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The electric pickup wars are about to begin

CNN logo CNN 4 days ago By Peter Valdes-Dapena, CNN Business

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Even before Tesla revealed the Cybertruck last November, other companies — both brand-new start ups and long-established automakers — had already announced plans for electric pickup trucks of their own.

Most of these planned trucks are far less insane-looking than Tesla's $40,000 ultra-prismatic Cybertruck with its supposedly bulletproof windows and dent-proof body. Still, they boast of amazing-sounding capabilities that, in many cases, far outmatch even heavy duty gasoline and diesel trucks.

Ford, for example, released a video last summer of a battery-powered F-150 prototype towing — at low speed and for a relatively short distance — 1.25 million pounds of freight train cars filled with other F-150s. Even Ford admitted the truck was "towing far beyond any production truck's published capacity," but it was still an astounding display of strength for a truck that's still very much in development. Ford still hasn't said when it will go on sale.

The Tesla Cybertruck is built from the same steel Elon Musk's SpaceX uses for rockets.© Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images The Tesla Cybertruck is built from the same steel Elon Musk's SpaceX uses for rockets.

More recently, General Motors announced that its GMC Hummer EV electric pickup will offer up to 11,500 pound-feet of torque, a measure of pulling power. That compares to less than a thousand pound-feet produced by GM's own diesel-powered heavy duty pickups. GM hasn't said anything about the GMC Hummer's price yet, except to indicate it will be a "niche" vehicle intended to be sold in low numbers. It's expected to go on sale in 2022.

"The big question is, when you actually start to use those trucks as they're intended to be used, how much is that going to degrade the range in the truck?" said Sam Abuelsamid, a transportation analyst with Navigant Research. Even gasoline and diesel trucks go far fewer miles on a tank of fuel when towing heavy loads, for instance.

Many of these trucks take advantage of other benefits of electric motors besides just the heavyweight pulling power they enable. Electric motors are also far more compact than gasoline engines and they don't require a transmission with multiple gears, another thing that takes up space. That frees up lots of room for something that gas- and diesel-powered trucks usually lack, lockable storage space.

a car parked on the side of a mountain: The Rivian R1T has lockable storage under the hood and beneath the bed.© Ben Moon/Rivian The Rivian R1T has lockable storage under the hood and beneath the bed.

When Michigan-based startup Rivian designed its R1T electric pickup, for example, it included a sizable "frunk" — a front trunk — underneath its broad flat hood where an engine would otherwise be. It also has a large tunnel-like opening that stretches the width of truck underneath the bed with a door on each side. Rivian has Ford and Amazon as major investors and is working on projects for both companies — electric delivery vans for Amazon and a luxury Lincoln SUV for Ford — in addition to its own truck and SUV. Rivian's truck is expected to go on sale later this year at prices starting at about $70,000 before federal tax credits.

Bollinger Motors, another startup, is creating, the B2 electric truck with a tunnel that runs right through the front of the truck. It has a lockable door between the headlights and the other end opens into the passenger compartment. Another door opens out into the bed offering the ability to carry long items straight through the middle of the truck from bumper to bumper.

a truck is parked in the grass: The Bollinger B2 is designed  for functionality and definitely looks the part.© Bollinger Motors The Bollinger B2 is designed for functionality and definitely looks the part.

Bollinger, founded in 2014 in upstate New York but now headquartered outside of Detroit, designed its truck to look as if it wasn't designed at all. More than anything else, it looks like a huge drivable tool chest. Even the interior lacks decorative trim unless you want to count the wooden board that makes up the "center console." (That's in quotes because it's literally a board bolted to four metal legs.) The steering wheel looks like it came off a 1963 truck instead of one expected to go on sale next year. There's no airbag in that steering wheel because, as far as safety requirements are concerned, the B2 is classified as a commercial truck not a passenger vehicle. The B2 also costs as much as a big commercial truck, with prices set to start at $125,000 — more than twice as much as some of these other electric trucks.

a silver car: The Lordstown Endurance's electric motors are built into the wheels.© Lordstown Motors The Lordstown Endurance's electric motors are built into the wheels.

Lordstown Motors, the company that's taking over the former GM assembly plant in Lordstown, Ohio, has designed its truck without any motors housed inside the body at all. Instead, the four electric motors on the Lordstown Endurance will be inside the wheels. It's an idea that's been explored by other automakers but rarely implemented in a production vehicle. Besides leaving more room in the body of the truck, this also reduces the total number of moving parts, according to Lordstown. The company plans to start producing trucks later this year at a starting price of about $52,000.

a car parked in a parking lot: The Nikola Badger will be fueled by hydrogen gas, as well electricity stored in batteries.© Nikola Motors The Nikola Badger will be fueled by hydrogen gas, as well electricity stored in batteries.

Most recently, Nikola, a company that makes hydrogen-powered semi trucks, announced plans for its Badger pickup. Nikola says the Badger will have a 600 mile total driving range, including 300 miles from lithium ion batteries and another 300 miles from a hydrogen fuel cell. Hydrogen fuel cells combine hydrogen gas, stored in onboard tanks, with oxygen from the air to create water and electricity. Nikola is also planning to build out a network of hydrogen fueling stations. The Badger will be manufactured through a partnership with an unnamed major automaker, according to Nikola. That deal is expected to be announced soon.

Despite some real advantages, pickup truck buyers will probably be slow, at first, to adopt the new trucks, said Abuelsamid. Electric trucks can provide power for electric tools on job sites and, since they don't burn gasoline or diesel and have fewer moving parts to maintain, they'll be cheaper to operate. Fleet buyers, who look most closely at the cost of operation, will probably be among the first buyers, he said.

"I think it'll start off as a niche and I think it'll gradually grow," he said.

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