For decades, pickup trucks have dominated U.S. passenger vehicle sales. Gas- and diesel-powered models from Ford, General Motors, and Ram account for about 20 percent of all passenger vehicle sales annually – a trend that’s continuing during the pandemic.
But that could change next year when a handful of startup vehicle makers begin producing electrics that promise all the utility and performance of a fossil-fueled pickup only with zero emissions.
Meet the new players.
Nikola Motor Company Badger
Like Tesla, which lifted its company moniker from the surname of the famed Serbian-American engineer, Nikola Motor Company scavenged the inventor’s first name for a line of electric trucks that run on lithium-ion batteries and hydrogen fuel cells. Based in Phoenix, Ariz., the company is best known for its soon-to-be released semis, but in February, it tore off the wraps on its Badger pickup, preorders for which began this week.
What Nikola, as a company, lacks in name recognition, it makes up in hutzpah. The company claims the Badger will exceed the capabilities of any other pickup truck in its class, regardless of how it’s fueled – gas, diesel, or electric. Powered with batteries that plug in or hydrogen fuel cells that generate electricity without needing an outlet, Nikola says the Badger cannot only power up grades as steep as 40 percent, but do it with a fully loaded trailer.
Designed for work, the Badger will be equipped with a 15-kilowatt power outlet for tools, lights, and compressors, which Nikola says is enough power to assist a construction site for about 12 hours without the use of a generator. And when the crew gets hungry, it also has a hidden refrigerator.
What the experts say: “Nikola is the youngest and the least established of the electric pickup truck makers, in both their partnerships and what they’ve accomplished so far in terms of confirming what they’re able to do,” said Karl Brauer, executive publisher of Kelley Blue Book. “They have a lot of impressive plans they’ve shared from regular trucks to semi trucks, but they feel like they’re the furthest from seeing the reality of a vehicle ready for the end user to buy.”
Introduced: February 2020
Available: Not yet announced
0 to 60 mph: 2.9 seconds
Maximum horsepower: 906
Torque: 980 foot-pounds
Towing capacity: 8,000+ pounds
Battery pack: 160 kWh
Fuel cell: 120 kW
Range: 600 miles (300 miles in battery-electric mode)
Base price: $60,000 to $90,000 (Nikola estimate, exact price not yet set)
Price to reserve: $250 to $5,000, depending on package
More info: NikolaMotor.com/badger
Based in Michigan, with offices for battery development and electronics here in California, Rivian is attempting to bring a new acronym into the world of pickup trucks: the EAV, or Electric Adventure Vehicle. In the works for more than a decade, the R1T is a battery-electric pickup designed to jump the concrete confines of urban living and off-road into the wild — with friends. It seats five.
Having motors in all four wheels, power can be sent to each one individually to maximize traction. Want to drive across a stream? Go ahead. It can wade in water up to three feet deep. Need to carry a stroller, skis, or surfboard? Just shove them in the lockable “gear tunnel” that runs the width of the truck under the cab. A telescoping racking system can be attached to the roof or the rails in the cargo bed to attach a tent, travel container, or bike rack and can be stowed in the front trunk when it isn’t being used.
The Rivian’s look is REI meets Herman Miller. It’s rugged yet futuristic, crunchy granola but contemporary, with a front end that uses distinctive oblong headlights to throw a lot of light, an interior finished with sustainably sourced wood and more tech than the Times Square Apple store.
There’s a 15.6-inch center touch screen, a 12.3-inch instrument cluster, and a 6.8-inch rear touch screen. Rivian says it’s developed its own maps, music, navigation, and other adventure-focused features for a complete digital experience.
What the experts say: “Rivian has a lot of advantages,” said Karl Brauer, executive publisher of Kelley Blue Book. “It’s Michigan based, which is where a lot of other trucks have been designed and engineered and built, so it’s aligned fairly well with the rest of the auto industry. And it has a large investment from Ford, so if they needed capacity to build, Ford could help them find it and let them get started more quickly. They also have partners like Amazon that are already putting in orders.”
Introduced: November 2018
0 to 60 mph: 3 seconds
Maximum horsepower: up to 750
Torque: 10,326 foot-pounds
Towing capacity: 11,000 pounds
Battery pack: 105, 135 or 180 kWh
Range: 400+ miles
Well-equipped price: $69,000
Price to reserve: $1,000 (fully refundable)
More info: Rivian.com/R1T
One look at the Tesla Cybertruck, and it’s clear it took more than a few design clues from Elon Musk’s other pet project – SpaceX. With an exterior crafted from ultra-hard stainless steel to resist dents, damage, and corrosion, the pointy electric pickup truck is crafted for “ultimate durability and passenger protection,” which, in Los Angeles terms, means merely to endure another rock ’em sock ’em day in the world’s worst traffic.
Its armor glass is, at least in theory, supposed to help in that effort by using a polymer-layered composite to help withstand impact. Its real-world reliability, however, is questionable considering what happened when Tesla’s lead designer Franz von Holzhausen unwittingly smashed it with a metal ball during the Cybertruck’s world debut last fall.
While distinctly un-truck-like in appearance, it is billed as having better utility than the longstanding pickup truck bestseller – the Ford F-150 – with quicker acceleration than Porsche’s iconic 911. It can rocket from 0 to 60 mph in 2.9 seconds, tow more than 7,500 pounds, and travel more than 500 miles per charge, according to the Tesla website.
Being a Tesla, it’s got some neat tricks, including seating for six, adaptive air suspension that can raise and lower it four inches, seating for six, and 100 cubic feet of storage, under the second row of seats, under the cargo bed and in the front trunk.
What the experts say: “Tesla has a built-in customer base that’s already lining up to buy the Tesla truck. That’s their advantage,” said Karl Brauer, executive publisher of Kelley Blue Book. “But they also need to finish execution of the vehicle and do it in a way that’s a certain quality to keep truck buyers happy. They’ve got to put a manufacturing plant together. They’ve got a history of doing that, so that seems like hurdles they can overcome, but it will still take time.”
Introduced: November 2019
Available: Late 2021
0 to 60 mph: 2.9 seconds
Towing capacity: 7,500+ pounds
Range: 500+ miles
Base price: $39,900
Price to reserve: $100 (fully refundable)
More info: Tesla.com/cybertruck
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