Did I channel my inner Jeremy Clarkson a little too much? This question will frame it better:
“Think of an American company with billions of dollars in revenues. Coca Cola, Nike, McDonald’s, Visa. Do you know what is bigger than any of those?”
On May 19th, 2021, that was the question asked by MSNBC host Rachel Maddow. The show bearing her name is one of the highest rated news shows in the USA. Her lead story is usually the big deal of the day in America, mostly about politics. Surprisingly, the answer was completely non-political. It is not another company but a truck: the Ford F-Series pickup truck. Peter DeLorenzo, a.k.a. The Auto Extremist adequately named it The Franchise. The next day, Ford was going to reveal the F-150 Lightning, the electric version of the best-selling pickup truck in the USA for four decades. You can watch the news segment here. Two things are happening. First, the entire industry is shifting to electricity. Second, this is creating a huge opportunity for the usual competitors and new start-ups to grab some of those dollars. From lifestyle to utility, from out of this world design to conservative, there is a huge design bandwidth in the upcoming electric pick up wars.
The usual suspects
Ford’s cross-town rivals are not resting on their laurels. Both Stellantis and GM have announced electrified versions of their trucks. Ram has teased an image of its Revolution, a rather futuristic looking truck. However, you will have to wait until 2024. It is also working on a mid-size truck. GM has cornered the high-end market. Rising from the ashes, Hummer is ditching its gas guzzling image for a state-of-the-art electric GMC sub brand. With all the bells and whistles, the EV truck will have 1000hp, Ultium batteries, “crab mode” and a UX powered by Unreal Engine. The more mainstream electric 2023 Chevrolet Silverado was unveiled at CES . It even channeled a famous television series for the Super Bowl…
If finding a charging station worries you, you will probably want to wait for the Tesla Cybertruck. If you need the most capable truck with the most mainstream design, it is not the truck for you. Plenty of ink has already been spilled about the Cybertruck (and lately it has been about its giant wiper). To its credit it has pushed the boundaries of design to an absolute “low poly” extreme. Elon Musk has just delayed production until late 2022 because of the global chip shortage. There is a good chance you will not see any on the road until 2023 or later.
The rest of the field
A few years ago, some Faraday Future employees left to form a new start-up called Evelozcity before changing to its new name in 2019, Canoo. With its cab forward look, the Canoo truck has optimized its electric platform and is thoughtfully executed in every way, like a Swiss army knife. Canoo broke off the discussions with Hyundai to have its cars built. However, its cars should roll off the assembly line in a new plant in Oklahoma in 2023. Other lesser-known start-ups will come after the F-150 such as Lordstown, Bollinger or Atlis. Lordstown just agreed to build Fisker cars at its plants. There is no word about its own pickup truck. Atlis has a camouflaged truck on its Twitter account, a heavy-duty pickup truck, good for 500 miles and a 15-minute recharge time. The equally utilitarian looking Bollinger is aiming for real heavy-duty work. At this point each one of them must roll down the assembly line to assess their real viability.
The real contender
If you want a historic date in automotive history, you will probably want to mark down September 15th, 2021. The first all-electric Rivian R1T pickup rolled out of the old Mitsubishi plant in Normal, Illinois. After coming out of “stealth mode” at the 2018 Los Angeles Auto Show, Rivian beat everyone else to the production line. It is one of the most serious challengers to Ford and ironically with investment from Ford itself (and some guy named Jeff Bezos). The R1T is a little smaller than an F-150 yet very capable. It will go over 300 miles on a charge, it is very well designed and cleverly positioned in the market for well-heeled outdoor fans. Charging stations will be available at parks and other recreational spots. The first reviews are coming in and they are glowing. The R1T is the real deal and perhaps already a favourite to win the electric pickup wars.
There are challengers coming for Ford but let’s be clear: the Blue Oval has its franchise, and it is building a moat around it. Ford just announced three battery factories and a truck plant creating 11000 jobs. EV and ICE versions of the F-Series share a most common design. Ford left a traditional whip antenna so you could catch AM radio signals in rural America. All accessories fit across the entire range. The pricing has been kept close between versions. How is it going so far? Ford stopped taking reservations as three years of production capacity are already spoken for. How big of a deal is this car? Let Maddow close the segment in eye popping terms:
“The revenue from the F-Series is more than 42 billion dollars. Nothing else in America comes anywhere close. It has been that way for decades. If Ford can transition the F-Series to an electric vehicle, it’s good-bye gas cars in America.”