With the rise of electric cars, it was only a matter of time before electric trucks hit the market. Several electric vehicle (EV) startups — including Bollinger, Lordstown Motors, Rivian and Workhorse — have been working on developing electric pickup trucks for several years, but none have come to market yet.
However, it was the announcement of the Cybertruck by Tesla that ignited interest in the market. Tesla received more than 200,000 reservations (at US$100 each) in the first few weeks after announcing the Cybertruck. Since Tesla’s announcement, both Ford and GM have indicated they will offer electric versions of their popular pickups as well.
Most of these companies are promising the availability of the trucks in the 2020/2021 time frame, which sounds promising, but replacing the popular Chevy Silverado 1500, Ford F-150, RAM 1500 or Toyota Tundra may be more difficult than replacing the family sedan.
While more consumers are buying trucks with no intent of using the vehicles as an off-road toy or company workhorse, there are still expectations about what a pickup can do. Still, many pickups are sold to companies and consumers as vehicles capable of going to hard-to-reach places, hauling large loads, and towing.
Even urbanites expect levels of utility and performance beyond a traditional car. Unfortunately, these expectations may be beyond the capability of the first wave of electric pickups.
Most of the electric truck designs look like common pickups with standard beds that would accommodate mounted equipment carriers and toolboxes. The one exception is the Tesla Cybertruck, which looks more like a station wagon from The Jetsons. I’m not sure how you would mount a ski or sport rack on the Cybertruck, much less a utility or ladder rack.
However, like the other electric pickups, the Cybertruck promises competitive towing capabilities. So, there is some inherent promise that these electric pickups will be equivalent alternatives to existing combustion engine pickups. In fact, they offer ranges of 200 to 500 miles on a charge. But is this realistic?
One of the challenges facing all vehicles is managing fuel/energy consumption, whether that is gas or electricity. All engines consume some type of fuel or energy, and the more stress you put on an engine, the more fuel/energy it will consume. Just driving a car more aggressively can increase the fuel/energy consumption and limit the range on a tank of gas or electric charge.
When you drive over varying terrain, the amount of fuel consumed can increase even faster. Over the past year, I have seen several electric cars stuck in mountain passes because the drivers underestimated the reduced range when driving through the mountains. (They were all Teslas, which is not surprising given their popularity.)
Likewise, when you load more weight in a truck or try to tow something, your fuel consumption increases. With a gas engine, towing another vehicle, trailer or boat on flat ground can reduce your mileage per gallon significantly, but if you also add uneven terrain, you can cut your gas mileage in half. Imagine the potential impact on an electric vehicle, especially if charging stations are either not readily available or are inaccessible to a loaded or towing vehicle.
Granted, not even Ford, Chevy, Ram or Toyota will provide mileage expectations on their gas-powered trucks under load, but there is the expectation that you should be able to find a gas station in any populated area. For owners of electric trucks, not having accurate mileage expectations under load could be a huge challenge.
Imagine hooking up a boat to head out to the lake for a weekend with the expectation that you can go for 300-400 miles, when in fact, you can only for 150-200 — not to mention the potential for lower mileage in the future due to battery degradation.
If you haul equipment and supplies for work, you need to be able to rely on that truck getting you to the job site, and frequent or unplanned trips to suppliers every day, even when you can’t predict the extent of your load. Even if charging stations are available, there will be lost time allowing the vehicle to charge.
The concept of an electric truck is very appealing. Just charge the vehicle at night and drive it the next day. However, a truck is expected to do more than consumers would ask of a sedan. With the auto industry still reeling from the false claims and misleading mileage estimates for diesel engines, it cannot afford to mislead consumers on electric trucks — and yet it seems headed in that direction.
Tesla hyped the Cybertruck with a video of a tug-of-war with a Ford F-150. While all the electric pickups in development should demonstrate higher torque from multiple electric motors than their gas counterparts, they still face the challenges of expending energy under load and recharging.
With no regulations on how to evaluate pickups under load, consumers need to be prepared with realistic expectations. Electric trucks are coming in the next few years and will offer some of the same benefits of other electric vehicles, but an electric truck will not achieve the estimated mileage if used as a truck.
While not all the specs have been released on the trucks announced thus far, the Rivian R1T appears to be the most practical. However, the specifications on all the trucks are likely to change as they near production and face competition.