A suggestion for auto advertisers: Nix the hard hats.
Tone down the falling lumber, avalanches of boulders and slow-motion suspension sag as a super-sized truck bed swallows all that dreck.
Cowboy cosplay never gets old and certainly sells some trucks, but we just don’t work that tough—at least not the majority of the 2.5 million Americans who bought a pickup truck last year. The rig has largely taken the place of the minivan, the sedan and pretty much everything in between. It’s even hauling off a hunk of the SUV market.
So when it comes to the parade of electric pickup trucks finally heading to dealerships and directly to customers—at least a dozen are in the works—auto executives finally have an easy answer to the industry’s perennial question: Who’s going to buy this thing?
Simply put: most everyone who drives.
“We’re seeing customers come out of just about everything,” says RJ Scaringe, founder and chief executive officer of Rivian Automotive Inc., which is expected to launch one of the first battery-powered pickups in June. “Of course, [they’re] coming out of pickups, but often—more likely—coming out of SUVs, out of other electric vehicles.”
The hurdles, for Scaringe and his rivals, aren’t insignificant. For one, many of the promised pickups are coming from startups that have never built a thing, let alone spent decades fine-tuning supply chains and ecosystems of dealers and service infrastructure. Already, some of those in the e-truck race are struggling to pick up any speed, let alone finish.
The window stickers will be supersized as well. While a bare-bones Ford Ranger that runs on dinosaur goo can be had for about $25,000, analysts expect the simplest of these quiet rigs to command close to $50,000. General Motors plans to get six figures for its GMC Hummer EV, as does Bollinger, one of the newbies. Government subsidies for going green would help. Those have been hard to come by under President Donald Trump, but are expected to grow under President-elect Joe Biden, who has promised a huge expansion of charging stations.
Though Rivian’s new rig and its electric rivals will certainly be capable of hard labor, automakers shouldn’t worry too much about toughness, towing or even charging capacity in the corn belt and across the oil fields of Oklahoma. Their shiny, battery-powered half-tons will swamp the coasts, from the suburbs of Boston to the senior centers of Florida and west to Portlandia. Because that’s where their gas-burning trucks go these days, according to registration data compiled by IHS Markit.
Not that persuading Americans to plug in their vehicles has ever been an easy sell. EVs occupy just about 2% of the U.S. market, and the vast majority of those sales belong to one company, Tesla. A combination of lax environmental regulations and Americans’ fear of running out of juice has left the U.S. badly trailing China and Europe in EV uptake.
In the past decade, the $90 billion U.S. truck market has veered notably toward buyers like Danielle Woodford. The Charleston, South Carolina, medical researcher just ditched her Volvo station wagon for a Ford F-150 with plush trim and a touch-screen dash. Woodford mostly ferries her two young daughters around town in the pickup. Twice a month, when she stages apartments for local realtors, the F-150’s bed comes in handy for furniture. Plus, the heated seats and buttery leather are more opulent than what her old Volvo offered.
“It won’t fit in the parking garage near my work … and it has a hell of a blind spot,” she explains. “The girls love it though. We just went to the drive-in theater and got to sit in the bed.”
Texas is still America’s truck capital, accounting for almost one in eight pickup sales. However, it is closely followed by California and Florida, hardly the heartland. New York comes in No. 5 in truck sales, with almost 4% of the market.
It’s not that wheat farmers and cattle ranchers are switching to hatchbacks. Rather, families have realized that a pickup handles a Costco run with ease—and relative efficiency. Woodford’s new rig has a supersized cab but still manages 22 miles per gallon. The trucks have been pulling in a widening demographic of weekend warriors as sales of towable campers, boats and other five-figure toys surged in recent years. Last year, U.S. consumers bought 280,000 boats, the second-highest tally since 2007, according to the National Marine Manufacturers Association.
None of this was lost on the auto executives as they started to greenlight a crush of electric trucks. Hau Thai-Tang, Ford Motor Co.’s head of product development, said the company is sanguine about electrification. “I personally think the transition will play out faster than most people think,” he explains. “I don’t think it’s going to be linear; I think we’ll reach an inflection point,” in the next few years.
Thai-Tang noted that the pickup market in particular has two features that work well with electric drivetrains: It’s huge and relatively lucrative. The scale and padding on the sticker price push the unit economics into profit faster than they would on, say, a compact electric sedan.
The pickup crowd is not, traditionally, the greenest consumer demographic. But it does pay attention to technology gains and puts a premium on curbside appeal. Gary Silberg, head of the auto sector at consultant KPMG, thinks tradesmen and ranchers may not jump into electric trucks right away, but he expects orders to flow in from “a new breed of buyer looking to make a statement.” Consider Rihanna, who took part in the unveiling of Rivian’s pickup prototype in Los Angeles. “That’s the new market opportunity,” Silberg says. “That was chic and cool and went right at the Hollywood crowd.”
Not all the startups will survive. Nikola and Fisker seem particularly precarious, analysts say. GM on November 30 dramatically downscaled its support of Nikola; Fisker has a track record of failure. Those that don’t make it might still get picked apart by a legacy automaker looking to benefit from any marketing juice left in the brands.
EVgo, the nation’s largest network of fast-charging stations, has been prepping for months. It’s been developing larger sites that can handle trailers, beefing up the capacity of its cords and trying to predict which quarter-panel of the electric pickups will contain the charging port. “It’s a bit like playing real-time Tetris,” explains Ivo Steklac, the company’s chief operating officer and chief technology officer.
What EVgo isn’t overly worried about is building new infrastructure in rural places. “I guess, to a certain extent, it was a good surprise to see that [the truck market] doesn’t necessarily tilt towards purely rural,” Steklac says. “There’s definitely solid coverage in the top 10 areas.”
ChargePoint, the largest global operator of EV stations, is preparing for a spike in demand as silent trucks pick up a swath of customers who aren’t into just tiny green hatchbacks and sleek sedans. Traditional, car-shaped cars account for less than one-quarter of the U.S. auto market now, and CEO Pasquale Romano has been watching that trend line steepen.
“I’ve been saying this for years, but you need aspirational vehicles if you’re going to establish a new trend with consumers,” Romano says. This means electric vehicles might finally find mainstream acceptance by hitching their wagon to the star model in America: pickups.
Explanation of/notes on Probability and other data below can be found in Footnotes at bottom
. The following models are ordered by anticipated production date at time of publication.
With a list of powerhouse institutional and strategic investors—including Amazon.com Inc., Ford Motor Co. and BlackRock Inc.—and $6 billion raised, Rivian is the front-runner to bring an electric pickup to market. U.S. deliveries of its launch edition pickup are expected to start in June 2021 and expand to Canada in November. Pre-production already is underway at the company’s 3.2-million-square-foot factory in a former Mitsubishi plant in Normal, Illinois.
First unveiled at the Los Angeles Auto Show in November 2018, the truck drew attention, in large part because it came from a company and founder, RJ Scaringe, that the world knew little about. Scaringe is an MIT graduate with a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering. He’s grown his startup to about 3,000 employees working at the Illinois plant and offices in Michigan and California.
The R1T was designed to be what Scaringe calls an “electric adventure vehicle” for lovers of the outdoors. It’s well-suited, the company says, to mountain biking, kayaking and off-roading. There’s even an option for a pull-out kitchen and work station. Beyond the thrill seekers, Rivian says it’s seeing a lot of demand from first-time EV buyers, as well as owners of smaller EV models such as sedans and gas pickups. Given the interest, and pre-orders, Scaringe has said he expects production capacity limits to persist through 2023. —Ed Ludlow
Tesla Inc. Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk unveiled a prototype of the Cybertruck, the Silicon Valley company’s New Age answer to the familiar pickup, just over one year ago. “Trucks have been the same for a very long time—like 100 years,” Musk said. “We want to try something different.”
The company promises better utility than gas-powered trucks, with the performance of a sports car. The “Blade Runner”-inspired angular vehicle is made of stainless steel, has an estimated range of 250 miles per charge and can tow 7,500 pounds for the single-motor version. Dual-and triple-motor models offer greater range and more towing capacity heft.
Tesla is designing the Cybertruck for the American market, which Musk says is the biggest market for large pickup trucks. He has vowed that production—of the dual and tri-motor versions—will begin in late 2021 at the company’s new factory in Austin, Texas, which is under construction.
Buyers can place a fully refundable $100 deposit via Tesla’s website and complete the model configuration as production approaches. The single-motor version, which begins at $39,900, is not expected to be produced until late 2022. Musk has said Tesla already has received well over half a million orders. —Dana Hull
Robert Bollinger got the idea to build electric trucks while driving his Chevy pickup on an organic beef farm he owned in upstate New York. It ran on gasoline, didn’t steer well with four-wheel drive engaged and needed higher ground-clearance for going off-road. So he started Bollinger Motors in 2015 with money he made selling his stake in John Masters Organics, a New York-based maker of organic hair products.
After cashing out as chief operating officer and part owner of John Masters, he used some of his own funds to build prototypes and is raising money to get the B1 sport-utility vehicle and B2 pickup into production with a manufacturing partner. Bollinger is in the middle of a $50 million round, but special purpose acquisition companies are interested in taking it public. If the founder decides to sell a stake to one of them, the proceeds would get the truck, SUV and delivery vans on the fast track.
The boxy pickup will have an all-aluminum body and start at $125,000 when it goes on sale. The target market includes fleet buyers who need medium-duty work trucks, shippers who require clean vehicles for last-mile delivery of goods and individual owners who like the B2 for its edged-off, utilitarian design. —David Welch
General Motors GMC Hummer EV
The lynchpin to GM’s $27 billion plan to roll out 30 new electric models by 2025 is the least likely of suspects: the second coming of the military-style, gas-chugging Hummer 1 SUV that first debuted in 1992.
Not that this bad boy won’t still be loud, even if the engine is quiet. GMC’s all-electric Hummer comes with a promised 1,000 horsepower, a removable roof and the ability to crabwalk over tough terrain with a novelty feature that turns all four wheels sideways. Available adaptive air suspension, underbody armor and knobby Goodyear 37-inch tires portend well for making the Hummer EV extremely off-road capable. It may not roar from a stop, but a 0-60 sprint time that bests most sports cars will keep the macho streak going.
The new Hummer EV, which was unveiled on Oct. 21, will be the first vehicle to roll out of the assembly plant called Factory Zero, GM’s refurbished manufacturing facility in Hamtramck, Michigan. As you might expect, a small American flag badge is hidden behind the rear door.
“It’s mind-blowing and exciting that you take what was the symbol of internal-combustion consumption and transform it into an EV,” Mike Jackson, chairman and chief executive officer of retailer AutoNation Inc., said in an interview. “I think it’s going to do great.” —Hannah Elliott
Lordstown Motors Endurance
Lordstown Motors Corp. takes its name from the Northeast Ohio village where it plans to build its Endurance trucks. The startup bought the former General Motors assembly plant in Lordstown in 2019, after GM decided to abandon the 6.2-million-square-foot factory where it used to build Chevy Cruze sedans. GM’s decision to shutter the plant had drawn criticism from President Donald Trump, who had promised to bring back manufacturing jobs in the region. Trump called it “GREAT NEWS” when Lordstown stepped in to take over the space and sent Vice President Mike Pence to the unveiling of the Endurance earlier this year. “It’s a great new beginning for Lordstown and a great new beginning for electric vehicles in the U.S.,” said Pence.
It will take a lot to live up to the hype. GM once employed 10,000 people at the plant and churned out hundreds of thousands of vehicles per year. Lordstown plans to employ about 1,500 by the end of 2021. The company says it has more than 50,000 reservations from commercial-fleet owners, who are the target market for the Endurance, and plans to begin production in the fall. Last August, Lordstown joined the parade of electric vehicle makers going public through mergers with special purpose acquisition companies, or SPACs, in a deal that provides $675 million in funding, including $75 million from GM. —Ira Boudway
Atlis XT Pickup
To call Atlis Motor Vehicles Inc. an underdog in the e-pickup truck market might be overstating its chances Founded in 2016 by Mark Hanchett, who spent the previous decade developing tasers and body cameras for law enforcement at Axon Enterprise Inc, Atlis has, by its own account, no history, no clients and no revenue.
So far it has raised a little more than $5 million. It will need at least tens of millions more to begin production on its planned XT pickup, which it says will boast up to 500 miles of range and a 15-minute charge time. More than 30,000 people, the company says, have made no-deposit reservations.
Atlis had planned to begin production sometime in 2020 but pushed back that timetable, citing Covid-19 and a lack of funding. It now says it aims to build 100 XTs in 2021 with sales slated to begin the following year, assuming it can raise the additional $25 million it’s currently seeking from investors. Fast-charging battery technology is key to its chances of distinguishing itself in a crowded market. The idea is to build a proprietary network of lightning-fast, 1.5 megawatt charging stations—a huge lift for a company of 50 employees. —Ira Boudway
Ford Electric F-150
For a year and a half, Ford has done the dance of the seven veils with its highly anticipated electric F-150. In summer 2019, it released a video of a prototype for the battery-powered truck towing a trainload of F-150s weighing more than 1 million pounds. This year, it said the electric pickup will be the fastest, most powerful F-150 Ford has ever built, capable of hauling assets of any kind.
Ford hasn’t revealed how far the truck will go on a single charge, though the distance is expected to be ample, based on a patent for a truck-bed-mounted range extender. The company also has yet to announce the sticker price; it promises the “total cost of ownership” will be half that of a gasoline-powered version.
But Ford has unveiled the new $700 million factory in Dearborn, Michigan, where it will build the pickup. And it has been clear about the target market: the hard hats who have made the F-150 the best-selling vehicle in America for four decades.
“This isn’t a gimmick,” Jim Farley, Ford’s chief executive officer, said at the unveiling of the new plant on the grounds of the company’s century-old Rouge factory complex. “It’s a workhorse, not a show horse destined for a shiny garage filled with four other luxury cars.” —Keith Naughton
General Motors Chevrolet EV Pickup
The electric Chevrolet truck is a simpler version of the GMC Hummer EV pickup that GM will start selling in late 2021. It will use the same chassis and battery pack, so the probability it will actually come to market is very high. The motor in both models draws power from GM’s Ultium battery pack, which also will drive a Cadillac Escalade sport-utility vehicle and other larger models.
Chevrolet has provided few details about the truck, but the Ultium pack will provide more than 400 miles on a charge, with a range as high as 450 miles, GM said on Nov. 19 when the company announced its plans to fast-track EVs and introduce 30 models by 2025.
GM expects the target market for the new Chevy to be fleet buyers who need work trucks and suburban cowboys who’ve bought Chevrolet gasoline-powered pickups for decades.
The Detroit-based automaker has said Ultium will be 60% cheaper than the battery currently in the Chevy Bolt compact, and the second-generation Ultium will be a further 20% less expensive. Add it up, and the company’s next slate of SUVs should be competitively priced with current gasoline burners—and profitable. The Chevy pickup will be profitable, too, the company said. —David Welch
Fiat Chrysler Electrified Ram Pickup
Fiat Chrysler’s electric-truck plans are still a mystery—something Chief Executive Officer Mike Manley has hinted at, but the company has yet to reveal.
Here’s what we know: Manley told analysts on an Oct. 28 earnings call that there will be an “electrified” Ram pickup and to “stay tuned” on timing. In July, he referenced his wait-and-see strategy: If the Ram brand’s market share is threatened by electric rivals, Fiat won’t “sit on the sideline.”
The Italian-American automaker has long been an electric-vehicle skeptic, especially in the U.S. Late CEO Sergio Marchionne publicly lamented having to sell EVs at a loss to comply with California regulations, and the company was one of the few automakers to openly side with the Trump administration in its regulatory fight with the state.
Fiat hasn’t specified whether “electrified” means hybrid or pure battery-powered, but it has much more experience with hybrids. It’s rolling out a plug-in hybrid version of the Jeep Wrangler this year and has teased these engines in other new models.
In October, Fiat committed to invest $1.5 billion in a new vehicle at its Windsor, Canada, plant in 2024, using a new architecture that accommodates hybrid or full battery-electric powertrains.
Fiat’s shareholders are set to vote in January on a proposed merger with French rival PSA Group. After that’s done, Manley may be a little less coy. —Gabrielle Coppola
Hercules Electric Vehicles was founded two years ago by a trio of engineering executives who got tired of waiting around for traditional carmakers to take the plunge on electric vehicles. Chief Executive Officer James Breyer says luxury trucks are a growing segment, an extension of sport-utility vehicles that can be everything to everyone: family haulers, towing beasts and luxury models.
The Hercules Alpha, a high-performance pickup slated to start production in 2022, will be priced to compete with the GMC Hummer and Cadillac Escalade, and output won’t exceed 20,000 units in the first five years, says Breyer, who previously worked at General Motors Co. and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV.
Because it will be built in small numbers, the Alpha will be highly customizable and targeted toward affluent outdoorsy types in their 40s and 50s. Hercules says it’s pursuing a “capex-light” model that won’t require the billions raised by startups such as Rivian. The company plans to outsource as much as possible and assemble the trucks by hand with small crews, not expensive robots.
Hercules also is in talks with Nissan Motor Co. to help the Japanese automaker electrify its Titan pickup, Bloomberg reported last month. If that deal goes through, Hercules could bring development costs down by sharing parts with Nissan. —Gabrielle Coppola
It’s difficult to know much about the electric truck coming from Fisker Inc. — most of all, whether it’s coming at all. It was announced, apparently accidentally, via a Tweet in February.
“Electric pick up!” eponymous founder Henrik Fisker tweeted, along with a photo showing the rear of a super wide-stanced, LED-lit pickup. The tweet was unceremoniously deleted soon after, but not before fanboys from Silicon Valley to Siberia glommed onto the idea that Tesla’s angular Cybertruck might have a rival. (A Fisker spokesperson confirmed that the company is “tentatively planning a portfolio expansion to a four-vehicle range by mid-decade” but declined to confirm whether the proposed lineup includes a pickup truck.)
If the so-called Alaska model does happen, it would be the first electric pickup from the Los Angeles-based manufacturer; meanwhile, Fisker is taking deposits on the “Ocean” electric SUV it says it will start making in 2022. —Hannah Elliott
What Might Have Been — Nikola Badger
Nikola Corp. was founded in Salt Lake City, Utah, by Trevor Milton, who stepped down as chairman Sept. 21 after a short-seller accused the company of lying about its technology—something the company and Milton have denied. Two days before that report was released, GM announced a preliminary deal to acquire a $2 billion stake in the startup and manufacture its Badger pickup.
When Milton introduced the Badger in February 2020, he said he hoped it would some day rival Ford’s F-150, America’s best-selling vehicle for four decades. It would come in two configurations: battery and hydrogen-fuel cell, with a 600-mile range and $80,000 price for the latter. Nikola began taking reservations July 29—before anyone saw a protoype or even a manufacturing plan. Milton pledged to reveal the Badger at an event initially scheduled for September then rescheduled to December and finally postponed indefinitely after he resigned and Nikola focused on denying the short-seller’s allegations of deception.
The startup said in regulatory filings it will bring the pickup to market only if it can find an automaker to build it. The ongoing tensions and controversy put the deal with GM in jeopardy and on November 30, a new deal with GM was announced. The Badger was dropped and GM scaled back its commitment to Nikola, no longer taking an equity stake and limiting its role to being a supplier of fuel cells for Nikola’s semi trucks.
Nikola says it will now focus on bringing battery-electric and fuel-cell heavy trucks to market and does not have a consumer vehicle in the works. The company confirmed it has refunded all deposits paid for the Badger. —Ed Ludlow
(Updates the 17th paragraph to clarify that Rihanna helped with the unveiling; she was not formally hired, nor paid, for her participation.)