Juicing the Pickup Truck Market

By Lloyd Graff

The automotive world is churning these days. New cars are creeping out of the showrooms, but used cars are going bananas. CarMax stock has doubled since April. 

Yesterday’s announcement by Ford that CEO Jim Hackett is stepping down should come as little surprise after his 3-year tenure saw Ford’s stock plummet 39%. His predecessor, Mark Fields, lasted only 2 years. Ford’s big plus has always been its F-150 pickup, and it is reintroducing the Bronco, with 150,000 pre-sales to position itself against the Jeep Wrangler. Hackett was an outsider who was recruited from furniture maker Steelcase. His successor, Jim Farley, is a Ford veteran like Mark Fields. 

The pickup truck melee is getting more competitive with Elon Musk’s Cybertruck with its radical styling, now gearing up in Austin, Texas, which is also where Tesla’s new battery plant is being built. Musk has reported well over 500,000 pre-sales for the electric truck, priced at $39,000. As usual, he has taken an unorthodox approach to build the vehicle with stainless steel sheets, cut and laser welded, avoiding the cost of stamping out the body and doors with enormous expensive presses. Using lithium batteries is expensive, but making them in Austin in huge quantities will lower costs. The F-150 is cheaper in its base cost, but if we compare apples to apples for a bigger bed and 6-passenger capacity, the price edge goes to Tesla.

An interesting new entry into the electric pickup game is Lordstown Motors in Lordstown, Ohio. This is a start-up being funded by a money group from Wall Street. Who is really putting up the money is vague, but GM just tossed in $75 million and the company will be on the NASDAQ shortly. GM is also building a battery plant near the Lordstown, Ohio, plant, which it built in the 1960s to build the Chevy Caprice. Lordstown is famous for a strike in 1972, in which the UAW infamously turned out cars with torn upholstery in its guerrilla retaliation against the company. To me, Lordstown has always symbolized the downfall of American automotive companies and the stupidity of the UAW.

Will Lordstown Motors, which plans to build a plain vanilla electric pickup with a GM battery using a stealth group of investors, be able to compete with the sexy Cybertruck? It’s not a hand I would bet on.

Another player may be Rivian, which Ford invested in through its Lincoln division but has now walked away from. It is another stealth company, which supposedly got $700 million in backing from Amazon. If they ever really build a competitive electric pickup, they will be as far behind as a Volkswagen diesel.

Not to be forgotten is Nikola, which is planning to build a hydrogen powered pickup truck called “The Badger,” in a non-existent plant in Coolidge, Arizona. They claim to have 20,000 pre-sales, but everything about this company seems weird.

To me, the big question under the surface is do the real people who drive F-150s, Ram trucks, and Silverados really want an electric pickup truck? I know the US government is forcing electric vehicles on us because the sky is falling if we only get 30 miles per gallon from gasoline, but the market is telling us that electric cars, even Tesla’s, are not that useful in places like Chicago or Nashville or Frankfort, Kentucky. 

A hybrid makes more sense to me. The technology has been tested for decades and does not require a gazillion dollar charging station infrastructure. Did we all forget that the power plants to fuel the recharging stations run almost totally on fossil fuels in America? Same in China and Europe, and in those places they are still primarily coal-fueled.

I love Elon Musk for his entrepreneurial brilliance, but I still wonder if we have simply bought into the enchanting myth of electric vehicles.

Question: Do you think those who drive pickup trucks really want an electric pickup?

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6 thoughts on “Juicing the Pickup Truck Market

  1. Gordon Erickson

    Depends on how you use it. Been driving a V8 F150 since 1997. Switched from Toyota SR5’s because the 1/2 ton load gets pretty close when someone asks if you can bring a mold back with you. Towing an 8000 pound trailer full of equipment or a car or boat also happens frequently enough that a full size pickup is a requirement. I opted to stay in a V8 for those reasons in 2014, and expect I will again in a couple years when it gets replaced. Nothing wrong with a V6 with a 10 speed auto for driving around, but if you actually use the truck for what it is intended for, the confidence of everything being built stronger has some meaning. Before I considered an electric to do what I do, I would be crawling around under there looking for 1″ sway bars and 16″ disk brakes and 3.71 rear axles, and C rated tires and I just don’t think, without looking of course, that they are going to build electrics like that. One time, just one time that a loaded trailer gets out of hand on a downhill and most people would be wishing they had opted for the real thing.

  2. Cleetus Pattyson

    Well from here smack dab in the Midwest I think today if you had a 1/2 off price sale on new electric trucks and doubled the price on the diesel 3/4 and 1 ton trucks you wouldn’t see but maybe 2 or three out of 100 that would buy the electric and the other 97 to 98% would opt out for the diesel or the real mans truck that makes some noise and some smoke.

  3. Seth Emerson

    California is at 48% fossil fuel for electricity generation – as of 2018. Probably even less now. It will indeed take time. What kills me is watching the 3/4 ton dually/diesel being used as a daily M-F commute vehicle so 4-5 times a year it can haul a boat to the lake. That is goofy. If you are hauling commercial tonnage or for a distance, I understand it. Electric makes sense for short-haul delivery.

  4. David Kirchner

    Have you test drove a Tesla Model 3 with the Performance package? This car is a blast to drive. The government subsidies on Tesla are gone, but this car is worth its $60 price for its performance. The CyberTruck will bring a new set of options that some will love and others will not. I believe there is a place for Tesla just on its merits as it is fun to drive. Time will bring better Electric Vehicles that everyone would be able to afford and enjoy. I take my Ford Raptor 6.2L to Silver Lake Sand Dune Park in Michigan. I have an electric muffler cutout opened for the hill-climbing, I love the open muffler sound. But if that CyberTruck has as much instant torque my Model 3 has, I will enjoy challenging the old generation of truck even more.

  5. Dan M.

    I would defer to Llloyd’s recent column about “staying too long” and not realizing the life cycles that do exist in our material world. Not a hipster tree hugger hereby any stretch – but where the application suits it, yep, EV…. its time.
    The problem will be the suits, understanding the proper applications…


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