2020 Pickups Strong, Electrics Gain

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Any local operation could use modern electric trucks because they return home often for recharging, and electric charging stations are proliferating. Regenerative braking, which occurs often in the stop-and-go of local operations, helps recharge batteries, and continuing advances in battery technology will stretch range to useful levels. Series production of electric pickup trucks will begin this year, a few manufacturers say.

Electric pickups, like all electric vehicles, or EVs, will be clean, quiet, and quick. They will cost more to buy than gasoline- or diesel-powered trucks; but EVs will have far fewer moving parts and thus be less expensive to maintain, and their total cost of ownership will be less, proponents say. Experts caution that the EV industry needs to standardize on equipment specifications, such as plugs and charging stations. And public utilities must prepare to generate the many megawatts needed to recharge the batteries of EVs, and/or help set up local solar- and wind-powered generators to supplement power available from the grid. Those challenges will be overcome if there’s customer demand and money to be made, and apparently there will be, if industry interest and public curiosity are any indication. 

Much media attention fell on the unveiling of Tesla’s Cybertruck, the wedge-shaped, stainless steel-bodied pickup introduced last December by the company’s forward-thinking founder, Elon Musk. The event was covered on television news shows and by auto magazines and internet commentators, and the vehicle drew praise and criticism for its futuristic, even untruck-like styling. Cybertruck will come in three variants: with one, two, and three motors in rear- and all-wheel drive, priced at $49,900 to $69,900. Range will be 250-plus miles, payload up to 3,500 pounds, and towing capacity will be 14,000 pounds or more. The company is taking refundable $100 deposits on orders for Cybertrucks, which it says will enter production late next year for higher-end models and 2022 for the single-motor version. The pickup will join four car models in Tesla’s lineup, so overall, Elon Musk and his company have earned some automotive credibility. 

If money buys credibility, Rivian, a Detroit-area start-up firm, has earned some of it with more than $1.6 billion in funding from well-known companies, including Ford. Rivian was preparing an R1T pickup and an R1S sport-utility vehicle, and appears to be after retail rather than commercial sales. Its “skateboard” chassis includes a quad-motor system, with a motor at each wheel to provide all-wheel-drive traction and allow it to do a “tank turn,” or spin in a small circle. Air suspension and hydraulic roll control will actively react to vehicle movement over varying terrain, and three battery pack sizes will give it ranges of 230 to 400-plus miles. Payload rating is 1,760 pounds and towing capacity is 11,000 pounds. Starting price for an R1T is $69,000, but options are expected to raise prices toward $100,000. Rivian is taking $1,000 deposits on “pre-orders,” and says it will start production later this year.

Ford has a worldwide EV program that includes cars, SUVs, and trucks. It is readying an all-electric F-150 that it says will be announced next year as a ’22 model. As a teaser, it released a video showing a prototype pulling 10 loaded auto-rack rail cars weighing more than 1 million pounds. Of course, that won’t be its tow rating, because steel wheels roll rather easily on steel rails, but it still takes considerable torque to move a string of railroad cars. In March, Ford showed off an electric Transit van, whose components could be similar to an F-150’s. It has invested $500 million in Rivian, and the two formed a partnership that is jointly developing the electric F-150. It could use Rivian’s skateboard platform, the two firms said in a statement. 

GMC showcased its Chevy E-10 electric pickup.

General Motors is helping Lordstown Motors Corp., a company begun by Steve Burns, the founder and former CEO of Workhorse Group— a maker of walk-in vans—and staffed by executives lured from other automotive manufacturers, including Tesla. LMC says it is testing prototypes of its Endurance electric pickup (above), originally developed by Workhorse and licensed from it. LMC plans to begin building them this November in the former General Motors assembly plant in Lordstown, Ohio. In addition to selling the huge plant for a modest $20 million, GM has loaned LMC $10 million and might lend more, and is talking about leasing space in the plant for a battery-manufacturing operation. Endurance will be all-wheel drive with a motor at each wheel, and is billed as a work truck aimed primarily at fleets. LMC has priced the Endurance at $52,500 and says it could eventually build close to 400,000 per year. It has received a preliminary order for 500 from Clean Fuels Ohio, a nonprofit clean-fuels organization that says it will deploy them with businesses across the state as an “education” effort. LMC meanwhile is taking pre-orders from the public with $100 deposits.

Finally, Bollinger Motors, another Michigan-based startup, is preparing a B1 electric SUV and a B2 pickup that it says will have exceptional off-road capabilities. Styling forsakes aerodynamics for squared-off, Range Rover-like profiles that would be at home in rough country.

Hybrid pickup trucks returning

Gasoline-electric hybrids are a stepping stone to fully electric trucks because they allow users to become accustomed to electric power and they have no range restrictions. GM developed a gasoline-electric SUV in the mid-2000s but didn’t sell many, so pulled it from the market. Today, Ford is working on a hybrid-electric F-150 that it will introduce this fall as a 2021 model, but will otherwise say nothing about it. Ford-based hybrids are available now from at least one source, XL Fleet. The Boston-based company introduced a hybrid conversion for Ford’s F-250 pickup in 2017 and has long made bolt-on conversions for General Motors vans and cutaway chassis. In March, XL announced a version for Chevrolet Silverado 2500 and 3500 pickups. As with previous products, the system assists a truck’s powertrain in propulsion, especially from startup. It uses its own electronic controls and does not connect with the truck’s. The XL system is composed of a motor mounted in the driveline, a battery pack, and the controls. Installation takes about a day and is done by upfitter partners. XL promises a 25 to 30 percent fuel economy improvement and emissions reduction of 20 percent.

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