With the Tesla Pickup Truck announcement getting closer, I wanted to share some of my thoughts on what I think it’s going to deliver as far as specs, looks, and price. But I also want to take a broader look at why this market segment is so important to not only Tesla, but the industry and future of EVs in general. There are several EV trucks already announced and on the way, but which ones are most likely to gain mainstream adoption? When the Tesla announcement hits very soon, will we be seeing something most people wouldn’t believe? Or will this end up being a moment lost in time, like tears in the rain? Sorry, I couldn’t resist a Blade Runner reference.
The market & competition
It probably won’t come as a surprise why Tesla wants to make a pickup truck in the first place. In the United States, pickups have been the best selling segment for decades and the Ford F-Series has been the #1 selling vehicle for years. In 2019 alone, the F series has sold 662,574 units. Compare that to cars like the Honda Accord at 204,463 units, and Toyota Corolla at 233,978 units. The top 3 selling vehicles in the United States are all pickup trucks, so if you combine the Cheverlet Silverado, Ram Pickup, and Ford F-Series together, you’d be looking at a whopping 1,535,948 trucks so far this year.1 And that’s why it’s not a surprise that Tesla is designing their own pickup.
And when it comes to trucks going electric, there’s a major upside to going with electric motors over internal combustion engines: torque. When you’re hauling or towing thousands of pounds of materials, torque is the key to getting the truck going. It’s not a truck, but the Tesla Model X is capable of towing about 5,000lbs. 2 That’s not bad for an SUV, but most trucks today can tow around 10,000 – 20,000 lbs, like the Ford F-Series at 9,500 – 18,400 lbs.3 And being able to haul between 6,000 – 8,000lbs is in the ballpark for typical trucks today too. That means EV trucks will need to meet or beat those capabilities to win people over in the transition to electric.
So as of right now there are only a handful of EV trucks that have been announced for release in the coming year or two. The one that’s getting a lot of headlines is Rivian with the R1T.4 The design of the truck is unique and looks stunning. It’s targeting squarely at the lifestyle and adventurer market, so it’s more inline with Land Rover than a Ford F-150. Even though it’s not meant as a workhorse, it’s still a very capable truck with 1,800 lb payload and 11,000 lb towing capacity. Its battery options range between 105 – 180kWh, which gives it a range of 230 – 400 miles. Not that you’ll be doing a lot of drag races in a truck, but the highest performance version has a 3 sec 0-60 time. It’s due to start shipping next year at a starting price of $69,000, but will most likely start with the more expensive options first. Still no pricing details for the performance variants, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they’ll be around $100,000, which is definitely in the luxury, lifestyle segment.
In the same segment is Bollinger with the B1 & B2. This is a fascinating company that’s been self-funded by Bollinger himself as they build out their prototypes.5 One of the things that I love about Bollinger is their very opinionated design, which is mid-century modern. It’s definitely not for everyone, but it really makes a statement and will absolutely pull in some buyers. It has a large 120 kWh battery, but a fairly low 200 mile range. That could be from poor aerodynamic design, but not a big deal based on who this is targeted at and how it will get used.6 Again, another very capable truck with a 5,000 lbs payload and 7,500 lbs towing capacity. It has dual motors that bring 614 hp and a 0-60 in 4.5 seconds. The downside: the $125,000 sticker price. This is definitely going to a niche machine.
There are a few others, but they’re most likely to be even more niche, like the W-15 from Workhorse. It’s not a household name, but it’s a company that typically creates trucks for fleets, not for consumers. The W-15 is their first consumer product, but it’s also a little underwhelming with 2,200 lbs payload and 5,000 lbs tow capacity. This isn’t really a lifestyle truck or a workhorse (no pun intended) truck. It’s probably something that will be useful for light duty needs. It’s due to start shipping this year and comes in at $52,500.7
But the big guy on the block that’s started showing off what they’re working on, but still has yet to announce a lot of detailed specs, is Ford. They have a hybrid F-150 coming out next year8 and have said that their all electric version is due around 2022.9 They made a lot of buzz with a video showing off their prototype towing a million pound train. While impressive, it was a little bit of smoke and mirrors because the math doesn’t actually work out to it towing one million pounds. The YouTube channel Engineering Explained put together a great video breaking down the physics and math behind what was actually going on there … it’s still impressive … but not what it seems.
As the top dog in the truck market, it makes a lot of sense why Ford is coming out strong and announcing this truck early. They can’t afford to let any EV upstarts get in early and steal away market share. I’m a fan of Ford and am actually pretty happy to see them shifting in this direction. Shifting to EVs for their truck lineup doesn’t just make sense for environmental reasons, but it makes a lot of sense practically. EV trucks will ultimately be able to haul and tow more, as well as offer up incredible potential for powering tools at a job site. It’s going to be a pretty easy sales pitch once they start to hit the market.
So what is Tesla going to announce?
If you follow Tesla at all, you have probably seen some of the crazy artist renderings floating around the internet about what the Tesla Truck could look like. Most of them have tried to tie back to two things: 1) that very limited view of the truck’s front that Tesla released earlier in the year, and 2) Elon’s comment on the Recode Decode interview:
“it’s gonna be like a really futuristic-like cyberpunk, ‘Blade Runner’ pickup truck.” – Elon Musk “Okay, what does that mean?” – Kara Swisher “It’s gonna be awesome, it’s gonna be amazing. This will be heart-stopping. It stops my heart. It’s like, oh, it’s great.” -Elon Musk10 He’s also said that the truck isn’t going to be for everybody if you expect a standard looking truck like we’ve seen for the past 30 to 40 years. If that’s what you want, this isn’t going to be the truck for you. No matter what, it sounds like this truck is most likely going to be divisive for looks, which got me wondering, who is this truck for?
You can break down the truck market into a bunch of sub-genres, but the two big ones are work trucks and lifestyle trucks. Is Tesla hoping that people looking for hardcore workhorse style trucks will buy in? People who need to haul heavy materials, go to worksites, and power their tools? Or are they hoping to hit folks who like to do minor hauling from time to time, light off-roading, and towing a camper for vacations? Those are two very different audiences we’re talking about and if Tesla is designing a truck that’s too out there for a workhorse truck, they’re cutting themselves off from a pretty sizable market. And if the truck is oversized and overpowered for the lifestyle market, they’ll be missing out there too.
Of all of the designs people have been making that are floating around out there, I’m most inclined to believe the look is a seamless slope from the front of the truck to the roof. Much like the Tesla Semi, but far more aerodynamic and sporty. Something tells me it’s going to be something closer to this. which was created by Justin James.11 The designer, Sahm Jafari, who’s working on the Tesla Truck also designed an early Tesla concept, the Tesla Model Zero. It won’t surprise me at all if we see some of that design DNA make its way into the truck design.12 And according to Elon, “It’s the best looking thing they’ve ever designed.”
Based on everything that’s been teased, we know that Elon wants to target the base price at under $50,000. From Ryan McCaffery’s great Ride the Lightning interview:13
“We don’t want it to be really expensive. I think it’s got to start at less than $50,000 it’s got to be like $49,000 max. Ideally less.” – Elon Musk “You just made a lot of people happy by saying that.” – Ryan McCaffrey “It just can’t be unaffordable. It’s gotta be something that’s affordable. So … there will be versions that are more expensive, but you’ve gotta be able to get a really great truck for $49,000 or less.” – Elon Musk
It’s most likely going to be a dual motor design.14 But beyond that it turns into heavy speculation. If you look at Tesla’s track record, they always try to create cars that have no compromises and can meet or beat the internal combustion engine competition. They don’t want their cars to be good for an EV, they want them to be good as a car … or a truck. That means delivering something that will meet or exceed something like the Ford F-150. This is just my best guess, but I think it’s going to easily beat the F-150’s hauling and towing capacity, which means something in the 20,000 – 30,000 lb towing range. It also means a truck that probably has 800+ horsepower and will blow the doors off of any 0-60 time we’ve seen from a pickup. Most likely something around 3 seconds, which is even good for a car. And I have to tip my hat to Sean Mitchell for this one, it’s probably going to have the Tesla Armor Glass they created for the Tesla Semi. If this is a work truck, and has a very large glass windshield and roof, it’ll need to be extremely durable. I’m in complete agreement with Sean on that one. And it will absolutely be capable of 250 kw charging speeds.
But I keep coming back to the question: who is this for? I’m not exactly sure, and it’s clear that Elon is just trying to make something desirable. From the same Recode Decode interview:
“Who do you want to sell that too? People who buy F whatever” – Kara Swisher “You know … I don’t actually know … if … a lot of people will buy this pickup truck or not … and I don’t care. I do care eventually … I mean we do want to get gasoline and diesel pickup trucks off the road.” – Elon Musk
Regardless of who the intended audience is for the Tesla Pickup Truck, it’s definitely going to get a lot of attention when it’s announced shortly. And as the internet has pointed out: November 2019, L.A., and Blade Runner are the perfect combination. I’d love to know if the timing of the announcement was planned around the movie. Of all of the EV trucks hitting the market in the next year or two, it’s Tesla and Ford that get me the most excited. Tesla is going to be pushing the boundaries of what we view as a truck, and Ford is going to be pushing a mass market EV truck that will meet or beat their own best selling vehicle. I love the competition we’re starting to see in the EV space, which is going to give us better vehicles, better prices, and more choices. For us, it’s all a win-win.