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Electric Pickup Trucks: The Missed Opportunity

At CES this year we were first introduced to the Faraday Future FF91. This oft beleaguered company promised disruption. They promised industry firsts. They promised height of the imagination innovation. What they delivered, however, was a flashy mid-sized electric car which, presumably, will retail well north of $100,000USD. All of this assumes the company gets that far. With factory construction roadblocks, mass exodus and unpaid bills, Faraday Future’s future is, well, hazy. Something made a team of hundreds of people, and a few very wealthy benefactors, believe in their FF91. Perhaps that something was Tesla.

But Tesla has already soaked up a significant portion of Faraday Future’s potential market. They have a ravenously loyal fan base, not unlike Apple, and an owner base ready to preach the gospel of Tesla at any opportunity. All this, however, and the folks at Tesla have not been without issue. Tesla recently fell suddenly from their Consumer Reports graces. Once a perennial “best pic”, longstanding reliability issues finally caught up to the Model S. Contract disputes plagued initial production of the Model X. Currently, workers in Tesla’s Fremont California factory have reached out to the United Auto Workers to be considered for unionization. Complaints of working conditions have prompted Mr. Musk to conduct an interview himself.

Both of these companies produce high end, high tech luxury sedans. It’s already a crowded market with a limited consumer base. Within this crowded market, they inhabit the even less numerous electric vehicle segment. It seems strange that any new electric vehicles would target this market. Couple this with 2016 which saw stark declines in car sales, particularly for large and luxury cars. 2017 trends have followed suit. While Tesla does enjoy nearly 23% profit margin on average, they are burning cash to keep up with development costs. Demand for their vehicles hasn’t yet peaked, but they’re playing in a segment which is already in the midst of decline.

The electric pickup trucks option

When a new vehicle was being teased from Tesla, my hopes were for a pickup truck. Again, when Future Faraday came onto the scene, hopes did rise. In both cases they were suitably dashed. It seems the pickup option is lost on electric vehicle companies. Elon has hinted, if only very briefly, that they are at least on his radar. But nobody is outright developing them. They really should. All electric pickups accomplish many of the things electric vehicle companies claim to set out to do.

It’s a massive market

There’s no hiding the fact that pickups are popular. Extremely popular. The Ford F-Series alone accounts for nearly 5% of the total US new car market. It sold 820,000 units in 2016. Pickup trucks accounted for 2.69 million new vehicle units in 2016, a healthy 15% of the overall market. As large as this segment is, it’s still growing. 2016 sales saw a 2.6% increase over 2015. Car segments did not. This ignores the popularity of pickups, which is higher on a percentage basis, north of the American border.

Greening the planet one pickup at a time

Owners of electric vehicles are very keen to point out their carbon neutrality. Save arguments about how electricity is generated, electric vehicles are very low carbon producers. Pickup trucks, however, are not. And there are a lot of them out there. By taking a bite out of this market, an electric vehicle company is having a significant impact on carbon emissions. An F150 averages just shy of 300g of CO2 per KM. Assuming 12,000 miles per year, the average for light trucks, that’s over three and a half metric tons of CO2 being emitted. Per truck. This is a huge number.

The commercial fleet harvest is ready for the taking

Average consumers are a big contributors to pickup sales. But a company like Tesla, or Future Faraday, would be most interested in the steady, guaranteed income from fleet sales. Fleet customers like local trades, utilities, constructions all rely on pickup trucks. They also rely on keeping running costs down. Electric vehicles can present a decrease in fuel and maintenance costs. More importantly, in countries and states where carbon emissions are taxed, electric pickup trucks present a huge cost savings. In some cases, they could even be an additional income source. Selling carbon credits could be a lucrative business. All this goes without mentioning the huge market that is municipal/federal fleets. These folks would gobble up these trucks.

Self recharging

Another advantage trucks have over standard cars is square footage. These vehicles are big. Some are over compensating big. Including the cover of the bed, this real estate presents a unique-to-trucks feature: recharging. Optional fixed solar panels in the roof could trickle charge. But, the secret lies in the bed. Most trucks deploy some kind of bed cover. Covered in solar panels, it may be feasible, in bright sun, for the truck to recharge itself as you wait. Perhaps, if one can dream, you could add a hundred miles or so to your overall range thanks to all these panels.

Who will take the plunge?

This is the real question. As mentioned, Elon has hinted that Tesla may take release an electric truck. But if we’re honest, Tesla and Elon are pretty tied up in factory construction and the Model 3. Faraday Future, well, they’re just a giant question mark. Personally, a person like Jeff Bezos of Amazon fame would be ideal. He has the funds, the drive, smarts, and Amazon has the infrastructure to actually distribute the vehicles. Mr. Bezos also seems to be competing directly with Musk enterprises, so this would be an interesting way to get into the game in a big way.

Until then, we wait, with electric pickup dreams.

About Dan Croutch

Dan is a freelance automotive writer and YouTuber (DanDrives). He enjoys all things pickup trucks, classic cars and minivans (really). Fascinated by technology and cars. EV hopeful, but slightly skeptic. He blogs at http://dan.croutch.ca occasionally, tweets @dcroutch obsessively.

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