A Tesla Pickup Truck? I’ll Be The Blue Guy

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Perhaps out of an interest to keep Tesla in the news, Elon Musk suggested yesterday that his company might build an electric pickup truck that would compete with Ford’s F-150 in the next 5 years. To that I say “I’ll be the blue guy,” a sarcastic way of saying “Don’t hold your breath.”

Tesla F-150 Competitor

For a company that hasn’t turned a legitimate profit – and barely has enough cash to keep the lights on – dreams of building an F150 competitor are preposterous.

Here’s why I think the notion of a Tesla pickup in 5 years is beyond fanciful.

First, Does An Electric Truck Make Sense?

In a word, yes. Electric motors have infinite torque, the powertrains can certainly be made rugged enough for truck duty (UPS has a fleet of electric delivery trucks that take all kinds of abuse just fine), and the relatively poor fuel economy of pickup trucks make electric trucks commercially feasible…Via Motors is proof of that.

The trouble with electric trucks is range. Not even Tesla is going to be able to produce a battery pack that would feed an F-150 sized vehicle enough juice to travel more than 200 miles, and that’s only if the truck isn’t towing or hauling. Put a trailer behind an electric truck (or fill it with drywall) and your 200 mile range falls like a rock.

Fundamentally, range is the problem with electric vehicles. While an electric sedan can be tweaked and massaged to drive 300 miles on one charge, an electric truck can not (at least not if it’s used for work). That’s why the only market for electric trucks is commercial. Local fleet operators (like your local electric company) can work with a truck that has a sub-100 mile range. Consumers? Not so much.

Now, Let’s Talk About Why Tesla Can’t Build a Truck

There are three reasons that Tesla can’t be in the truck business.

Tesla battery pack durability questions

Are Tesla battery packs built for this kind of abuse? Cause truck owners are hard on their vehicles. Image via Chaos Fabrication.

  1. Their battery technology might not be durable enough. Not to pile on to the “Teslas catch fire” bandwagon, but let’s be honest: trucks run over things that would damage a car. Is Tesla going to surround their highly flammable battery packs with a bomb-proof casing? ‘Cause if they aren’t, the first guy to take his Tesla truck off-road and bang his battery pack into a rock could be in for a surprise.
  2. Tesla has no relevant experience. If building trucks was “easy,” don’t you think Toyota and Honda would have done a better job their first time out? The T-100 (and I’m a fan of that truck, for the record) was a joke compared to an F-150. It was reliable as hell, but it simply wasn’t a full size. The Ridgeline was innovative in it’s time, but it’s never sold well because it’s expensive and underpowered. These trucks were failures. Yet Honda and Toyota had extensive commercial truck engineering experience (at least globally), and engineering experience counts. Tesla needs to start building commercial trucks before they can consider building a truck for consumers (commercial Tesla trucks make a ton of sense to me, BTW).
  3. Tesla has no cash. Tesla’s cash reserves as of the end of the 3rd quarter were $796 million. That’s pitifully small compared to the $2 billion+ Toyota spent to develop the 2nd generation Tundra (and that includes the manufacturing plant). $800 million in cash won’t cut it, at least when you consider that Tesla projects their cash reserves to remain flat for the immediate future.

    What’s more, where does the money needed to pay for their new lithium-ion battery plant come from? The money for their next SUV, or their future mass-market car? Unless Tesla gets another multi-billion dollar federal loan, they’ve barely got enough money to get by. Investing in a pickup truck is impossible without a massive influx of cash.

Could Tesla build an electrified version of the Tundra, for example (like this test mule electric Tundra we wrote about, which was parked at Tesla’s HQ)? You bet, but that’s not a Tesla truck. That’s a Toyota with a Tesla powertrain.

Once again, I must commend Elon Musk for his marketing prowess. His company barely has enough cash to complete their next model, their planned factory expansion, etc., and he’s talking about building a truck that can compete with the F-150.

I’ll be the blue guy, Elon, cause’ I’ll be holding my breath.

Filed Under: Auto News


RSSComments (18)

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  1. Larry says:

    “The T-100 was a joke compared to an F-150. ”

    Some joke. I buy one for 16000 dollars and run it for 19 years with out the spark plugs flying out of the motor like on the F150. Ford was the joke not the T100. I gave it to a friend and he will probably run it 5 more years. If they still made that truck I would have purchased another one. Cost of ownership was about as lows as a person could get. It was a great truck for what someone calls a joke.

    • mendonsy says:

      I agree.
      The T100 was a very impressive vehicle and was never intended to compete with the large pickups.
      When the T100 appeared the “big 3” suddenly came out with smaller trucks.
      I think Jason’s choice of an example was just wrong!

    • You guys are too sensitive. 🙂

      Toyota brought out a truck that was designed to appeal to full-size truck buyers (remember, they already had a compact that was very successful). The T100 was the next step up, and at the time Toyota was pitching it as a smart alternative to what they viewed as a bloated full-size…they were even going to call it the T150, if you’ll recall.

      Don’t get me wrong here either – I love that truck. But the T100 (and the Ridgeline) show how difficult it is to compete with the F-150. The half-ton truck market isn’t nearly as simple or easy as it looks, and Tesla would be wise to develop some experience in trucks before they head down this path.

      • Larry says:

        Well, now that we all agree that the T100 was a solid set of wheels which did it’s job well for many years, I am prepared to talk about electric stuff.

        At this time and for all time, there are only a very few elements in the periodic table which have enough free electrons to make batteries.


        sodium and potassium in my car,,,,,,,, I don’t think so. At this point we do not have a battery technology which will make it long term. Someone might come up with a better compound from one of the above but I doubt it. Lead acid is the only thing we have which is reasonable in cost. I have gone through more nickel-cadmium power tool batteries then I can count. The chemistry will only handle so many charge cycles.

        When all the electrons have moved to the dark side, the battery must go through a cycle to put the electrons back on the good side. The chemistry does not exist yet to make a rechargeable battery which does not break down. In addition, for every pound of metal used, there are only so many electrons which can make a voltage. There will be no magic battery which will somehow have 10 times the capacity. Magic on this front is not going to happen. The government may be able to create money but Tesla will not figure out how to make new metals with more electrons. We might see a battery which will have a 1000 percent recharge cycle improvement but not a big increase in capicity.

        When the Tesla owners get hit with battery replacement costs, they are not going to be happy.

        From my perspective, the Tesla car is a toy for rich people who don’t car about the cost. If I was rich I’m sure I would love to have one. My bet is on the table that they can’t make a practical and reasonable cost consumer car let alone a working truck. In addition I still have my doubts Tesla will survive.

        As for a battery powered truck which will be able to do any real work for more then 100 miles, I am 100 percent I will not live long enough to see it.

  2. f150 owner says:

    Making the battery pack more durable than a gas vehicle has already been done.

    You can’t even get Americans agree that the Ford truck is better than Chevy or Dodge trucks, let alone everyone to agree that no other manufacture in the world has yet to build something competitive.

    I can’t refute your third point… but really that’s probably the reason you’re right.

    • Tim Esterdahl says:

      f150 owner,

      Not sure I agree about the battery pack being made more durable. Tesla has had 3 fires in the past 2 months because their battery pack couldn’t withstand an object hitting it. Until Tesla can stop those fires from occurring, I don’t see them building a battery pack that can withstand offroading.


      • T says:

        This Tuesday 11/19 on History HD,Top Gear America will have a 1hr show on which light duty truck is #1.

        2014 Tundra, 2014 Chevy, 2014 F-150 and 2014 Ram etc. Figured you guys might want to know. Get those DVR’s ready 7pm/8pm depending on your time zone.


        • Tim Esterdahl says:


          Thanks for the heads up, I’ll add it to my DVR.

          I can almost predict the results though. Journalists LOVE new things so:
          1. Ram Diesel (it’s a diesel and its new)
          2. GMC Sierra/Chevy Silverado (new interior/exterior and a NEW engine)
          3. Toyota Tundra (if it had a NEW engine, it would be 2)
          4. Ford F-150 (nothing new, 2015 model will be 1-2)
          5. Nissan Titan (nothing new)

          Sad, but that is the way journalists see the trucks. They aren’t looking at reliability or total cost of ownership, it is just what is new and “sexy.”


    • If by “durable” you mean “incredibly vulnerable to being punctured and catching fire,” than you and I are on the same page. LOL.

      Otherwise, I think it’s fair to say that Tesla can’t put their battery pack all along the underside of a truck without protecting it from rocks and other damage…and I doubt that’s economically feasible (not to mention that it would be heavy and hurt fuel economy).

  3. Mickey says:

    I agree with Tim and Jason on the battery pack F150 owner. Now as the T100 myself at the time was a Chevy proud owner and would agree with the statement of a joke. The truck wasn’t compared as a full size truck. That was most of the consumers point of view. They wanted Toyota to come out with a full size truck like they did in 2000. I still gave a friend at work a hard time when he bought his 2000 Gen I Toyota Tundra. The truck actually was nice to my point of view but I was one of those guys who liked Chevy. My dad had GM all his life so I was one of those who was brought up on GM. So my view was hard on Toyota. Even though I owned a 74 Corona Sr5 as my first car. Why I jump ship 1 1/2 years later was anytime something broke it took 2 weeks to get the part in. This was in 76-77. The car was only 3 years old and no parts in the USA. No one can wait 2 weeks without a car when you have to go to work and take care of your family. In all I do agree with Jason on his article. I know I was originally on the other side of the fence. I learn something new for a old dog like myself. I do like my Gen II 07 CM Limited 5.7 with just under 168,000 miles on it. Even though I’m going through some issues right now. Once fixed I know I will make 250k miles without trouble.

  4. Mason says:

    Great article Tim.

    I agree with some of the other posters the T100 was awesome. Even though it wasn’t a true fullsize, it was more like half way between a midsize and a fullsize truck.

  5. mk says:

    tesla won’t do it of if they do they will go route of dodge and gm being bankrupt.

    speaking of top gear, got that episode already DVRed ready to see their comments/reviews.

    Say, on top gear just a bit ago they did the segment on the tesla all electric vehicle along with the electric fiat 500, ford focus, and nissan. The nissan was very cool and think it won the overall rating as far as I was concerned since rutledge disabled the reverse limiter and did 57 mph in reverse that was so cool.

    Plus, the tesla beat the camaro supercharged model in the 1/4 mile no problems very nice car and not bad for 100K or so able to go 240 miles on one full charge. Too bad they can’t make it 50K or would be a very nice vehicle to own and afford.

    Then, on same show they put 3 special electric build cars on 1/4 mile and was a s-10 pickup, porsche, and hot rod dragster. All were super fast around 10 second 1/4 mile but the super fast dragster was around 8.2 second 1/4 mile now that is flying!!!!!

    Top gear has some really cool shows.

    • Tim Esterdahl says:


      You’re right, Top Gear does have some cool shows and I catch them when I can.

      I have driven the Tesla Model S, Nissan Leaf, Ford Focus EV and Chevy Volt. I can tell you that the Tesla is awesome, just awesome. It is soooo much better than the other electric cars. Yes, it is expensive, but with zero maintenance costs beyond tires and no fuel to buy, it is actually more reasonable than you think. The Tesla has an incredible amount of instant torque, I roasted the tires the last time I drove it!


  6. Randy says:

    This does not seem like much of a choice for consumers?

    But then I saw the light, both pick-ups are the same:

    Tesla Pick-Up = Fire = It does not run.

    F150 Ecoboost = Water Logged = It does not run.

    Sometimes I’m just slow.

  7. LJC says:

    Read the below article about a Tesla fire, then tell me with all honesty if you think a gaser would have been safer in the exact same scenario:


    Elon Musk is crazy as a fox.

    • Tim Esterdahl says:


      There have been 3 fires in the past 45 days and a fire in their factory.

      It is debatable what would be safer at this point since the cars drove over a large obstacle in the road. The gaser might not have caught fire immediately, but it would have had lots of damage and become unsafe to operate. The benefit of the Tesla is that the drivers were able to pull over safely. Again, totally debatable.

      The only thing I will also say is that gasers catch fire at odd times too. Remember the Texas auto journalist: https://www.tundraheadquarters.com/blog/press-fleet-ram-catches-fire-worker-sabotage-to-blame/


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