America's love affair with pickup trucks isn't headed to Splitsville any time soon.
The excitement over the arrival of fully electric pickup trucks is palpable. And it's not just consumers who are eager for these electric vehicles (EVs). Automakers also hope the new EVs become big sellers, based on general consumer interest in trucks.
Last year, the top three vehicles sold in the U.S. were pickup trucks, according to Edmunds. And of the 15 million cars and trucks sold in the U.S. in 2021, roughly 13 percent of them were pickup trucks, according to Edmunds. So why has it taken so long to introduce an electric version?
Trucks strike right at the Achilles’ heel of EVs: the heavier the vehicle, the bigger the battery it needs, which in turn adds more weight and more expense. A 2021 gas engine Ford F-150 Supercrew, for example, weighs over 5,000 pounds compared with an electric 2022 Chevy Bolt compact car, which weighs just under 3,600 pounds. Batteries, the most expensive component in an EV, had to get better with improved energy density in order to handle the heft of pickups with payload.
Now, after years of testing and upgraded battery technology, manufacturers are ready to deliver pickup EVs that can go 300 miles on a single charge. This year, at least three major models from GM, Ford and newcomer Rivian are hitting the streets. And models are planned from Dodge and Tesla.
Electric truck features
Electric trucks offer a lot of advantages over traditional gas-powered internal combustion engine (ICE) rivals. EVs deliver more power off the line, making them zippier than any gas guzzler. Many boast sports-car acceleration, adjustable suspension and unique handling characteristics thanks to independent electric motors.
With their low-end power, electric pickups also have tremendous towing capacity, 10,000 pounds and up. In fact, Ford and Telsa have already staged towing battles online, such as the controversial Tesla tug of war video. The bottom line: EVs could easily match or exceed the hauling capacity of even top traditional pickups, so you don't have to make compromises in cargo or towing capacities.
Better still, EVs are virtually silent. In fact, EVs are so quiet they are required to emit electronic sounds at low speeds to alert pedestrians of their presence.
Electric truck drawbacks
If you’re a fan of thundering truck exhausts, however, you're going to be disappointed. These four-wheelers are designed to be quiet and smooth to drive. More important, shoppers may be put off by the sticker price. EVs still command a price premium of several thousand dollars over traditional gas-powered vehicles, but that gap is beginning to narrow.
Some states, such as California, offer rebates, and there are federal tax credits of up to
$7,500 available. However, not all cars and trucks are eligible. If the automaker has already sold 200,000 or more qualifying vehicles, then the tax credit doesn't apply. So buyers of GM's Hummer EV don't get the tax break, but Rivian purchasers do — at least for now.
Finally, there's that pesky charging issue. EVs still can only go 200 to 300 miles before having to stop and recharge. And even at a fast public charging station, getting up to 80 percent of a full charge takes about 30 minutes (although this varies, depending on the model and weather). For long road trips, some planning is in order to make sure you stop at available stations. Experts recommend you get a home charging station, which is relatively easy to install and lets you charge a vehicle overnight so that you're always topped up.
The Big Three
2022 Rivian R1T $67,500-$85,000
With its rounded corners and sleek flanks, Rivian's pickup prototype had been on the auto show circuit for a couple of years before the pandemic, garnering support from the likes of Amazon and Ford. Now the R1T pickup is finally available, and it demonstrates the kind of design innovations that are possible when a truck goes all-electric.
The R1T has a panoramic roof and a unique "gear tunnel" storage locker hidden between the cab and cargo, for example. And the truck was designed to include a true hands-free driving system that's standard. It works only on select highways, like GM's semiautonomous Super Cruise option, which allows drivers to travel hands-free, and can take the drudgery out of long road trips.
The Rivian R1T can tow up to 11,000 pounds, traverse water up to 3 feet deep, and has nearly 15 inches of ground clearance to scramble over rocks, according to Rivian. It can also go from 0 to 60 mph in 3 seconds and has an EPA rated 314-mile driving range. (A larger 400-mile-plus battery is available for an extra $10,000.)
GMC Hummer EV Edition 1, $110,295
If you're going to go electric, go big. That seems to be the motto for the return of the Hummer in EV form. This edition of the Hummer has 1,000 horsepower, will hit 60 mph in 3 seconds, and can travel up to 350 miles on a single charge. The wheels can be turned in tandem, enabling a slow, diagonal drive mode GM calls "crab walk" that will get you out of (or into) tight spots. And for loading up, there's the multistep tailgate that makes getting into the cargo bed a cinch.
In accordance with its size, the Hummer has a voluminous interior and a lot of technology features, such as GM's Super Cruise, which allows for hands- (and feet-) free driving on about 200,000 miles of highway in the U.S. and Canada.
GMC wants you to think of the Hummer EV Edition 1 as a mud and mountain monster. The vehicle is equipped with 18 video cameras, including one underneath the EV to make sure you are going to clear that next boulder. And it has adjustable suspension and 35-inch tires.
2022 Ford F-150 Lightning, $39,974-$90,874
Ford's F-150 has traditionally been the best-selling pickup in the U.S., and the company is hoping lightning strikes twice with the all-electric 2022 Lightning version. It will arrive this spring in a slew of different trims.
The hallmark of the electric F-150 is that it looks like a regular F-150 pickup truck. That will hopefully appeal to current fans and traditionalists. And while production models aren't available yet, Ford says the EV F-150 will go from 0 to 60 in about 4.5 seconds and roll about 300 miles with the extended battery option (pushing the price to $72,474) until it runs out of power.
While it looks like a regular pickup, the F-150 Lightning will have special features. For example, it will come with 120-volt outlets to handle power tools and other equipment. The truck will offer an optional semiautonomous BlueCruise feature, similar to GM's Super Cruise, so it will only work on specific highways. In addition, Ford plans to offer an option that will allow the F-150 to power your house in the event of an outage. However, it will require a special charging system to be installed in your home, and pricing and installation information won't be available until the spring.
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The bottom line
If all this sounds appealing to you, getting your hands on a battery-powered pickup might be difficult. Reservations for Rivian's top-of-the-line RT1 are already fully booked, for example, and the company delivered fewer than a thousand trucks last year. Reservations for GM's Hummer EV1 are also locked out, although you can preorder a $100,000 Hummer EV 3X Pickup, which is expected this fall, for $100 down. Ford's electric F-150 also requires a refundable $100 reservation fee for the anticipated springtime launch.
Farther in the future, the introduction of Tesla's Cybertruck, which looks like something out of Mad Max, has been delayed several times, but you can preorder one for $100, although there is no announced delivery date. GM will also enjoin the pickup truck EV race next year with an electric version of its Chevy Silverado.
John R. Quain is a contributor to The New York Times and editor in chief of On the Road.