Electric Trucks Are Coming, But Does Anybody Want One?

Pickups and large SUVs have been the profit center for Detroit for years.  The vehicles are big, carry lots of stuff, and generally suck down copious amounts of gasoline.  Now Ford and GM want to do something different.

In a nod to increasing emission standards around the world, car companies are trying to add electric vehicles to their fleets as quickly as possible.  If the American companies can convert U.S. drivers to electric trucks, then they might be able to move a larger number of zero emission vehicles than if they focus just on electric sedans.

Ford Chairman Bill Ford said:

“This is going to be a real watershed for the whole industry.”

Ford hinted the electric F-150 could have extra cargo space where the engine had been, and a version could be positioned as a high-performance vehicle next to the gas-fueled, 450 horsepower Raptor pickup truck.

The Dearborn, Michigan-based company has said it will invest $11.5 billion electrifying its vehicles by 2022, including adding 16 fully electric models, all of which will be profitable, which is a big claim given the history of electric vehicles.

But the two big automakers face competition in the space from small startups, Tesla and Rivian.  Ford recently invested $500 million in Rivian, but will build an electric F-150 on a different platform.

Three years ago, Tesla CEO Elon Musk declared he wanted to attack the heart of the Detroit automakers’ franchises with a Tesla electric pickup he has described as a “cyberpunk” truck with the performance of a Porsche 911 sports car. Tesla is expected to unveil a prototype this year, with analysts forecasting a 2022 debut. Musk declined to comment for this story.

Officials familiar with Ford and GM’s plans said their electric pickups will be introduced by early 2022.

But there’s still the problem of estimating demand.  Electric pickup trucks will be expensive.

Rivian CEO R.J. Scaringe asked:

“The question is how large is the demand and does it translate across all price points or does it stay more isolated in the higher price points?”

Beau Boeckmann, president of Galpin Ford in the Los Angeles area and one of the largest U.S. Ford dealers, said customers are already asking about the truck.

Not everyone is so sanguine. Industry tracking firm IHS Markit has estimated the entire full-size electric truck segment will account for fewer than 30,000 sales in 2026, compared with an expected 2.3 million sales overall.

IHS Markit principal analyst Stephanie Brinley said:

“We’re in uncharted waters. We’re talking niche in the beginning.”

Ford and GM have their reputations to protect.  They stake much of their images on their trucks, with waving American flags and rough-and-tumble images in their ads.  They can’t let the small upstarts beat them to an obvious market.

But they must be worried.  Electric vehicles don’t make money, as Tesla has proven.  GM loses money on every electric vehicle it sells.  If these companies roll out electric versions of their most profitable vehicles, they could cannibalize their returns.



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