The hottest topic in the electric vehicle world over the last few months has been pure-electric pickup trucks.
The concept of an electric truck has been bandied about for decades. Ford made an all-electric Ranger between 1998 and 2000. Via Motors, championed by infamous American auto executive Bob Lutz, has been building pure-electric pickups from retrofitted Chevrolet Silverado for several years.
The idea of a purpose built electric pickup didn’t really capture the country’s imagination, though, until — you guessed it — Tesla co-founder and CEO Elon Musk discussed building a Tesla pickup. This, seemingly after he was goaded into it by Twitter users after the revelation that Tesla would be building an electric semi truck.
Aside from a few teasers here and there, Tesla has mostly gone silent on the pickup truck topic.
A mass-market, pure-electric truck didn’t really get hot again until late last year. That’s when upstart brand Rivian made a splash with the debut of its first two models, the R1S SUV and R1T truck.
Earlier this year, Ford added fuel to the EV truck fire when it confirmed it was working on an electrified version of its best-selling F-150 pickup.
Then Rivian and Ford signed an agreement in April to lend Rivian’s so-called skateboard platform technology to Ford in return for a $500 million investment.
Less than a week later, General Motors CEO Mary Barra revealed the General was working to produce an electric truck of its own.
All this electric truck talk got me thinking: Who might be the first brand to build a meaningful all-electric truck? Some might believe it’ll be Tesla. But I’m not so sure. My money is either on GM, Ford, or — most likely — Rivian. Let me explain why.
The Trouble With Tesla
If you’ve read anything I’ve written since, well, 2013, you might have recognized that I am a Tesla skeptic. That’s because I don’t buy into everything Elon Musk says. Granted, I applaud him for essentially igniting the now-industry-wide shift toward electrification. At the same time, I am a realist when it comes to examining his proclamations.
That said, I believe Tesla is going to make a pickup truck. I don’t believe it will be produced anytime soon, however. Nor do I believe it’ll be built in enough numbers and at a low enough price point to be meaningful in the marketplace. Like the Model S and Model X, it will be a toy for the super-rich. If nothing else, trucks are mass-market and utilitarian. I believe the Tesla truck will be anything but.
But I digress. Let’s get back to the trouble with expecting a truck from Tesla anytime soon.
First of all, Musk has been teasing the truck since 2016. Some Tesla evangelists were expecting its debut in 2017 or 2018. Clearly, that’s come and gone. The most we’ve seen of it, in that Twitter image below, is a line of light in the dark. That hardly counts as a reveal.
Heck, even when Tesla reveals a product, it’s usually years ahead of production. Let’s not forget the Model X was two years late. Designers hadn’t even finished designing the Model 3 when it was revealed. Then, once Tesla was done with its design, it was well delayed, too — especially the $36,000 mass-market version. In fact, the mass-market Model 3 was so late that buyers missed out on the full $7,500 Federal tax credit, which would have put the car’s price below $30,000, as Musk promised it would.
What’s more, since talk of the Tesla truck began, Musk revealed a second-generation Roadster, a Semi, and a Model Y. Chances are good he’s going to build those before the pickup. I mean, he better. He’s already taken orders for the Roadster and the Semi. And Model Y isn’t due for production until 2021. Worse yet, Musk admitted he doesn’t know where Tesla will even build the Model Y.
All of that considered, odds are we won’t see a meaningful production run of the truck until 2022 at the soonest — and I mean soonest.
So, if it won’t be Tesla to first bring a pure-electric truck to market, who might?
GM, Ford, and Rivian
In my book, it’s essentially a three-way tie between General Motors, Ford, and Rivian. I want to believe Rivian will be first. However, the fact that it’s a startup gives me pause. But let’s start there.
Rivian has said it plans to produce both its SUV and pickup in the fourth quarter of 2020. The company told me that the Ford deal won’t affect that timeline. What’s more, Ford won’t be getting the Rivian platform exactly. Rivian is helping produce a version of its skateboard platform for Ford.
Rivian is confident that their products and the Ford vehicles born from Rivian’s electric skateboard tech won’t be competitors. Essentially, they’ll have distinctive branding and likely live in different market segments. That’s the hope at least.
All of that said, while Rivian has the shortest timeline for production, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Ford deal becomes a bit of a blessing and a curse. The funds will surely help Rivian complete its goals. Building a specialized skateboard for Ford, though, might in turn become and undue burden in terms of money and brain power. Essentially, it might become a fruitless time suck. But we’ll see.
If Rivian can pull it off, it’ll clearly be first. If not, that leaves us with General Motors and Ford.
Ford was first to commit to an electric variant of its F-150 truck. However, Ford says a lot of things. It’s said, for example, that it will have an autonomous car in 2021 that has neither a steering wheel nor any pedals. That’s great. But saying it and doing it are different. What’s more, though Ford was first to say that, GM went ahead and built one of its own.
Furthermore, Ford hasn’t demonstrated that it has the battery or powertrain bona fides to pull of a meaningful pure-electric truck. Yes, it has been promising an all-electric crossover inspired by the Mustang for a while. Unlike GM, it hasn’t put any affordable long-range EVs on the road yet. So, until I see something from Ford, I am going to assume the blue oval brass are just paying electric trucks lip service.
When I pressed Ford on the F-150 EV, a spokesperson admitted they’ve not given any timeline for the truck. Given Ford’s recent penchant for what I call “pulling an Elon” and saying stuff well before they intend to follow through, I don’t expect to see a pure-electric Ford truck anytime soon.
This brings us to the General. It championed meaningful plug-in hybrid (PHEV) technology with the first-gen Volt. Then it beat everyone else to market with the first mass-market, long-range EV, the Bolt EV. And it will soon reveal its third-generation of battery electric vehicles (BEV) that will ride on a new platform codenamed BEV3.
Plus, Chevy and GMC have been building trucks for a century. And late last year GM put the now-former Camaro chief in charge of the company’s electric vehicle efforts. Both of which bode well for GM’s chances at producing an amazing EV truck.
Since GM has been keeping projects close to its vest, my guess is that, given its advanced electrification engineering together with its pickup truck knowhow, it could be the first brand to bring an electric truck to market. I guess we’ll find out in a few short years.