Americans love pickup trucks. The mighty Ford F-150 has been the best-selling vehicle in the US for 35 years, and last year the Dodge Ram and Chevrolet Silverado placed second and third. The basic design of this quintessential American vehicle hasn’t changed much since, well, ever, but an Indiana company thinks it has found a better way: Make it electric.
Now now, stop giggling. An electric pickup makes a lot of sense, which is why Elon Musk plans to build one eventually. But this isn’t about him. It’s about Workhorse Group, the same outfit that built that wild hybrid drone-slinging UPS van. It just unveiled the W-15 Electric Pickup Truck, an attractive and surprisingly quick truck it plans to start selling to fleet operators next year.
This isn’t an electric like the Tesla Model S. It’s an electric like the Chevrolet Volt. When the big battery—60 kilowatt hours—under the floor goes flat after 80 miles or so, a three-cylinder BMW engine under the hood kicks in to generate the electricity. It’s a clever application of series hybrid tech, because a pickup provides plenty of space to stash the extra kit, and the added weight isn’t so big a penalty. Added bonus? The battery and range extender can provide electricity for power tools and work lights.
As with all electrics, this thing isn’t cheap—$52,500 before any incentives or tax credits. That’s 20 grand more than you’d pay for a base model F-150 with four doors, and just $7,700 cheaper than a top-of-the-line Ford F-150 Limited. But you’re thinking like a civilian, not a fleet operator. The higher up-front cost of an electric vehicle is offset by a lower operating cost. “For the first time in 108 years, someone has invented a truck that’s cheaper than a gasoline truck over its life,” says company CEO Steve Burns. He says Duke Energy, Portland General Electric, Southern California Power Authority, Clean Fuels Ohio, and the city of Orlando, Florida, have expressed interest in his truck.
It’s one thing to convince a municipality or energy company that a clean, green truck is a good PR move. It’s much harder to convince mainstream consumers. But if Tesla Motors can make electric cars cool, maybe Workhorse can do the same for pickups.
There is a lot to like, based on the prototype I drove on a closed course in Long Beach, California. Everything that makes electric motors work so well in a car (and, for that matter, big-rigs), works wonderfully in a pickup. Twin electric motors provided plenty of torque, a big plus in a work truck. The prototype showed a slight lag in throttle response, but that can be addressed with software tweaks. The truck rode quietly and smoothly, and I found the acceleration exhilarating. Burns says a zero to 60 time of 5.5 seconds should be attainable, easily eclipsing the 6.1 of an F150 with a twin-turbocharged V6.
The truck feels stouter in person than it looks in pictures. Workhorse wrapped all the hardware in carbon fiber and composite bodywork to keep to the same weight as regular pickup. Exotic materials are not at all cost-effective for mass-production, but Burns says it works out OK in limited production because it saves the company from shelling out for steel tooling. If Workhorse plans to mass-produce these, it might want to consider aluminum, a material Ford embraced with the latest F-150.
As crazy as an electric pickup might sound, it makes sense. Fleet vehicles tend to follow established routes and return to a garage or depot enough night. It might be a tougher sell in suburbia or out on the ranch, but here, too, the times they are a charging. Ford says a hybrid F-150 is coming by 2020, and GM has experimented with hybrid versions of the Silverado, and Sierra pickups. And don’t forget Tesla, which plans to introduce an electric pickup before long. After all these years, it looks like the venerable pickup truck is poised for a shakeup.