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Shared Mobility Is Coming But Electric Pickups Are Almost Here

Sam Abuelsamid
Feb 17, 2020

EVs 5

Investor and Stanford University instructor Tony Seba published a paper in 2017 proclaiming that 95% of US passenger miles would be in shared automated vehicles by 2030. While the end goal is directionally correct, that timeline seems extremely implausible. In America, the three top-selling vehicles (by a healthy margin) are full-size pickup trucks. It seems that even the onset of electrification may not slow that momentum for the foreseeable future. 

In the mid-1990s, Ford built a small fleet of electric Ranger pickup trucks as an answer to the original California zero emissions vehicle mandate. In 2006, now defunct startup Phoenix Motors launched an EV pickup that did not leave the prototype stage. More recently, startups such as Workhorse have also tried launching EV pickups. 

Taking Notice of the EV Pickup

Rivian's presence at the 2018 Los Angeles Auto Show helped the world take notice of the EV pickup as a potentially viable concept. Since then, Rivian has raised nearly $2 billion in capital to get production off the ground. Also notable, Tesla unveiled its Cybertruck, Ford showed a development prototype of an electric F-150 towing a 1 million pound train, and General Motors announced the revival of the Hummer as an electric GMC pickup (to launch in 2021). 

Unlike the Ranger and Phoenix, the story is different this time. Just as Tesla has demonstrated that there is some consumer demand for stylish and fast electric sedans and crossovers, this new breed of EV trucks is eschewing the compliance vehicle philosophy. Manufacturers have come to the realization that consumers don’t just want a conventional vehicle stuffed with batteries and a motor. Manufacturers are now targeting the large truck and SUV market for electrification because those vehicles sell in large volumes at high margins, especially compared to smaller cars. But truck buyers that are accustomed to ever growing towing, payload, and off-road capability are unlikely to sacrifice these options for zero emissions. 

Countering Concerns and Proving Points

To counter these concerns, Rivian is targeting the adventure market with the R1T and R1S while Tesla produced a demo of the Cybertruck in a tug-of-war with a gas-engine F-150. GM is making a big deal about the GMC Hummer EV as the most powerful vehicle it has ever built, with 1,000 hp and an acceleration of 3 seconds (beating the Corvette). 

GM’s revival of the Hummer name is particularly telling of its intentions. Prior to the end of Hummer production in 2010, the brand had earned a reputation as the antithesis of the environmental movement of the early 2000s. New Hummers were being vandalized on dealer lots and sales had collapsed as oil prices climbed in 2007 and 2008. Just as Tesla and Ford have emphasized the towing capability of their upcoming battery-powered trucks, GM is emphasizing 1,000 hp and amplifying torque claims by quoting 11,500 lbs/feet at the wheels. Torque is typically quoted at the motor, before going through the final drive gearing. GM is aiming to attract the customers that appreciated the rugged capability of machines descended from military utility vehicles and plans to focus on those attributes. 

If this new breed of trucks and SUVs gains traction in the marketplace over the next several years, it could be a mixed blessing. It could certainly accelerate electrification adoption across the board but it may delay people from moving to shared transportation options.