Jan 31, 2020 - Energy & Environment

The great electric pickup production race

A split screen photo of GMC Hummer's grille and the Tesla cybertruck.

GMC Hummer's grille and the Tesla cybertruck. Photos courtesy of General Motors and Tesla

Automakers are competing to make the buzziest, strongest, fastest electric truck that would fare well in a dystopian future — albeit one with a reliable grid and eco-conscious drivers.

Driving the news: OK I'm being flip (it's Friday!), but yesterday brought news that GM is indeed reviving the gas-guzzling Hummer as a fully electric and powerful "super truck" with seriously gaudy specs.

  • The company has bought Super Bowl advertising and plans to unveil the vehicle, which will be built in Detroit, on May 20.
  • It has not yet released images, beyond the grille above, of the vehicle to be sold under its GMC brand in 2021.

Where it stands: The announcement comes just two months after Tesla unveiled its powerful Cybertruck that's explicitly designed to look like something out of a science fiction movie.

  • Tesla CEO Elon Musk, on this week's Q4 earnings call, said they wanted to build a "badass, futuristic, armored personnel carrier."

Why it matters: A number of automakers hope a chunk of the huge pickup market can be electrified — and that consumers are interested in muscle and design, not just the environment, and will pay a premium.

The offerings in the pipeline include...

  • GM says the electric Hummer will have 1,000 horsepower, go from 0-60 miles per hour in 3 seconds, and have 11,500 lb-ft of torque.
  • Tesla says the high-end version of the Cybertruck, slated for production in 2022, goes from 0-60 in 2.9 seconds and has a towing capacity north of 14,000 pounds. Production of other versions is slated to launch in 2021.
  • Ford is planning to launch an electric version of its hugely popular F-150 in the coming years. They've circulated a video of a prototype pulling rail cars weighing a combined 1 million pounds.
  • Rivian, the well-funded Michigan-based startup, will start selling its futuristic-looking R1T pickup late this year.

But, but, but: Plenty of the offerings will be aimed at a more mainstream market than the Cybertruck and Hummer.

  • The Ford prototype looked rather conventional, and the Hummer is just one of several electric pickups GM is planning.
  • "We will offer not just one pickup, but multiple models with multiple variants, for multiple customers — a vehicle and package for everyone," GM president Mark Reuss said in a blog post yesterday.

The big picture: There's opportunity for automakers if electric pickups can catch on. Per the firm Edmunds, pickups were 14.4% of the consumer vehicle market last year, the highest level since 2005.

Edmunds analyst Jessica Caldwell said it will be difficult to stand out in the emerging electric pickup market, which helps explain GM's strategy. In comments circulated to reporters, she says...

"GM is smart to use the Hummer name, which already has a lot of built-in equity compared to other brands, but it is pretty ironic that the nameplate of the biggest gas-guzzling beast that consumers rebelled against during the recession is now going to be resurrected as an EV."

Autotrader executive editor Brian Moody said in a statement: "GMC has firmly established themselves as a premium truck brand with workhorse capability so having Hummer fall under the GMC umbrella makes sense."

Go deeper: The case for electric trucking

Go deeper