A Tesla Pickup Truck? I’ll Be The Blue Guy
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.”
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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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