In a part of the automotive universe where Elon Musk and Tesla seem to be driving the electric vehicle conversations, a small company called the Workhorse Group looks like it will be ready to offer the world's first extended-range electric pickup truck later this year. The Tesla pickup will not be ready for a couple more years.
Called the , it was unveiled today at the Advanced Clean Transportation Expo in Long Beach, Calif., The 5,000-pound all-new truck slots right into with the heart-of-the-market crew-cab half-ton pickup class with a wheelbase of 143 inches and an overall length of just less than 20 feet. Although a touch larger than the Honda Ridgeline, the W-15, with its four-wheel independent suspension, looks wider than most pickups by 5 or 6 inches, especially from the rear. In fact, the bed is 6 feet long and wider than any of the existing competitors in the class.
Although the electric powertrain uses 6,000 Panasonic batteries, there is a small three-cylinder engine under the hood to juice up the batteries when they run low on power. Similar to the powertrains of the Chevrolet Volt or VIA Motors' full-size pickups, this extended-range strategy combines gas and electric sources to power the W-15.
The W-15's massive battery pack is located between the frame rails of the truck; it has two electric motors that power the front and rear wheels independently or in tandem. When battery levels get below a certain point, the gas engine kicks in to provide juice (like a generator) to the battery pack, which in turn continues to power the electric motors. The W-15 has a plug-in port for charging or it can allow the gas motor to do all the charging as needed while driven.
To save weight, all the W-15's body panels are made from carbon fiber composite. The truck has eight-lug axles that will be used in Workhorse's W-25 and W-35 models. Also, since it has its own onboard power source, the truck also can generate power wherever it goes, such as a campsite or on the driveway when the power goes out in the house.
The W-15 has a gross vehicle weight rating of 7,200 pounds, which translates into 2,200 pounds of payload capacity (significantly more than most of the half-ton players), and it has a towing capacity of 5,000 pounds (a good amount less than most half-ton pickups).
As to fuel range, Workhorse says the W-15 can go about 80 miles on electric-only power, while the 11-gallon gas tank can provide another 310 miles depending on load. Total power output between the two electric motors and the gas engine is calculated to be around 460 horsepower, which allows it to hit zero-to-60 mph in 5.5 seconds. Fuel economy is estimated at an mpg-equivalent of 75, with a range-extending mpg of 28 highway and 32 city.
Since the truck is mostly controlled by electronics, traction, we were told, could be settings that allow for separate front-wheel, rear-wheel or all-wheel-drive modes, depending on the environment. Workhorse says this high-tech pickup will have the latest safety technology, including collision avoidance, automatic emergency braking (up to 45 mph) and lane departure warning.
While not yet production ready, the W-15 concept we drove was close to what the final version of the pickup should be. We took it for a spin in a parking lot and our first impression is that the W-15 has some impressive abilities and capabilities. The quietness of the cabin is almost unnerving, and the wide-open interior and large information screens are reminiscent of the Ridgeline, with its smooth dash and large center console. Front and rear electric motors mean the front and rear floors are flat.
Hit the accelerator and the response is impressive for something of this size, although we did not push the pickup too hard. We did get a clear sense of how stable the truck feels as it accelerates and corners. Without a transmission, there are no shift points and no need to watch a tachometer, which we also found unnerving. As with any concept, there were the expected creaks and groans, and the electric steering will be tricky for a vehicle that could potentially carry more than a ton of payload in the bed.
The Workhorse Group already has a few thousand orders for the W-15, with more likely to come as fleet buyers see how the truck performs in the real world. Offered in just one trim level, the W-15 will have a few options available to accommodate different types of buyers. Workhorse does not have a dealership network in place right now, but it does have a relationship with Ryder Industries for distribution, service and maintenance.
Pricing for the W-15 will start at $52,500 (destination fees do not apply to this truck), and it will likely start going to customers later this year.
Workhorse's production facility in Union City, Ind., is reported to be capable of building close to 60,000 units a year. If that happens, you're likely to see more W-15s on the road than Tesla pickups by a wide margin.
Cars.com photos by Mark Williams; manufacturer images