How Far Away Are Electric Pickups?


Tesla CEO Elon Musk recently grabbed headlines again by making bold pronouncements. This time he said he'll reveal a new electric semi-truck with self-driving technology by September and an electric pickup truck within two years.

We have our o: Our hope is that it doesn't look like other Tesla creations and that it offers some legitimate problem-solving technology that will make towing, carrying heavy loads and powering equipment an easier and safer proposition.

Of course, what Musk could do for pickup buyers may be a moot point by the time his vehicle comes to market because another electric pickup manufacturer could have those issues squared away before then.

The Workhorse Group's  looks like it will beat Tesla to the punch, offering a production electric pickup to large energy companies such as North Carolina's Duke Energy in the near future. Duke is one of five electric companies that have submitted letters of intent to buy the pickup for their fleets when it is available. Together, their intended orders total 2,150 pickups.

We caught up with Workhorse founder and CEO Steve Burns at a recent trade show, where his company displayed a scale prototype of the what the new electric mid-size pickup will likely look like when it debuts in May at the Advanced Clean Transportation Show in Long Beach, Calif. The prototype maintains the shape of a traditional pickup, which we like, and which Workhorse hopes will appeal to fleet buyers, as well as everyday consumers.

Workhorse — an Ohio-based battery-electric powertrain and drone developer — says the vehicle will compete in the mid-size pickup class and will be designed to meet the requirements of fleet, commercial and small-business companies that need efficient transportation. The W-15 will be all-wheel drive and offer a fuel economy equivalent of 75 mpg. 

Think of a delivery company such as a UPS, where fleet managers know exactly how far and where each of their vehicles travel each day. Pair Workhorse's fuel-saving technology with GPS navigation/tracking for finding the safest and least congested routes to take in real time, and the bottom-line benefits of an electric pickup are obvious. Electric trucks also could serve as mobile power stations at job sites or disaster areas. A pickup like this also could power a house during electrical outages as well as carry supplies, people and equipment to remote areas.

The Workhorse W-15 chassis is modeled after the medium-duty big-box delivery truck — think UPS truck — Workhorse sells that's already in use across the country. This big truck uses two massive Panasonic battery packs charged by a 200-kilowatt motor generator with a 650-cubic-centimeter, two-cylinder range-extending BMW motor. The engine never powers the vehicle and only kicks on when needed to provide power to the electric motor that charges the batteries. The Workhorse pickup will operate similarly. This power strategy is similar to the one used in the Chevrolet Volt electric compact car and VIA Motors' VTRUX plug-in pickup.

Although we don't have exact details about payload or towing capacity, we do know Workhorse plans to sell the truck for $52,500. Workhorse hopes to have a production version ready to build by the end of 2018, but there are several issues that could cause a delay. Workhorse is currently in the running for a massive U.S. Postal Service contract, so if it wins the contract the release of a mass-market consumer pickup could be delayed by a few years.

Workhorse's production plant is in an old Navistar International production facility in Indiana that's capable of producing upward of 60,000 units per year. But if the pickup gains traction, Workhorse might need to expand its operations and that takes time.

While we find the possibilities poised by fully electric pickups intriguing, we're taking a wait-and-see attitude. Will these vehicles deliver a safe and comfortable driving experience while providing the ability to carry loads and do the work pickup trucks do? Only time will tell.

We've taken some photos of the Workhorse pickup prototype as well as its existing delivery trucks and offer them below. More to come as this new pickup class grows. photos by Mark Williams




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