The holy grail of the electric vehicle revolution is the light truck segment in North America. This is a multi-billion dollar market and has floated big, bad “Legacy Auto” through thick and thin since WWII. Even though rookies Rivian and Tesla are nipping at their heels, the Motor City’s auto titans are not going to surrender this extremely profitable segment without a knockdown, drag-out fight. This will be a bloody, tooth-and-nail battle for the riches and prestige that EV truck dominance will bring. The grudge match will be cutthroat and vicious, and fascinating to watch.
There are many flavors of trucks on the market these days, but for this deep dive, let’s zoom up close to GM, Ford, and Stellantis’ full-size models as well as Rivian and others in the segment. Let’s start with a look at the 2022 light truck sales chart to put the segment’s enormity into perspective and the mega-bucks at stake.
Although the Blue Oval’s F-150 has claimed the best-selling pickup crown for years, Ford is not the biggest seller of full-size trucks. Ford sold 653,947 big trucks in 2022 but combined sales of GM’s nearly identical Silverado/Sierra twins easily win the total sales crown for The General at 764,771 units sold. RAM is in third place with a very respectable 468,344 units delivered.
Honorable mentions from the chart above are strong sales for the Toyota Tacoma, Jeep Gladiator, and the frisky Maverick cute ute. Sales duds are the Nissan Titan, Hummer EV, Rivian, and Lordstown Motors. An interesting data point is GM’s Colorado/Canyon twins outsell the Ford Ranger almost 2 to 1. We also think the market needs an EV rival to the Maverick, but that’s another story. Yes, we are talking ICE trucks here, but all three major players (and of course Rivian and Tesla) have electrified versions either on the market or dropping very soon.
Let’s start with Ford. It made a big splash recently with its all-electric Lightning. It is an internal combustion engine (ICE) model that has been converted into a battery electric vehicle (BEV). Although this approach is considered to be full of scar tissue it gives Ford the critical first-mover advantage of the Detroit Three. Yes, Rivian and the Hummer EV are on the ground already but have sold in comparatively low numbers and that alone makes them unlikely to win the EV truck crown. The Lightning also won the prestigious North American Truck of the Year in January 2023.
Despite being a completely different vehicle underneath, the Lightning strikes a familial resemblance to the regular F-150 in terms of its interior and exterior design. This is a huge advantage, especially compared to Tesla’s bizarre Cybertruck prismatic exterior. The Lightning is equipped with old-school 400v architecture and bi-directional charging. It is powered by two electric motors, and one of either two battery packs. The bigger, extended-range battery can generate a burly 580 horsepower, which rockets the Lightning to a 0-60 mph speed in just 4.0 seconds. Again, depending on the battery pack, the EPA-estimated driving range varies from 230 to 320 miles. However, if towing a trailer, the battery’s charge can quickly deplete, necessitating frequent recharging stops, as revealed in a recent road test.
The Lightning hasn’t been without teething problems. The famous River Rouge plant was idled for several weeks as the company battled battery problems. The line has restarted and new Lightning has resumed trickling out of the plant. Ford touted a sub $40k MSRP in the spring of 2022 for the Lightning but that quickly ballooned up to its’ current MSRP starting at just under $58k, a 38% increase. Ford has sold 15,000 units so far.
Meanwhile, across town at arch-rival General Motors, the Hummer EV is already on the ground, and Chevrolet’s Silverado EV and twin GMC Sierra are just about ready to emerge from the incubator. All are based on the General’s clean sheet Ultium EV platform and proprietary batteries. The trio will share similar specs distinguished by significant sheet metal differentiation. To be clear, GM beat Ford to market with the Hummer EV pickup but because they’ve hardly moved any units, we’ll call this a draw at this point.
All GM electric trucks will have the 800v version of the Ultium platform and will support 350w DC charging allowing them to get 100 miles of range with a ten-minute charge. They will all have similar specifications including a 400-mile range, up to 754 hp/785 lb.-ft. of torque, 0-60mph time of 4.5 seconds, 1300 lbs cargo capacity, and 10,000 lbs max towing. The Silverado EV will NOT have the much ballyhooed “crab walk” capability. The bare-bones WT model was recently spotted recently minus the pass-through cab and looked ready to hit construction sites around the country.
The Silverado EV is a looker. It harkens back to the old Avalanche from what seems like a thousand years ago. This is attributable to the one-piece body and pass-through midgate bed design that allows carrying objects up to ten feet long. Look for sales to begin in the fall of 2023 with the WT model’s MSRP touted at sub-$40K dollars while the top-of-the-line RST model hovers around $100K.
Next up is
Chrysler Stellantis. After the Obama administration gave the mighty Mopar to the Italians (Fiat) for peanuts in 2008, the partnership recently changed its name again to Stellantis. RAM and Jeep are keeping the multinational company and its bevy of D-list European brands buoyant via robust sales in North America. They are the geese that lay golden eggs and again, Stellantis’ very existence depends on transitioning these US-based, cash cows to electrification. They showed a very fetching RAM Revolution concept recently and then followed it up with a disappointing, watered-down production-ready model called The Ram 1500 REV.
So far, here is what we know about the RAM electric pickup. It’s based on the company’s STLA platform that we told you about here. It will have an 800v architecture that can support fast charging speeds of up to 350 kW, adding 100 miles in 10 minutes. It will have the obligatory digital cockpit with a large touchscreen and a 360-degree camera with digital side-view mirrors. Key details such as the power output, towing capacity, payload, and price are still fuzzy at this time.
This assessment wouldn’t be complete without including the Rivian R1T and the Tesla Cybertruck. The Rivian is a neat EV truck and will go down in history as a real game changer and pioneer in the segment. The Rivian has either two or four electric motors and can produce up to 835 horsepower and 908 lb-ft of torque. It can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 3 seconds and tow up to 11,000 lbs.
It has a wading depth of over three feet and a range of up to 314 miles on a single charge. It can seat five people and a 4.5-foot bed that can be extended with a tailgate. It also has a front trunk (frunk) and a gear tunnel for extra storage space. We love the optional kitchen slider. Debits are a 400v architecture, no bi-directional charging, and the scruffy brainchild of RJ Scaringe lacks the industrial might, dealer network, and clout of Ford, GM, and Stellantis. The Rivian R1T currently retails for $67,500.
Tesla’s Cybertruck has caused a big sensation. It has futuristic styling and a stainless steel body made of cold-rolled sheet metal. It comes in three versions: a single-motor rear-wheel drive, dual-motor all-wheel drive, and tri-motor all-wheel drive. Bringing up the rear with a 400v architecture, the Cybertruck pumps out up to 800 horsepower and 1,000 lb-ft of torque and accelerates from 0 to 60 mph in as little as 1.9 seconds. It has a range of up to 500 miles on a single charge, a wading depth of up to 40 inches, and can tow up to 14,000 lbs.
With its crew cab and a 6.5-foot bed, it can carry up to 3,500 lbs of payload. It also has an obligatory frunk and a lockable storage compartment under the bed and can perform bi-directional charging. The Cybertruck was rumored to start at under $40k but that seems far-fetched at this point unless Elon reinvents the assembly line like he says he will. Its introduction date is this fall with full-tilt production at the end of 2024.
So Which Truck Will Take The Lead?
Although Ford beat its other Detroit rivals to the punch with a high volume entry, the Lightning it is a converted ICE model and makes do with puny 400v architecture that is a debit here. Ford has announced that it will soon debut a clean sheet, pure EV design for Lighting in a couple of years. Bottom line? To beat everyone to market, Ford will end up designing their electric truck TWICE, and that puts it behind in the game.
Meanwhile at GM, instead of converting its existing models to electric, The General began developing its clean sheet Ulitum platform in 2017, light years ahead of its Motown rivals. Creating one, scalable platform (800v for trucks/400v for smaller vehicles) that can underpin anything the company builds, GM leverages its huge manufacturing footprint and garners cost savings from common architecture and shared components. GM will have three battery factories that will be online by the end of the year, and it looks like they will soon ink a deal with Samsung for another facility.
The Hummer EV and the Cadillac Lyric are already on the ground now, with the Silverado/Sierra EV coming to market by year’s end. The only problem? Where is the volume of these new EVs? They sold only 853 Hummers last year. The Cadillac Lyric is essentially AWOL too. Time will tell if GM can live up to CEO Mary Barra’s public declaration that they will be selling one million EVs by 2025.
Stellantis has followed GM’s lead with pure EV designs, but has deviated from one dedicated platform, and is instead offering four distinct versions that coincide with different market segments. The RAM 1500 REV will use the “Frame” version of the STLA platform and should go on sale sometime in 2025. This is all fine and dandy, but one thing we know is tooling up for battery production and scaling a brand-new architecture takes time.
Many pitfalls abound, see Ford and GMs battery problems, and the Cybertruck numerous delays, as key reasons why some OEMs are slowly ramping up production and playing it safe. Stellantis has a tough road ahead to match the cadence of the other contenders here, and the slightest snag(s) could delay the introduction of the truck ceding precious ground and timing.
The Rivian is cool but isn’t making any money, and the company is burning through cash every day. With scant competition when it was introduced, it was a compelling offering. With some serious rivalry, its deficiencies become more noticeable. i.e. it’s on the small side and is behind on some key tech attributes.
I’m sorry to say, but I think Rivian will be the first casualty of the great EV truck reckoning. I love the Rivian, but it will be a hard sell when The Big Three storm the segment. In an era where “disruption” and shaking up the status quo titillate armchair critics, the reality is GM, Ford, and Stellantis have the manufacturing might and footprint that Rivian could only dream of and will have a tough time competing with. If you think I’m high and crazy, chime in the comments below.
Last but not least, Tesla’s Cybertruck is the 800 lbs virtual gorilla in the room, and even though it’s vaporware at this point, it is the darling of iPhone twiddling influencers and frothing Teslaratis everywhere. Musk claims he has 1.5 million $100 reservations, and the truck’s MSRP will be around $40k, but that was years ago. I would never doubt Elon Musk for one minute, but Im a skeptic when it comes to this truck.
Okay, I’ll say it, it’s homely. The dash is three feet away from the base of the windshield and its cutting-edge styling would look better parked out front of a rave in San Francisco than at a construction site in Peoria. Many folks were skeptical of Tesla’s cars five years ago and look where we are today, so what the hell do I know? Yet whether this thing will play to unwashed Ford/Chevy/RAM loyalists in flyover states is unclear at best.
Aaaand Now, The Winner
Ford and GM are neck and neck and the victory will be as much for engineering ideology as for the product. There are two philosophies here. In one corner, we have Ford’s piecemeal approach which slashed development costs by converting an existing ICE design and got the Lightning to market fast. In the other corner, we have GM’s expensive, clean-sheet Ultium approach, which is taking forever but is light years ahead in delivering a clean-sheet EV truck. So at this moment, in Spring 2023, Ford wins by a scintilla. A year from now? GM will pull ahead with the Silverado/Sierra/Hummer trifecta and lead the race.
If you hate this verdict, tell me why I’m wrong. Either way, we’ll take another look at this grudge match after a spin around the sun. Stay tuned.