Here Come the Electric Trucks

Once again, electric car maker Tesla is creating a buzz in the automotive world. Its newest sensation: An about-to-be-revealed electric pickup truck.

You read that right: An electric truck. So far, Tesla has stuck to sporty roadsters, sedans and SUVs, but now CEO Elon Musk is promising a battery-powered truck that can go toe to toe with some of the most popular – and profitable – vehicles on the market, such as the perennially best-selling Ford F-class pickups. In a tweet more than a year ago, Musk said the future truck would have all-wheel drive, “crazy torque,” and high-voltage power outlets capable of running heavy duty power tools at a job site. When a follower requested that the truck offer 30,000 pounds of towing capacity, Musk tweeted back: “300,000 pound towing capacity.”

Don’t plan on towing your house with your Tesla just yet. But the Tesla “cybertruck” and other forthcoming electric pickups probably will sport some eye-popping capabilities and features.

A surprising number of automakers are hoping to dive into this highly lucrative segment of the vehicle market. In addition to Tesla, there are also startups Rivian and Workhorse, along with industry stalwart Ford Motor Company. (Ford recently showed off its electric F-150 pickup towing a literal trainload of gas-powered F-150s. It has also invested in Rivian.)

So far, electric vehicles have generally been marketed as eco-friendly, whereas pickup trucks are generally known for hauling heavy loads while guzzling a lot of gasoline or diesel fuel. So why are manufacturers pouring money into the seeming contradiction of an EV truck? For one thing, “the luxury pickup truck market is booming,” says Aaron Bragman, Detroit bureau chief of Cars.com. Whereas trucks were long viewed as the utilitarian, uncomfortable workhorses of the auto world, today they come festooned with all the creature comforts of a luxury car, and the lofty price tags to match. With the Detroit Big Three selling plenty of trucks for upwards of $50,000, it’s not surprising that a company like Tesla would want a piece of the action. And in turn, if Tesla is getting into the truck market, the established manufacturers feel that they can’t afford to stay on the sidelines.

But will buyers actually go for an EV truck? Bragman thinks some will, but probably not the customers who are used to regularly towing or hauling heavy loads long distance for work or play. Rather, he expects the early EV truck adopters to be affluent “lifestyle” buyers who want a do-it-all vehicle, something with the versatility of a family transporter that is rugged enough to go off-road, haul some mountain bikes or camping equipment in the bed and occasionally tow the boat to the lake. Importantly, these buyers tend to be keen on new technology in general, and are likely to prize the “wow” factor of an electric pickup.

In terms of capabilities, what should you expect from the coming crop of electric trucks? A lot. Rivian, the Michigan-based startup, is promising maximum towing capacity of up to 11,000 pounds; the ability to ford water up to three feet deep; a 0 to 60 mph acceleration time of 3 seconds (besting most sports cars on the market); and, perhaps most crucially, 400 or more miles of driving range between charges. Of course, getting all of that depends on opting for the most expensive version of its R1T truck, which will feature the biggest battery pack.

Only time will tell if there’s room in the truck market for these electric players. But with sales of EVs slowly rising and the availability of charging stations growing, it looks like EV trucks will make some inroads.

Coming up next, I’ll delve into the future of electric vehicles more generally and look at when, or if, they’ll break out of their current niche to become practical, mainstream options for car shoppers.