivetrain and gasoline engine “only produce marginal range when trailering at capacity.”
GM also worked with the U.S. Army to build this boss-looking hydrogen-powered truck, but don’t look for that in a showroom anytime soon. And we’ve already let our feelings be known about the limitations of hydrogen.
Is an all-electric pickup, mass-produced for a reasonable price, feasible? And would it meet the high standards of America’s pickup owners, many of whom are brand-loyal going back generations? It’s a tall order.
But that’s never stopped Musk before.
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