From Hummer to Tesla: Breaking down the electric truck battle

From Hummer to Tesla: Breaking down the electric truck battle
Henry Payne, The Detroit NewsPublished 11:03 p.m. ET Feb. 10, 2020
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There’s a pickup war coming, and it’s going to be electric.

Inspired by the success of Tesla’s performance brand, an army of American startups — and one very large legacy automaker — will roll out five battery-powered trucks over the next two years.

Although we’ve seen only prototypes, sketches and teaser photos of the five electric titans — the GMC Hummer EV, Tesla Cybertruck, Rivian R1T, Lordstown Endurance and Bollinger Motors B2 — they look to be big, powerful and defiantly different. And more truck makers may join the battery-power revolution, including an electric F-150 from Ford.

The Tesla Cybertruck that debuted in November is one of five electric pickup trucks scheduled to go on sale in the next two years.
The Tesla Cybertruck that debuted in November is one of five electric pickup trucks scheduled to go on sale in the next two years. (Photo: Ringo H.W. Chiu, AP)

Engineers see inherent benefits in battery-powered trucks: Instant torque from batteries makes for strong acceleration and towing ability. And thanks to their “skateboard chassis” architecture that stores batteries in the floor, buckets of storage space are created.

At the same time, truck-size performance requires a lot of juice, which will test owners who use their pickups for more than trips to the golf course.

“The challenge is going to be towing,” said Navigant Research analyst Sam Abuelsamid. “The Tesla Model X SUV can tow 5,000 pounds, for example, but then range drops off a cliff by 50% or more.”
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Still, there are a lot of applications where an electric pickup can be useful, both commercial and personal, he said. “An operator in a metro area doesn’t need 500 miles of range, and he can use the vehicle to charge their tools.”

All five pickup EVs are expected to be available with four-door crew cabs, four-wheel drive, 100-kWh-plus batteries and at least 200 miles of range. Although one of the trucks — the Lordstown Endurance — is targeted at fleets and tradespeople, others look to be largely toys for the well-off.

“Pickups aren’t necessarily work trucks anymore, they’re a lifestyle choice,” said veteran auto analyst Rebecca Lindland of RebeccaDrives.com. “There are plenty of people these days willing to pay $65,000 to $70,000 for a pickup truck.”

But charging infrastructure will be critical before there is widespread adoption. Outside of Tesla’s exclusive supercharger network and owners’ garages, truck makers will be dependent on third-party chargers at gas stations, Dunkin’ Donuts and parking lots.

And that could present a problem in itself, Abuelsamid said: “It may be a challenge getting these pickups into parking lot charging-stalls.”

Here’s what we know about the five players.

Tesla’s electric Cybertruck.
Tesla’s electric Cybertruck. (Photo: Tesla)

Tesla Cybertruck
Tesla is the big dog creating excitement here. The Cybertruck that debuted in November is the latest step in CEO Elon Musk’s plans for world electric domination.

With more than 200,000 pre-orders in hand, the $39,900 Cybertruck (with Autopilot, naturally) follows in the footsteps of the Model 3 sedan, making it the most affordable of the EV pickup titans — and the most radical.

Its exterior is a cross between a sci-fi military vehicle and a doorstop, all right angles and stainless steel. The Cybertruck’s interior is simple, its infotainment tablet hanging in the middle of its wide dash.

But there’s a premium to paid in order to reach maximum Cybertruck performance: a claimed 2.9-second zero-60 acceleration time, 500-mile range and 14,000-pound towing capability. To claim those bragging rights, buyers will need to option the tri-motor all-wheel drive version for $69,900.

Due date: Late 2021

A teaser rendering of the upcoming electric GMC Hummer EV truck.
A teaser rendering of the upcoming electric GMC Hummer EV truck. (Photo: GM)

GMC Hummer EV
GMC seeks to recast the Hummer nameplate — once synonymous with gas-guzzling excess — as the “woke” truck of the EV future.

All we’ve seen of of the GMC Hummer EV is the Hummer name on a grille in a Super Bowl commercial. But GM says it will be built in Hamtramck on the same bones as Cadillac’s upcoming electric SUV. It will offer with one-, two- and three-motor configurations like the Cybertruck, suggesting a similarly wide price-range.

Cigar-chomping Arnold Schwarzenegger was the original Hummer’s biggest fan, and basketball star LeBron James is the pitchman for its rebirth. It’s expected to be a big vehicle for big personalities.

GMC claims the silent beast will accelerate from zero-60 in just 3 seconds.

Due date: Fall 2020

Rivian R1T electric pickup.
Rivian R1T electric pickup. (Photo: Lians Jadan, AP)

Rivian R1T
For all Tesla’s brand cred, many analysts see Plymouth-based Rivian as the surest bet, given its massive investment from Fortune 500 clients like Amazon and Ford. With its chiseled iPhone-simple interior and clever tricks like “tank turn” that lets it spin in place, the R1T gives off an upscale, playful vibe.

“Rivian has a lot of buzz,” says Navigant’s Abuelsamid. “It has really diverse and relevant business partners.”

Those partners guarantee the brand income for commercial vehicles (Amazon) and contract jobs (Ford/Lincoln) while Rivian builds its own reputation with individual customers.

The midsize R1T pickup (a similar R1S will be built as an SUV) claims impressive numbers like 11,000-pound towing capacity, but is smaller than the full-size Cybertruck. There’s an electric motor for each wheel.

Starting at $69,000, it’s aimed at outdoors lovers.

To promote its lifestyle appeal, Rivian has tweeted photos of offroad trips to western locations with the R1T’s “frunk” (where the engine normally would be) filled with beverages and a tent pitched in the bed. Rivian promises park-based electric chargers to relieve range anxiety for its wanderlust customers.

Due date: Fall 2020

Bollinger B2 electric truck.
Bollinger B2 electric truck. (Photo: Bollinger Motors)

Bollinger Motors B2
If the Rivian and Tesla are aimed at weekend wanderers, then Ferndale-based Bollinger’s B2 is intended for hard-core outdoorsmen.

Its roots are in founder Robert Bollinger’s need for a truck on his farm in New York’s Catskills. “It had to be electric,” he said on Autoline last year. “We designed it the way we wanted to make it. Electric (architecture) is so much better for trucks than gasoline and diesel, anyway.”

For Bollinger, pickups are all about utility. With the batteries in the basement, the full length of the B2’s interior can be used for storage. The tailgate and front panels drop so you can run 16-foot plywood boards into the cab.

The 614-horsepower B2 has Cybertruck-like 15-inch ground clearance, with 10-inch suspension travel for extreme off-roading. Given its battery weight, the B2 will be classified a Class 3 truck, comparable to a Ford F-350. (The Tesla will be Class 2, like a Ford F-250.)

Compared to the Rivian and Cybertruck, the design of the B2 is utilitarian. Its body is constructed of simple aluminum sheets — a carry-over from Bollinger’s lack of expensive stamping dies when he built his first prototypes by hand. The B2 will start at $125,000.

Due date: Early 2021

A artist rendering of the Lordstown Endurance electric pickup.
A artist rendering of the Lordstown Endurance electric pickup. (Photo: Lordstown Motors)

Lordstown Endurance
The least is known about the $52,500 Lordstown Endurance, which will be built at GM’s former Lordstown Assembly plant in northeast Ohio. Like the Rivian, the Endurance will have a motor at each wheel. With on-board electric export to power tools, the Endurance appears to be aimed at fleet customers and claims a 7,500-pound towing capability.

Due date: Late 2020

EV pickups: By the numbers
2021 Tesla Cybertruck
Vehicle type: 5-passenger electric pickup

Price: $39,900-$69,900

Powerplant: Lithium-ion battery pack; 1-3 electric motors

Power: NA

Performance: 0-60 mph, 2.9 seconds (3-motor); towing, 7,500-14,000 pounds

Range: 250-500 miles

2021 Rivian R1T
Vehicle type: 5-passenger electric pickup

Price: $69,000-plus

Powerplant: 105/135/180 kWh lithium-ion battery pack; 4 electric motors

Power: Up to 754 hp, 829 pound-feet torque

Performance: 0-60 mph, 3.0 seconds; towing, up to 11,000 lbs

Range: Up to 400 miles

2021 Bollinger B2
Vehicle type: 5-passenger electric pickup

Price: $125,000

Powerplant: 120 kWh lithium-ion battery pack; 2 electric motors

Power: 614 hp, 688 pound-feet torque

Performance: 0-60 mph, 4.5 seconds; towing, 7,500 pounds

Range: 200 miles

2022 GMC Hummer
Vehicle type: 5-passenger electric pickup

Price: $70,000 est.

Powerplant: Up to 192 kWh lithium-ion battery pack (est.); 1-3 electric motors

Power: 1,000 hp

Performance: 0-60 mph, 3.0 seconds; towing, NA

Range: NA

2021 Lordstown Endurance
Vehicle type: 5-passenger electric pickup

Price: $52,500

Powerplant: Lithium-ion battery pack; 4 electric motors

Power: NA

Performance: NA

Range: NA

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News.

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