From Global Giants to Feisty Startups, Electric Trucks Battle for Supremacy

Tesla's Cybertruck, the F-150 EV, the Hummer EV, and more: Handicapping the odds for waves of battery-powered pickups to come

7 min read

Lawrence Ulrich is an award-winning auto writer and former chief auto critic at The New York Times and The Detroit Free Press.

tesla pickup
Photo: Tesla

Tesla rules America’s EV sales, with more than 200,000 buyers in 2020, about 80 percent of the current market. But pickup trucks rule the American road. The top three trucks alone, the Ford F-150, Chevy Silverado and Ram 1500—America’s best-selling models of any vehicle type—found nearly two million customers even in a COVID-stricken 2020. With pickups and SUVs together hogging a record 76 percent of a total 14.5 million sales in 2020, EV makers have gotten the memo, writ large: Tiny EVs are out. Big-and-burly is in. The plug-in pickup race includes Tesla, General Motors, and Ford, the latter two now vowing to swiftly electrify their fleets. It’s a competition with the potential to save billions of gallons of gasoline and diesel every year, between pickups’ ubiquity and their fuel-slurping ways.

The race also includes start-ups such as Rivian, all hoping to become the next Tesla. With so many electric trucks on the cusp, first-mover advantage is no guarantee of success: Doing it right, with appealing design, performance, technology, and a sustainable business plan, will prove more critical than being first to showrooms. That said, to help make sense of this crowded field, Spectrum has analyzed the contenders, based on what we know so far, and handicapped their chances of hauling home big sales—or enough to keep smaller start-ups afloat.

tesla pickupTesla

Tesla Cybertruck
Base price: $39,900
Expected arrival: 2022
Odds of Success: 2 to 1

Betting against Tesla in any EV category would be unwise, between its market dominance, Supercharger infrastructure, captive battery capacity and euphoric receptions for cars like the Model 3. The Cybertruck’s out-there styling—Asimov meets Mad Max—won’t appeal to some traditionalists. But the promised numbers are eye-popping: Up to 500 miles of driving range for a $69,900 “tri-motor” Plaid AWD model, with a 2.9-second launch to 60 mph, 14,000-pound towing capacity and 3,500-pound maximum payload. Analysts foresee a battery of at least 200 kWh, with estimates of roughly 800 horsepower and 1,000 pound-feet of torque. A $39,900, single-motor model should bring a 250-mile driving range and 6.5-second scoot to 60 mph; a $49,900 “Raven” edition brings dual-motor AWD and 300 miles of stamina. A dent-resistant, stainless steel “exoskeleton” body is notable, along with polymer-composite “armor” glass, and an electric roll-down tonneau cover for the bed. Tesla has ordered a record 8,000-ton casting press to manufacture the Cybertruck’s rear body casting at its Gigafactory Texas beginning late this year or in 2022. Considering Elon Musk’s hit-and-miss record on promises, our money is on 2022.

Ford F-150 EV
Base price (est.): $60,000
Expected arrival: 2022
Odds of success: 5 to 1

As stunts go, this was a good one: In 2019, Ford towed ten double-decker rail cars, weighing 1.25 million pounds, with a prototype of its upcoming electric F-150. Two years later, Ford has begun selling its F-150 PowerBoost. The first full-size, full-hybrid pickup—one of Spectrum’s annual Top Ten tech cars for 2021—combines a class-leading 25 mpg (in combined city/highway driving) with an ingenious mobile generator that can deliver up to 7,200 watts of continuous power. Sometime next year, Ford will add a full electric F-150 to its formidable F-Series lineup. Tech details are minimal, but Ford has confirmed a dual-motor, AWD layout. Expect a spacious Crew Cab version (with other body styles likely), a hefty battery pack and 300-mile range, at least for high-end versions. As much as any vehicle, the Ford will test mainstream America’s appetite for all things electric: Ford sells about 900,000 F-Series pickups in a good year, making it America’s best-selling model for 39 straight years. As noted by Ted Cannis, Ford’s global electrification chief, if Ford can eventually convert just one in nine buyers, that would be 100,000 electric pickup sales a year—a solid start in the truck transition from fossil fuels.

rivian truckAndi Hedrick/Rivian

Rivian R1T
Base price: $75,000
Expected arrival: June
Odds of Success: 7 to 1

On paper, Rivian seems a shoo-in. That includes $8 billion in green paper from Ford, Amazon and other investors, and a valuation that’s topped $27 billion; all before the first R1T adventure pickup (closely followed by the R1S SUV) emerges from a former Mitsubishi plant in Normal, Ill. Led by MIT whiz R.J. Scaringe, the Rivian design looks equally impressive: Far less radical than the Cybertruck, yet still signaling electric attitude and innovation for early adopters. That includes a quad-motor layout with electric propulsion at all four wheels, a 135 kWh battery and 754 horsepower. That allows a 3.0-second dash to 60 mph and 300-plus miles of range. That $75,000 Launch Edition will be followed by a more-affordable Explorer version at $67,500 in January 2022, with an optional $10,000, 180-kWh battery upgrade for a 400-mile range. Tesla Autopilot-style semi-autonomy relies on 11 cameras, five radars and 12 ultrasonic sensors. The Gear Tunnel is sparking major truck buzz: The full-width storage cavern allows an optional, $5,000 camp kitchen with a slide-out, battery-powered stove, electric kettle and sink. “Tank Turn” lets the Rivian power its wheels with opposite-phase drive to spin on its axis in tight quarters. And the company just announced plans to install a proprietary network of 10,000 DC and Level 2 chargers in North America by 2023. So why the longer odds on Rivian versus Ford? Take a lesson from the late Preston Tucker: In the postwar era, not a single start-up, mass-market auto brand (Tesla excepted) has survived against the global giants of America and Europe. The EV era may change that paradigm, allowing nimble disrupters to make an end-run around legacy automakers. But for now, Ford and GM together sell more than 2 million pickups a year. Rivian has sold none. Until any newcomer proves they’re a match for Tesla, and entrenched brands in a brutally capital-intensive industry, Rivian remains in “show me” mode.

gmc pickupGMC

GMC Hummer EV
Base price: $112,595, with more-affordable versions to come
Expected arrival: Fall 2021
Odds of Success: 10 to 1

GM’s Chevrolet Bolt is a modest, well-engineered EV that found only modest sales. There’s nothing modest about the terrain-crushing Hummer pickup, or its SUV offshoot called the Hummer EUT. The Hummer EV is one of more than 20 GM EVs coming to North America by 2025. It’s backed by GM’s $27 billion investment in EVs and autonomous cars, including a $2.3 billion factory for its proprietary Ultium batteries in Lordstown, Ohio. If size matters in this race, GM has it, along with millions of truck loyalists that just need to be persuaded to go electric. Massive scale also describes a 200-kWh battery—the largest of any EV to break cover so far—of the loaded, $112,595 First Edition model. That price gives some pause, as does a slow rollout of more affordable versions (at $99,995, $89,995 and $79,995) beginning in spring 2022. Those will be followed by a long-awaited electric version of the Chevy Silverado pickup—GM’s most popular car or truck in America—with top versions promising at least 400 miles of driving range. The Silverado, Hummers and Cruise Origin, an autonomous ride-sharing vehicle, will all be built at the Detroit-area EV plant that GM has redubbed Factory Zero.

The Hummer EV First Edition’s three-motor, 4x4 design brings 1,000 horsepower, an estimated 350-mile driving range and a roughly 3.0-second launch to 60 mph. The excellent, semi-autonomous Super Cruise system migrates from Cadillac. Removable roof panels tempt the adventure crowd, along with a height-adjustable air suspension and hulking 35-inch tires. Then there’s Crab Walk mode, a gimmick-slash-genius innovation that lets the Hummer maneuver on tight trails, and even drive diagonally, by turning rear wheels in tandem with the fronts. In city or country, Crab Walk can also pivot rear wheels opposite the fronts, trimming seven feet from its turning circle. So equipped, the 18-foot-long Hummer can turn in a shorter radius than the miniscule Chevy Spark—a subcompact that’s about six feet shorter overall. Now we’ll see if the Hummer can turn around GM’s EV fortunes.

bollinger b2Bollinger Motors

Bollinger B2
Base price: $125,000
Expected arrival: 2022
Odds of Success: 30 to 1

Michigan-based Bollinger Motors has modest initial goals for its B2 pickup and B1 SUV, looking to build roughly 1,000 copies in its opening year. The brainchild of Robert Bollinger is one boxy, unapologetic brute: The aluminum-bodied, Class 3 work vehicle can wade through one-meter-deep water, and carry cargo up to 4.9-meters long—more than double the length of the typical pickup bed—via its patented “frunkgate,” a pass-through that spans the length of the truck. Dual electric motors spool up 614 horsepower and 668 pound-feet of torque, with a remarkable 15 inches of maximum ground clearance from pricey portal axles. A 120 kWh battery pack powers both truck and four 30-amp electrical outlets. Now it’s up to Bollinger to jump-start its serially delayed production.

canoo pickupCanoo

Canoo Pickup
Base price: No direct sales; monthly subscription-fee model
Expected arrival: 2023
Odds of Success: 50 to 1

The Los Angeles-based Canoo recently showed an adorably bubble-faced pickup, one of three planned vehicles on its multi-purpose EV platform. The Nasdaq-listed company is among several starts-ups created via special acquisition purpose companies, or “blank-check companies,” here creating $600 million in funding. The compact, urban-centric Canoo truck features by-wire braking and steering, the latter eliminating a conventional steering column. Canoo figures a 200-mile range, with rear-drive or dual-motor AWD versions offering up to 600 horsepower. There’s power outlets galore, an expandable cargo bed, front storage with a folding workbench and flip-down tables along the sides. But a two-passenger pickup (at best, three) already makes Canoo a segment oddball. A targeted arrival in 2023 would drop it into a hornet’s nest of bigger-name, better-funded competitors. For Americans who’ve historically shown little love to pint-sized pickups, the odds of canoodling with a Canoo seem slim.

endurance truckLordstown Motors

Lordstown Motors Endurance
Base price: $52,500
Expected arrival: 2021
Odds of Success: 100 to 1

To seasoned industry observers, Lordstown Motors has felt more like a Hail Mary play than a real company: A bid to resuscitate a mothballed General Motors plant in working-class northeast Ohio—near GM and LG Chem’s new Ultium battery factory—with an electric pickup called Endurance. President Trump used the plant closure to browbeat GM, and Vice-President Mike Pence rode onto a stage last summer in an Endurance. The truck’s claim to fame is four motors (and software) integrated directly into wheel hubs. The elegant design, licensed from a Slovenian tech company, could reduce weight, parts count and mechanical losses; but no automaker has been able to pull off wheel-hub motors in production. Lordstown cited targets of 600 horsepower and a 250-mile range. But an Endurance prototype caught fire in January not far from its R&D facility in suburban Detroit. The company’s reputation sizzled further in March, when Hindenburg Research accused it of faking tens of thousands of pre-orders in order to “raise capital and confer legitimacy.” Calling the orders a “mirage,” Hindenburg said Lordstown “has no revenue and no sellable product, which we believe has misled investors on both its demand and production capabilities.” Lordstown CEO Steve Burns denied that, saying the company remained on track to build the truck in 2021. But Lordstown’s endurance has long seemed an open question.

Update (8 Apr. 2021 4:30 p.m. EST): Added information to the GMC Hummer EV writeup about a newly announced electrified cousin, the popular Chevrolet Silverado EV pickup truck.

This article appears in the May 2021 print issue as “EV Trucks Battle for Supremacy.”

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