As a recent NPR article notes, the market at stake is enormous—currently, the three best-selling vehicles in the US are pickups. However, truck buyers are, in the popular imagination at least, just about the polar opposite of the stereotypical early EV adopter. Will the ball-cap brigade even consider a newfangled innovation that generates no noise and no smoke?
Automakers tend to know their customers pretty well, and nobody expects truck buyers to be motivated by a desire to own the latest technology, much less by concerns about the environment. That’s why (as Tesla has pretty much always done), the would-be e-truck sellers are emphasizing performance, promising that their trucks will be not just as good as the trusty old gas-burners, but much better.
Both the auto industry’s Old Guard (Ford, GM) and its Young Turks (Tesla, Rivian, Lordstown, Bollinger) have been releasing promotional videos showing their electric pickups performing deeds of physical prowess. Ford’s upcoming electric F-150 may be able to tow a freight train, but the Tesla Cybertruck can beat a gas-powered F-150 in a tug-of-war—uphill, no less. As NPR points out, some of these feats aren’t as impressive from a physics standpoint as they may appear on screen—freight trains are designed to have minimal rolling resistance, and an EV is always going to beat a gas vehicle in a tug-of-war, because of its greater weight (as a Ford exec apparently realized when he thought better of calling for a rematch).
The question remains: can pickup fans be convinced to go electric? According to Strategic Vision’s latest New Vehicle Experience Study, the answer is that they just might. The market research firm asked new truck buyers about their level of interest in electric vehicles. Eight percent said they “plan to research it for my next purchase/lease,” and 27 percent said they were “open to learning more about it.”
“A third of all pickup truck owners are open to the idea of electrification,” says Strategic Vision President Alexander Edwards. “It doesn’t mean that they’re going to shop for it, doesn’t mean they’re going to go buy it, but they’re least willing to listen to what you have to say.”
Above: A look at the new crop of electric pickup trucks coming to market (YouTube: Bloomberg QuickTake)
Edwards told NPR that this translates to around two million US car buyers per year who might consider buying an electric pickup. He agrees with the conventional wisdom that performance is the key to winning over pickup buyers—they’re looking for “rugged, powerful, capable vehicles.”
Fortunately, EVs can provide just the kind of beef that cowboys need. Edwards says pickup experts often prefer engines that deliver a lot of low-end torque, which happens to be an electric motor specialty. EVs also boast unique steering advantages—Rivian’s “tank turn” and the Hummer EV’s “crab walk” are tricks that no ICE vehicle will ever be able to duplicate. Furthermore, the massive weight of an EV’s battery pack delivers superior tractive power. That’s why an EV-vs-ICE tug-of-war is an unfair contest, and it could come in mighty handy for pulling a boat out of the water, just to give one practical example.
Electric pickups could just turn out to be a surprise blockbuster. Tesla’s experience with Cybertruck certainly points in that direction—many observers have related how they were turned off at first by its unorthodox appearance, but changed their tunes when they started studying the specs and features. A similar process of reassessment may occur with electric pickups in general—for many alpha males, their natural resistance to an e-pickup may last only until they take their first ride in one.