Workhorse CEO: Now Is The Time To Win Plug-In Pick Up Race

6 months ago by Sebastian Blanco 31

Many have tried, but no one has yet successfully sold a massive number of plug-in work trucks. VIA Motors, Bright Automotive, Phoenix Motorcars. These are just some of the companies that once had an idea to turn a fleet manager’s desire to save money into lots of electrified commercial vehicle – truck or van – sales. Many concepts have been built and tested and small test fleets have been driven around, but none of these plans have turned into tens of thousands of all-electric or plug-in hybrid pick-ups being put to use by contractors across the country.

But now there is renewed interest in this idea. Ford has announced a non-plug-in hybrid F-150, but the obvious big player here is Tesla, which is working on an all-electric truck. There’s another company that thinks it’s high time we have some plug-in pick up options, and it’s one that’s been working on this mission longer, perhaps, than any other still in business: Workhorse.

Workhorse started as AMP back in 2007 as a company that converted gas-powered vehicles to electric drive. The company acquired the Workhorse brand – and a chassis assembly plant in Union City, IN – in March 2015 as part of a shift to building its own vehicles for UPS. It also wants to make EVs for the USPS. Workhorse revealed its W-15 Electric Pickup at the Advanced Clean Transportation Expo in Long Beach, California a few weeks ago. The most important numbers to keep in mind here are that the PHEV gets 75 MPGe, has an 80-mile all-electric range thanks to a 60-kWh battery (67 percent of which is usable), and 460 horsepower. All that for an expected price tag of $52,500, before incentives. It would be an impressive feat to get a truck like this to customers by the end of 2018, which is when Workhorse wants to start production, beating the competition to the punch. In fact, emails from Workhorse claim, “The Race for the Electric Pick Up Truck is Here.”

We spoke with Workhorse CEO Steve Burns to find out more about his desire to finally win this race. It’s a long interview, so here are some highlights if you don’t have time to read the whole thing:

  • Converting gas-powered vehicles to electric drive doesn’t make sense, it turns out.
  • Workhorse is going to do full crash test certification for the W-15.
  • Yes, people like the handling and 0-60 time of this pick-up truck.
  • Detroit has a big role to play in making the W-15 real.

 

IEVs: Every time I’ve checked in over the years, it seems like an electric truck is a little further along. Now, of course Tesla wants to get into electric pickup trucks too. Your truck is a range extended one, but what else makes Workhorse and the W-15 different from what we’ve seen before and why is it going to work this time?

SB: I think the closest people have come to an electric pickup is VIA, and VIA was started to convert a Chevy Silverado. I think when you first met us, we [AMP] were converting Equinoxes or Saturns. A conversion model is just a difficult model to make work but the reason everybody converts is because being an OEM is such a high bar. It’s very expensive to be an OEM. So people say, “I’ll take something that’s close and I’ll convert it.” But what happens when the frame cracks in 10 years and you converted a Ford, let’s say, and Ford’s going to say, “Well it cracked because you put this heavy battery pack on it. That’s not our fault,” right?

What we discovered with our UPS trucks is that you can prove to a fleet manager that your vehicle is less expensive than a gasoline or diesel counterpart. Usually, we don’t sell to consumers right out of the gate because they don’t say, “okay, I’ll pay more for this truck with it’s initial purchase price, and I’m going to keep it for 10 years and in 10 years with the purchase price, 10 years of fuel, 10 years of maintenance, what’s my all-in number?” That’s really what fleets look at. We could save UPS or a company like UPS about $160,000 per truck over a lifetime. Without any government vouchers, it still makes economic sense.

Our goal is to be known as the electric truck company that caters to fleets. That’s why we arrived at a hybrid, or a range extender. What we did was, same thing we do with UPS trucks. We put a battery in there that should cover them for 360 days a year, but once in a while something weird happens, like it will be minus 20 in Chicago or there’s a hurricane in Charlotte and all the Duke trucks have to head for Charlotte from other cities. By putting a range extender in there we’re able to tell a fleet that they will always complete their mission. Most days you run all electric and you get 75 miles per gallon equivalent, but you know the truck will do anything you ask of it. What people expect of a modern day pick up truck is essentially it can do anything.

Anyway, if we crunch the numbers with a battery pack big enough to tow, haul, and have over more than just 200 miles range, it would just be too big and expensive and heavy. We put electric motors in that are big enough to tow and haul, we put a pack in there that gives you 80 miles on a normal day, but let’s say now you’ve got 2,000 pounds in the bed and you’re towing a 5,000 pound generator. You’re not going to get 80 miles on all electric, but on that rare day they are more than happy if the gas engine has to turn on and take in. It’s against the [EV] religion to put gas onboard. But our only religion is making fleets happy and if we have to have an insurance policy in there so they feel comfortable, then that’s what we do.

Workhorse W-15 PHEV Pickup Truck

IEVs: What does it take to get you to the start of production, from financing and vehicle tuning to other things?

SB: It’s an orchestrated dance between engineering, suppliers, and the regulatory environment. The next step is to get validation vehicles, or pre-validation vehicles on the road, so we’ll have to be in Canada with cold weather testing, then to the salt beds. One thing that might be a little different with us than Silicon Valley folks is that we’re in the Midwest and as opposed to saying, “hey, we’re a new kind of car company, we don’t want to involve any rust belt thinking or old school thinking from Detroit,” we’re embracing Detroit. There’s a lot of Detroit vendors that are helping us here, especially with the carbon fiber stuff. What we had is, from the get go, is A, we had to design this so it can be built in our existing factory, and B, even the UPS trucks are basically a body on rails, body on chassis, these are uni bodies, and the pick up truck is the same way. We designed it from the get go so that it could be built at our existing factory, which dramatically reduced costs.

It’s really quite remarkable, our body parts will come from a Detroit company, all painted. If you look under the roll cage that the passenger sits in, that’s all carbon fiber and composite. It comes to us in one piece. You don’t have to dip it in anti corrosion material. It’s quite remarkable what we’ve saved by going composite and carbon. As far as traditional up front costs, we’ll have a stainless steel chassis and a carbon fiber everything else. Well, there’s a little steel in there, like in the door; even though the door is carbon fiber it has a steel band in there. We didn’t want to reinvent everything. The size of the bed, the size of the cab, we didn’t want to mess with that. We kept the outside parameters.

One spec that seems to get everybody excited, and when we had the ride and drives at the LA show, everybody wanted to feel a pick up truck do zero-to-60 in 5.5 seconds. It handles like no other pick up truck just because you’ve got that battery low like that. We’ve got a huge crumple zone up front. The reason we want to beat the market is we think we have a two-to-four-year lead here and we want to establish the brand and get enough miles on the road and enough customers and really kind of establish us as, “if you want an electric truck, you know this is the company that specializes in that.”

IEVs: You’ve got all of those organizations that have sent you thousands of letters of intent. What do those actually mean? Are they just saying, “if you can produce this based on these specs we will buy them”?

SB: There’s one more: we will buy them at this price. We knew it would be attractive, of course, but we really wanted to make sure because we are charging more than a regular pick up truck. Now when I say that, there’s a lot of people that pay $50,000 for a pick up truck. But at that $50,000 you’ll probably get leather and chrome and some niceties. Fleets, when they buy, it’s usually very bare bones. Fleets aren’t paying $50,000 for pick up trucks so it’s the exact same scenario we had with UPS. I mean UPS doesn’t even put air conditioning in, they keep it very tight. We learned that fleets will pay a premium for something if it makes their costs lower.

IEVs: Do you have a number of how much more capital you need between now and the start of production? Do all of these letters of intent give you some kind of cushion or because they are just letters you need to go now to investors and say, “we need more”?

SB: Investors or strategic partners or the government – there’s a lot of government loans for this type of thing. You know, Tesla and Ford and Nissan got big government loans to do this type of thing – all those sources of capital want to know the same thing: “Do you have a customer base that will buy these if you build them?” That’s the hardest thing to prove and that’s what pre-orders do, then the next thing is do we have the chops to do it? A concept vehicle that performs and looks pretty close to the production vehicle helps a lot.

IEVs: I know that with some smaller auto makers, things like crash testing are not required like they are for the big OEMs. What is the plan for as far as having it pass all of the regulatory requirements? What are things that you need and what are things that you don’t need?

SB: No exceptions, we’re not going to apply for any exceptions. Because the numbers we’re at, our orders have already exceeded the limit, so we’re going for full certification. Again, that’s why I talk about Detroit. Folks from Detroit are really knowledgeable about these things. For example, crash testing. You hope to model it in software and really refine it in software, and only have to crush a few to make sure that they line up with the software algorithms. There are decades of that experience in Detroit. It’s remarkable how close they get.

Take a trip down memory lane with this video of Burns speaking at the 2010 New York Auto Show.

The Q&A transcript was lightly edited for clarity.

Source: Workhorse

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31 responses to "Workhorse CEO: Now Is The Time To Win Plug-In Pick Up Race"

  1. unlucky says:

    This is an endurance race, not a sprint. And like any other endurance race you can’t win it on the first lap but you sure can lose it on the first lap.

    I’m glad to see positive statements like they aren’t going for exceptions because they will make too many vehicles to qualify for exceptions.

    Full speed ahead!

    1. Rob Stark says:

      For GM,Ford and FCA it is a marathon.

      For Workhorse it is a 100M,800M, and a marathon.

      Workhorse needs at least a silver in each race or they are out. Such is life for a tiny company with less than $1M cash in the bank.

      1. jerry says:

        They have done about everything right except using CF when Kevlar type and high grade FG is safer, stronger, lighter in the way cars, trucks need for crash protection.

        I’ve told people but they won’t listen that composites is the future.

        One could do a similar thing using composites to make the cab, most anyone can make a truck chassis and buy E transaxles, just doesn’t cost that much done that way to start production.

        If you pick a 25 yr old looking pickup you can legally build 325/yr of each model up to 5k/yr per company.

        Done this way you could be selling beta units with only a $200k start up costs.

        I just ordered, paid for my All composite 63 Vette looking EV male mold tooling and I’ll be in production for under $100k in 6 months.
        No reason we can’t have 100s of these factories making local jobs all around the country, world making the EVs we need since big auto obviously doesn’t want to.

  2. DJ says:

    I find it interesting that they provide their estimated fuel cost at $2.50 a gallon but don’t mention the electricity cost. It’s kind of like when you go to the fair and they say those portable spas only run you $20 a month and in the fine print that’s at 4 cents a kWh yet you’re paying tiered rates and are in the 50 cents a kWh rate 😉

    I think it’s a great idea but I can’t fathom this truly saving $160k per truck, at least not with the rates that you can pay out here.

    1. David Cary says:

      Commercial rates are pretty low. They pay demand charges bit probably not overnight so 5 cents is probably reasonable. No way no how is UPS is paying any where near your rates

      1. DJ says:

        Cheapest I have seen around here are 13 cents. I am sure though other places, like OR or WA pay a lot less.

        1. JustWilliamPDX says:

          Portland Oregon here. I pay 8.21 cents, 24/7.

      2. Ken_3 says:

        The place I work for pays just over 4 cents. In Missouri.

    2. Ross says:

      I think they are also factoring in reduced maintence costs plus substantial savings through efficiency due to the nature of UPS’s driving – particularly in a city. Still, $160k seems like a lot.

    3. F150 Brian says:

      The $160K was for the larger trucks they sell today.

      The savings for the pickup are projected at about $34.5K ($79,751-$45,101) as stated in the chart (which included the gov rebates)

    4. Get Real says:

      Once again some people are missing the most important point.

      With EVs plus Solar pv, YOU CAN MAKE YOUR OWN FUEL!!!

      This is the revolutionary aspect and synergy of PEVs.

      Anyone, personal or a business, can literally make their own fuel for a VERY LOW price with their own solar.

      I predict that many fleet owners will start to do the math here and this will grow and grow since they are in competition with other businesses.

      They will start to see it as either a competitive advantage or eventually as a necessity to compete.

  3. Bacardi says:

    Reportedly, VIA requires you to purchase at least FIVE vehicles and even if you have four other buddies who’ll buy them off you the originally purchaser is the only one who can file the five tax credits totaling $37,500 to their business…I have emailed Workhorse several times with different emails inquiring, how do I purchase, asked what’s the minimum fleet order and how do I provide you a letter of intent…Not a single reply in over two weeks and I checked my spam folder…

  4. Scott says:

    Tesla is going to destroy Ford when they release an electric truck. If Ford and GM were smart they would be working on and electric truck right now.

    1. F150 Brian says:

      I doubt it. GM, Ford and Ram survive based on pickup profits. They will not go down easily. Also, BEV pickups will find limited traction for commercial use until their capacity is >> 200 KWh.

      And I bet that GM, Ford and Ram are all working on EV pickups, but are content to reap the huge profits of ICE pickups until battery costs come down to a point where it makes sense.

    2. unlucky says:

      Why do you think that?

      The truck market is not going to move rapidly to electric. GM and Ford have plenty of time to catch up before the market is lost to them.

  5. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

    “…we put a pack in there that gives you 80 miles on a normal day, but let’s say now you’ve got 2,000 pounds in the bed and you’re towing a 5,000 pound generator. You’re not going to get 80 miles on all electric, …the gas engine has to turn on and take in. It’s against the [EV] religion to put gas onboard.”

    Well said. Take that, BEV purists! 😛

    I’ve been saying for some time that a PHEV pickup makes much more sense than a BEV pickup, at this still early stage of the EV revolution. Batteries simply don’t contain enough energy to power a truck hauling and towing heavy loads very far.

    As batteries improve, BEV pickups and trucks will become more practical. For now, I think Workhorse has the right approach.

    I hope that Workhorse can hold the line on the price here, but I’m skeptical that they will be able to do so, if this is the fully-equipped pickup it appears to be. Contrariwise, if it’s a stripped-down model, something closer to a utility truck than a passenger vehicle — and something more in line with the other vehicles that Workhorse makes — then the price is probably realistic.

    1. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

      Addendum re price: I should have read the article fully before posting. I see now that the spokesman is specifically talking about a stripped-down model aimed at fleet sales, hinting it might not even have air conditioning.

    2. Vexar says:

      I remain a purist. This is the best anyone could do for sale by 2018, with readily available technology. The Prius in 1997 preceded the Roadster of 2008. The GM Impact preceded the Prius (later the EV-1). This Workhorse W-15 will precede the Tesla Pickup, just like the Nikola One will (likely) precede the Tesla Class-8 freight truck.

      At some point, Workhorse will switch over to a BEV, or offer it as an alternative configuration.

      Since the main difference between manufacturers is the pace and availability of technological advancements, I do imagine that the Tesla Pickup truck will have higher gravimetric charge density, remarkably lower price per kWh of battery, and superior battery longevity.

      What would be smart is if more manufacturers bought batteries and motors from Tesla. That would level their playing field.

      1. unlucky says:

        Why do you think Tesla would sell packs or motors to other makers? They have plenty of need for the ones they make.

        They sure won’t sell batteries since they don’t make batteries. Panasonic makes their batteries.

    3. Leeper says:

      Plenty of power, just not enough energy 😉

    4. JustWilliamPDX says:

      “Take that BEV purists!”

      Indeed. Purist dogma can feel comforting, but is inevitably limiting. The quest for the perfect should never become the enemy of the good.

    5. snowdall says:

      I honestly wish I could be a BEV purist. And for my personal transport I am (Spark EV). But my wife and I have horses, and when packed in the trailer the whole rig is close to 6000 pounds. As much as I hope and desire there just isn’t an EV (or PHEV) out there that’s reasonably in my price range that will meet our towing needs. Hence our continued reliance on an ICE pickup. I’m sure some day someone will crack that nut … but it’s going to be a long long time.

  6. Rick James says:

    Something not mentioned in the article is the range extender and the transmission. Company claims 28/32 mpg city/hwy with range extender. Doubt that a vehicle weighing in at 7200lbs will be able to pull that off and it’s more of a blended mpg with the battery of some sort. Intriguing idea and looking forward to seeing the outcome.

    1. alohart says:

      The range extender is the same that BMW uses in its i3 REx, a 647 cc 2-cylinder engine driving a generator; i.e., the range extender has no mechanical connection to the drive wheels, so there is no range extender transmission. Almost certainly, this REx engine will be manually controlled so that it could be turned on with the battery pack at a high charge level so that is would only decrease, not eliminate the battery pack’s discharge rate when operating the truck under heavy load is expected. The REx output is insufficient to propel a heavy truck at highway speeds, so if the battery pack’s charge level is allowed to drop to its minimum, the truck’s maximum speed would be reduced.

      1. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

        Yeah, the i3 REx’s range extender — which is only a scooter motor! — is totally inadequate for this heavier vehicle, especially if it’s hauling a load.

        That’s the only thing about Workhorse’s design for this PHEV that makes no sense to me. Anybody who expects that small ICE engine to take over after the battery pack runs dry is going to be quite disappointed.

        I had forgotten that problem when I made my rather optimistic post above. I think Workhorse is fooling themselves if they think that scooter motor is going to be adequate. I hope they upgrade the ICE engine; I’d guess it needs a 6-cylinder engine if it’s expected to do some serious hauling or towing, or even much hill-climbing.

        If Workhorse sticks with the weak i3 range extender, but continues to claim that the truck can continue hauling or towing a heavy load after the battery pack runs flat, then they’re going to have some very unhappy customers.

        1. David Lane says:

          I believe the i3 uses a 2 cylinder REx. Press reports indicate that Workhorse is using a 3 cylinder range extender from BMW.

        2. wavelet says:

          The Workhorse REx is only a generator, and never has to haul or tow anything. Specs mention it generates 50kW (the i3 REx genrates ~25kW), and presumably it would come on long before the battery is drained; Workhorse do say they only use 40kWh of the battery’s 60kWh, for long life, but I’m sure this is also part of the reason.

          1. F150 Brian says:

            Only 2/3 of the battery’s capacity is used to maintain a buffer. The Chevy Volt is the same. It does not mean that you can’t dip into the bottom 1/3, it just means that only the top 2/3 can be used without the REX on.

            And with a REX, you need much less power that on ICE alone. Even when towing in my F150, the engine is not working hard (~1800 RPM at 55mph) to maintain speed, just to get going and climb hills. The REX can run steady at medium power even when coasting or stopped to keep charging.

            1. F150 Brian says:

              Also, anyone doing serious long haul towing should simply take a pass on EVs unless they don’t mind stopping to charge every couple hours.

  7. Kevin C says:

    As Mulder said, I want to believe.
    Please keep reporting on Workhorse Group’s progress.
    And prove they’re legitimate and not just pumping and dumping stock.

  8. you betcha says:

    IMHO, this is the right approach. I wish them success.