The Case for the Plug-in Electric Pickup
Plug-in electric cars are on the way. Both mainstream automakers and boutique brands are aiming to capitalize on the growing desire amongst drivers to wean themselves off gasoline. While gasoline / electric hybrids have been around for years, the idea of a pure electric vehicle – one which runs exclusively off of a battery and must be recharged by plugging in to a standard electrical socket – is for many the ultimate goal of the hybrid revolution.
While automakers are developing plug-in hybrids, it’s important to note that most of the plug-in hybrid vehicles being introduced are sedans and coupes – not trucks. Automakers have yet to embrace the concept of a plug-in pickup, and some green types are using this fact to argue that the days of big pickups are over. However, the fact is many people need a truck for work and/or their daily lives. So why haven’t automakers started producing plug-in pickups? It’s not size…at least not completely.
Pickups are big, and their larger dimensions might seem to be the reason that automakers aren’t producing hybrid versions. After all:
- Most hybrid electric vehicles on the market are small.
- It takes a more powerful electric motor to get a big pickup rolling.
However, size isn’t really the problem…kind of. Part of the reason that small hybrids are popular with automakers is because they represent the easiest sales opportunity. Small car buyers are already interested in fuel economy, so making a super-fuel-efficient small hybrid makes marketing sense. Small hybrids are also easier to design, less expensive to produce, and not subjected to the abuse that a typical truck would endure.
Small cars, like this Toyota Prius, are ideal candidates for hybrid conversion. But what about trucks?
As for big electric motors being needed to move big pickups, it’s true…but big motors are getting cheaper every day. In fact, it turns out that pickups, with their big frames, heavy-duty suspensions, and extra cargo space are actually quite suited for hauling lots of batteries, a prerequisite for any plug-in electric vehicle. Trucks are built to haul the battery power they need.
Since trucks are built to haul and tow, they thrive on torque. By nature of their design, electric motors provide almost infinite torque, meaning that electric motors are ideally suited to most pickup truck applications. Unfortunately, infinite torque requires a LOT of energy…which means you need a lot of powerful batteries to get the job done. Which brings us back to size. It’s not the size of the truck, so much as the amount of power that a truck needs to do it’s job.
Why Automakers Aren’t Building Plug-in Pickups
Money. Part of the issue is that the costs associated with electric vehicle components have only recently begun to fall. For most of the last 15 years, the idea of equipping any vehicle with a reliable battery pack that was big enough to hold lots of power for a plug-in pickup was a pipe dream. Today, battery pack costs are falling and reliability is increasing.
Battery capacity. Again, just like costs, only recently have powerful, large-scale battery packs become technologically feasible. Up until a few years ago, it simply wasn’t possible to create a battery pack that would propel a large pickup – at least not without weighing thousands of pounds.
Wear and tear. Pickup trucks are used and abused. Every automaker over-designs their trucks to make sure they last. Plug-in technology isn’t quite mature enough to handle the abuse…but it’s close.
The good news for all you truck owners is that you don’t have to wait for an automaker to build a plug-in pickup. With some know-how, some minor sacrifice, and a big fat wad of cash, you can go electric all on your own. We’ll have more on Electric Pickup Truck Conversions later.
Filed Under: Tundra Hybrid