The immensely popular pickup field is being electrified. Coming electric pickups from legacy automakers like Ford and GM are hugely important since pickups are among their most profitable models. And Tesla? Well, in its typical disruptive fashion, Tesla is introducing a wildly different take on pickups with the company’s signature performance and range characteristics built in. Even luxury electric vehicle maker Karma plans to join the party with an extended range electric pickup.
Names like Atlis, Bollinger, Lordstown, Nicola, and Rivian are new to the scene. These startups are in varying stages of development, some with a solid foundation of billions in investment, manufacturing facilities, and actual product in the works, and others a bit more aspirational. Will they succeed? Time will tell. Plus, we’ll have to see how some wishful launch schedules align with reality.
ATLIS MOTOR VEHICLES plans to offer its heavy-duty electric XT as a regular bed pickup, plus in flat-bed, service body, and dually configurations. Atlis says the truck will carry a 1,000 to 5,000 pound payload, tow 6,000 to 17,000 pounds with a conventional hitch, or 20,000 to 35,000 pounds with a fifth wheel or gooseneck hitch. The company claims a driving range of 300 to 500 miles. These capabilities depend on the battery capacity selected, which starts at 125 kWh. Rather than the lithium-ion batteries powering most EVs today, Atlis is using nickel-manganese-cobalt batteries. It says these batteries are fast-charge capable and can be charged in as little as 15 minutes.
ANALYSIS: The performance claimed by Atlis is quite ambitious, especially since it’s using a less mature battery chemistry and plans to offer a pickup starting at $45,000. This start-up has a concept model developed and is actively seeking investment.
BOLLINGER is looking at a late 2020 launch for its B2 electric pickup and B1 electric SUV. The B2 pickup will have a GVWR (gross vehicle weight rating) over 10,000 pounds, making it a Class 3 truck with a 5,000 pound payload capacity. It’s expected to offer a 7,500 tow capability and drive an estimated 200 miles with power from a 120 kWh battery pack. Portal axles mean excellent ground clearance for off-road duty. The Bollinger B2’s Class 3 rating and stark styling – flat glass, external door hinges, and aluminum body panels devoid of compound curves that can be formed by simple equipment – makes it clear the company is not aiming at buyers who want to make a fashion statement. Plus, prototypes shown to date have an austere interior without an infotainment system, surprising for a vehicle projected to have a $125,000 price tag. The cargo area’s unique pass-through into the cab makes the truck capable of handling a telephone pole.
ANALYSIS: With its substantial price, rudimentary styling, and austere interior, Bollinger’s B2 pickup appears aimed at commercial applications rather than mainstream pickup buyers. It looks like Bollinger recognizes this niche market role since the company is planning to make only 1500 vehicles in its first year.
FORD plans to offer as many as 16 pure electric vehicles by 2022 including an electric Ford F-Series pickup, which could appear later in 2021. Ford hasn’t released much information about the electric F-150, but it is expected that range, payload, and towing capability will be competitive with other electric pickups, and perhaps a bit better. That means a range of 250 to over 400 miles, at least a ton of payload, and the ability to tow 7,500 to 14,000 pounds. These numbers are based on battery kWh capacity and selected motors. Like options for conventional F-150s these will be items to be checked off by buyers.
ANALYSIS: Pickup buyers are a very loyal bunch, and if the electric F-150 doesn’t stray too far from the best-selling F-150 it should readily succeed with Ford pickup fans who want to go ‘green.’
GM will naturally have an electric pickup if its traditional competitor Ford has one, and in all likelihood, it will offer several. GMC will get a version that will be marketed as a Hummer, and a Chevrolet Silverado variant will surely emerge since this brand has such a huge pickup following. Both would be built on a similar platform with capabilities comparable to that of Tesla, Rivian, and Ford electric pickups. Again, buyers will be able to select battery/motor options. GM expects a 2021 launch for its electric GMC Hummer pickup. Rumor has it that a Chevrolet Silverado variant will be a more traditional pickup built on a smaller version of the platform, with the GMC Hummer pickup aimed at the off-road, adventure vehicle buyer.
ANALYSIS: Chevrolet and GMC, like Ford, have the advantage of decades of owner loyalty. An electric Chevy Silverado pickup will certainly find a strong following, while the Hummer will likely be a niche vehicle.
KARMA AUTOMOTIVE says it is developing an electric pickup that extends its battery range with electricity from an internal combustion engine-generator, similar to its existing electrified products. The electric pickup will be based on a newly developed all-wheel drive platform and cost less than the company’s $135,000 Revero GT, an extended range electric luxury sedan. A concept pickup is promised later in 2020. The new electric pickup will be built at the company’s existing manufacturing facility in Southern California.
ANALYSIS: A start-up that launched in 2015, Karma has shown it is committed to the electric vehicle market with several high-end models under its belt and others in the works. It has worked with Italy’s renowned car design and coachbuilder Pininfarina on a concept electric grand touring car with production potential, so we have yet to see if its coming electric pickup will be an entirely in-house project or involve others.
LORDSTOWN MOTORS says it plans a 2021 introduction for its Endurance electric pickup with a four-wheel-drive hub motor system. Limited information is available except that it will climb a 30 percent grade fully loaded, carry a 2200 pound payload, and tow 6000 pounds. Range is estimated at a minimum 250 miles. The company is now taking deposits for its 2021 Endurance pickup at a base price of $52,500. Its primary emphasis is on fleets, though private parties can also make a reservation.
ANALYSIS: Lordstown Motors has received a $40 million loan from General Motors and took over GM’s huge Lordstown Assembly Plant. GM is building a large battery factory nearby in partnership with LG Chem. Part of this effort might include taking up an option to lease space in the Lordstown Assembly Plant. In addition to its own manufacturing, Lordstown Motors hopes to provide overflow manufacturing capacity for Workhorse Group’s last-mile electric delivery vans.
NIKOLA MOTOR COMPANY has shown its Nikola Badger pickup that would presumably come in two models, one battery-electric and the other running on a combination of battery electric and hydrogen fuel cell power. Battery electric propulsion is said to feature a 160 kWh battery and a 300 mile range. Adding fuel cell power to the battery electric powertrain would incorporate a 120 kW fuel cell and a total 600 mile range, when hydrogen is available. The Badger is engineered to deliver 906 peak and 455 continuous horsepower, with a massive 980 lb-ft torque. An 8,000 pound tow capability is claimed. In addition, the pickup will feature a 15 kW power outlet for tools, lights, and compressors. Nikola says it will partner with an established OEM to build the Badger and initially announced a late 2020 launch plan, while identifying a $60,000 to $90,000 price range.
ANALYSIS: Nikola is leveraging the technology and expertise developed for its Nikola One and Nikola Two electric and fuel cell semi tractor-trailer trucks. Given the capabilities of the Badger pickup and the likely high price tag of a combined battery electric and hydrogen fuel cell powertrain, we would expect its target market to be primarily commercial operations. Nikola plans to build hydrogen filling stations along well-traveled truck routes to facilitate fuel cell use, a move that further underscores a focus on the commercial market.
RIVIAN plans to launch its R1T pickup in 2021. It will be available with 105, 135, and 180 kWh battery packs and corresponding ranges estimated at 230, 300, and 400 miles, starting at an estimated price of $69,000. All versions will have an 11,000 pound tow rating. The pickup features a ‘gear tunnel’ stowage space behind the rear seats and the ability to make a 360-degree turn in its own length, like a tank. In addition to the truck, Rivian will offer an R1S SUV using the same skateboard platform as the R1T truck.
ANALYSIS: While Rivian is a startup, it has billions in backing from the likes of Ford, Amazon, and T. Rowe Price. Amazon has placed an order with Rivian for 100,000 electric delivery vans, which will be built at Rivian’s manufacturing facility in Normal, Illinois, a former Mitsubishi assembly plant acquired by Rivian in 2017.
TESLA’S Cybertruck is by far the most high-profile pickup introduction and the one most talked about today. Coming from the well-established electric car leader, the Cybertruck is a combination of edgy and disruptive styling one might expect on the set of a dystopic sci-fi thriller infused with some pretty impressive innovations. Among these are a motorized metal tonneau cover that completely retracts below the truck’s rear window and a built-in ramp for loading gear and recreational toys. Tesla claims its stainless steel Cybertruck will deliver a range of 250 to 500 miles, offer a 3500 pound payload, and will be capable of towing between 7500 to 14,000 pounds. The range of capabilities varies on battery capacity – 75 to 200 kWh – and motor configurations, including Tri Motor AWD, Dual Motor AWD, or Single Motor RWD. Prices are said to range from $39,990 to $69,900, though Tesla’s track record of rolling out high-spec editions first means the lower-end model won’t be seeing daylight any time soon.
ANALYSIS: Tesla, which arguably can be credited with making electric vehicles a serious option to combustion engine models, could be the first startup to achieve long term success. The company sold 367,500 cars in 2019 and has four current models in its stable with plans for more, which means it has transcended the traditional definition of a niche automaker. Like previous Tesla products, expect the Cybertruck to exhibit many changes before deliveries presumably start in late 2021.
A shift to electric pickups is tantalizing to many, but it’s no easy thing. It’s true that electric pickups require less maintenance than their gasoline or diesel counterparts. Still, there are times when EV-specific service will be required beyond the usual tire, brake, and fluid maintenance that can be performed by mainstream service providers. Electric pickup manufacturers must provide for this service. That’s not a significant issue for legacy automakers like Ford and GM that have a widespread dealer sales and service network, even in sparsely populated states. Service personnel at dealerships can be trained in EV-specific work. Fledgling and start-up electric pickup companies will certainly be at a disadvantage here.
Are there other electric pickups in the works beyond the brands mentioned here? That’s certainly likely considering the interest already developing and the intensively competitive nature of the auto industry, though details on additional players are unknown. With the advent of electric pickups on the near horizon, that may change sooner than you would expect.
Diesel engines are powerful and generally significantly more efficient than gasoline engines, but they have their challenges like soot and nitrogen oxide emissions. Automakers have gone to great lengths to optimize diesel engines while mitigating those emissions in meaningful and cost-effective ways. It’s not an easy challenge.
“We can generally clean up emissions for a gasoline engine with a three-way catalyst,” says Ronald Grover, staff researcher at General Motors Research and Development. “The problem with diesel is that when you operate lean, you can’t use the conventional three-way catalysts to clean up all the emissions suitably, so you have to add a lot of complexity to the after-treatment system.”
That has prompted a research program to improve combustion models for diesel passenger car engines using the Titan supercomputer at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory. A 27-petaflop Cray XK7 supercomputer with a hybrid CPU–GPU architecture, Titan is the nation’s most powerful computer for open scientific research. The ultimate goal is to accelerate innovative engine designs capable of meeting ever-stricter emissions standards.
The GM team’s goal is to better simulate what happens in the engine, making use of the Titan to increase the complexity of the chemistry in their combustion models, compare the results of Titan simulations with GM experimental data to measure accuracy, and identify other areas for improvement in the combustion model. ORNL’s goal is to help the GM team improve the accuracy of the combustion model, an exercise that could benefit other combustion research down the road.
“Usually a company will go through a vehicle development process from end-to-end that could take 4 or 5 years,” says Grover. “If you could develop the powertrain faster, then you could get cars to market faster and more reliably.”
Coinciding with the release of symposium co-sponsor Alcantara’s fifth annual Sustainability Report, the International Symposium on Sustainability brought together leaders in the automotive field including manufacturers, NGOs, and academics from leading universities.
Staged at the prestigious Venice International University in Venice, Italy, the symposium’s purpose was to share ideas and, at times, argue salient points from varying perspectives to redefine sustainability as it impacts global welfare. Green Car Journal was in attendance to hear first-hand the divergent perspectives.
Presenters and panelists included top industry executives from Alcantara S.p.A, Audi AG, BASF Group, Formulec Co., General Motors, and PSA Peugeot Citroen. On the academic side there were directors and leaders from Aarhus University, Ca' Foscari University's Center for Automotive and Mobility Innovation, Ecole Politechnique de Paris, Kedge Business School, University of Lausanne, and Venice International University. The World Bank and Connect4Climate were also represented.
As a buzzword, the term ‘sustainability’ has been overused and is rarely consistently defined in standard conversation. For some it is simply a financial term used for keeping profitability high enough for production to move along at a healthy pace. For others, it is keeping product lines fresh and appealing to draw sufficient consumer interest and maintain long-term existence. Regardless of perspective or intent, today sustainability has become an initiative of strategic importance in conducting business around the world.
Throughout the course of the two-day symposium, discussion netted some solid resolutions for change in addition to opening a dialogue for future consideration. It was perhaps the conflicting perspectives that generated the most interesting results and demonstrated some of the voids between academic perspectives and practical applications by major manufacturers. This is not unique to a single symposium and, in fact, the disparity in viewpoints between automakers and academia was previously noted by Green Car Journal at its Green Car Summits on Capitol Hill in the States.
The International Symposium on Sustainability was conceived to explore three fundamental topics for better understanding the challenges that the automotive industry will face in years to come, focusing on consumer perceptions, sustainability indicators, and products technology. In addition, its goal was to explore the possible trajectories and development paths the industry could take to achieve its sustainability goals.
A belief that current products and technologies are not sustainable was a common thread in symposium discussions, even as there was recognition that much has been done in recent decades to curb the auto industry’s negative impacts. It was also recognized that not only products but also the processes implemented to produce them need to be greener, with an inclusive focus on the entire value chain and not exclusively on automakers.
No one was more outspoken about corporate infractions to the environment and supply chain worker conditions in poor countries than Professor Guido Palazzo, Director of the Strategy, Globalization, and Society Department at the University of Lausanne. Kicking the symposium into high gear right from the start, Palazzo called for major change by what he referred to as ‘global business actors.’
“We have unclear or non-existent rules of the global game, which generates a growing negative impact on multinational business activities,” said Palazzo. “There are direct political struggles between corporations and the civil society, which will ultimately create changes leading to corporate engagement in filling global regulatory gaps and self-regulation. This is a compound agenda that will not change overnight.”
Professor Palazzo shared the perspective that a ‘radical transparency’ change is long overdue with regard to production processes and the inclusion of workers and unions in formulating policies that achieve environmentally friendly production. Manufacturers do not believe that such radical change is possible if profitability – and their very own corporate sustainability – were to be maintained, said Palazzo. While there is no conflict with regard to the need to achieve carbon neutrality, he pointed to the corporate orientation as one of taking smaller steps to work towards the common good. Investing time to research supply chain policies to ensure that products are created in more environmentally responsible ways is a given as part of this.
In his presentation, Frank Figge, Professor of Sustainable Development and CSR at Kedge Business School, noted that the world is 90 percent dependent on petroleum today and this handcuffs the market to an “environmentally damaging source of power.” Indeed, there was a clear consensus among those attending that dependence on oil was the most significant hurdle.
Also supporting this was GM Director of Sustainability David Tulauskas, who said that moving away from petroleum and toward alternative sources of power is needed for vehicles, with safe and cost-effective transportation systems created to support sustainable lifestyles. He added that consumers are at the center of what automakers do and they increasingly want advanced vehicles that address this.
Thorsten Pinkepank, BASF Group Director of Corporate Sustainability Relations, shared that companies not only need to do good but need to know how to do good, pointing out that driving sustainable solutions to current challenges is both a major growth initiative and a responsibility for all.
Consumer behavior is co-determined by motivation, ability, and opportunity, said John Thøgersen of Aarhus University. He added that the gap between motivation and behavior is rooted in many causes with no magic bullets to solve this problem, and in fact a wide range of techniques are needed to facilitate willing participation and make ‘sustainable choice’ the easy choice for consumers. According to Thogersen, energy labels like those indicating fuel economy and CO2 emissions on new cars can be effective tools for change, but improvements in the clarity of labeling and education of consumers is still warranted.
Alcantara Business Development Leader Eugenio Lolli shared that his company was pushed on creating quality product by its Japanese competition. But he also noted it was the edict laid down by management to achieve 100 percent sustainability that allowed Alcantara to reach its goals, with this sustainability not only achieved through the production of materials but also with suppliers through self-assessment and audits.
“We need to improve the quality of our lives and modify the way we use our cars,” stated Andrea Boragno, CEO and Chairman of Alcantara as he summarized how the nature of the car is changing. His conclusion was that we need to push for a better understanding and sharing of sustainability technology to achieve the goals and standards being set for manufacturing and consumer goods.
Simply stated, current products and technologies are not sustainable, although much has been done in recent decades to curb the negative impacts of the industry. Importantly, not only products but also the processes implemented to produce them need to be greener, with specific focus on the entire value chain and not only on carmakers.
According to Professor Palazzo, the challenge can be summarized by the following: The way we produce products in the world is not sustainable at the current rate. Even if a company ‘greens up’ its supply chain, that may not be enough to have an impact on a company’s sustainability. There is current concern for the ability to market ‘green’ initiatives on their own. Importantly, there is a need to understand that change is required by those running corporations today. He also added that consumers have routines that are deeply entrenched, thus there is a duty to educate the consumer and transform their mindset for sustainable product creation and a preference for companies that have sustainable production.
Concluded Professor Palazzo: “We cannot continue at our current mode for two billion cars. It is unrealistic. We need a different system…the current one makes us sick. We need to change the way we live today.”
Teaming up can be a good thing, especially when the goal at hand involves significant and disruptive change. That’s what is involved in bringing transportation into an envisioned hydrogen age, a goal for normally petroleum-focused automakers that are working hard toward this zero-emission future. Many automakers have had dynamic hydrogen vehicle development programs in motion for years now, and in some cases decades. Strategic partnering has been a part of this, most notably between auto manufacturers, hydrogen fuel providers, and the federal government
Now, two leading hydrogen vehicle developers – Honda and GM – have agreed to jointly develop next-generation fuel cell systems and hydrogen storage technologies. This partnership will leverage the significant advancements each of the companies has already made in their hydrogen vehicle programs, sharing expertise, common sourcing strategies, and economies of scale. Together they hold more than 1,200 fuel cell patents.
Each automaker has also shown significant progress in putting hydrogen fuel cell vehicles on the road. GM, for instance, launched its ‘Project Driveway’ fuel cell demonstration fleet in 2007, placing 119 fuel cell vehicles in fleet service and accumulating three million miles along the way. Honda began leasing its FCX fuel cell hatchback in 2002 and then developed its very sophisticated FCX Clarity limited production sedan, which has been leased to select consumers in the U.S.
How this will influence Honda’s plan to launch a successor of its FCX Clarity in the U.S. and Japan in 2015 remains to be seen, or GM’s as-yet unannounced timeline for introducing its first production fuel cell vehicle to the market. What we do know is this new alliance is aiming at creating an advanced and more capable next-generation fuel cell system that will also be more affordable than those available today, plus improved hydrogen storage technologies, with an eye toward the 2020 time frame.
Virtually every PEV manufacturer has developed apps for mobile devices allowing remote access for monitoring charge status, initiating charging, pre-heating and pre-cooling interiors, locating charging stations, and much more.
General Motors is basing its remote PEV access on the well-established OnStar system. In one example, Chevy Volt owners can manage vehicle charging, including the option to charge during off-peak hours through the OnStar RemoteLink Mobile App.
The 2014 Chevy Spark EV will also come with the Spark EV Waypoint tab integrated into the RemoteLink app. The aim is to help reduce the range anxiety experienced by some battery electric vehicle drivers.
When a destination is selected, the app will determine whether the destination is within the range of a single charge based on the distance and battery state-of-charge. If not, the app will plot a waypoint route with recommended charging stations along the route.
In some cases the trip may not be possible because the destination is beyond the vehicle’s range and no waypoint charging stations are available along the route. The app tells a driver how long the trip will take including charging time at each waypoint. In addition to mobile devices, waypoint routing will be available on GM Owner Center, allowing directions to be sent online to a vehicle.
The next step is the Park-Tap-Charge app that’s currently in prototype stage. Here, when EV drivers tap their smartphone against a charging station, the device will automatically show payment options that, once accepted, will initiate charging.
Prior to accepting payment, the app will show the hourly rate of charging, estimated time for a full charge, and estimated full-charge cost. The app uses Near Field Communication technology for contactless payment that’s already used in smartphones.