Nov 22, 2019 - Technology

Tesla ushers in the electric pickup moment

Ben Geman, author of Generate

Photo: Tesla

Tesla unveiled its futuristic "Cybertruck" at an L.A. event on Thursday that was heavy on light shows, yet analysts remain in the dark about the future of electric pickups — and Tesla's role in it.

Why it matters: The event was the splashiest sign yesterday that automakers are moving closer to bringing electric models to the huge pickup market.

  • But it wasn't the only one. Thursday, GM CEO Mary Barra said its planned electric pickup will go on sale in the fall of 2021.
  • More broadly, the startup Rivian is also bringing an EV pickup to market, while Ford is electrifying the popular F-150 model (though its timeline is unclear).

Driving the news: Tesla's unveiling showed how the automaker's strategy is bringing something radically new to the scene and betting there's a market for it.

  • "Trucks have been the same for a very long time, like a hundred years," CEO Elon Musk said on stage. "We want to try something different."

Our thought bubble, via Axios' Joann Muller: Those are famous last words for anyone trying to enter the pickup truck market. There's a reason pickups are designed the way they are; people use them as tools for work.

  • Even Toyota, with deep enough pockets to reinvent the truck market if it wanted, hasn't been able to dent any of the top-selling pickups with its Tundra after 20 years.

The big picture: Tesla says production is slated to begin in late 2021, and a year later for the high-end version. There are three models:

  • A base single-motor, rear-wheel-drive model starting at $39,900 with a 250-mile range; a dual-motor all-wheel-drive version with a 300-mile range that starts at $49,000; and a top-end "tri-motor" all-wheel-drive version that starts at $69,900 that can travel 500 miles on a full charge.
  • The high-end model goes from 0-60 in 2.9 seconds and has a towing capacity north of 14,000 pounds, Tesla said. The base model tows at least 7,500 pounds and goes from 0-60 in 6.5 seconds.

What they're saying: "The looks are polarizing, but the performance and pricing specs are undeniable," Kelley Blue Book executive publisher Karl Brauer said in remarks circulated to reporters.

  • Brauer sees plenty of demand among current Tesla owners, but predicts that "current pickup truck buyers will find its exterior design and electric drivetrain too far of a leap for most of them to make."
  • But he sees a chance for the truck to move into the traditional consumer market if Tesla can build a lot of them and early adopters are "fully satisfied."
  • "It misses the core truck buyer," Gene Munster of Loup Ventures tells Bloomberg. "A contractor is not going to show up to a worksite in this truck. That said, Tesla will still sell some of them."
Expand chart
Data: Wards Intelligence; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

The bottom line: In theory, the market for electric pickups is huge.

  • Light-duty pickup sales are often in the 2-3 million per year range, sometimes accounting for nearly a fifth of overall light-duty vehicle sales.
  • Maintaining or tapping into that market is an attractive thing for automakers.

Go deeper: What Tesla knows about you

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