Mar 26, 2021
The past decade has been quite an interesting one. It has seen the rise of widespread broadband internet, privatized space flight, the launch of multiple streaming applications that are quickly replacing cable TV, and a whole slew of other things. However, quite possibly one of the most revolutionary things to come out of the 2010s is the reality that electric vehicles are finally, truly viable modes of transportation.
This kicked off, really, in 2009 with the launch of the very expensive Tesla Sportster. It was an exclusive car, sold only to the wealthiest of early adopters, and used first generation motors and batteries. When the Tesla Model S rolled out in 2012, however, was when everyone sat up and took notice.
Here, finally, was an electric car that used the latest in battery and electric motor technology, had a range that was close to what an equivalent gas powered car could reach, and was able to be charged either at home or at special charging stations that were starting to appear across the nation. It was also “affordable,” with emphasis on the quotation marks, as it started out at $76,000 in 2012.
Of course, being Americans, a lot of people asked “But what about SUVs and trucks?” Tesla answered the first part of that question with both the Model X SUV and Model Y CUV large-capacity vehicles in the middle of the decade. The second part is where the interest now lies.
It is not just Tesla competing in the truck segment, either. American startup Rivian is their most direct rival, having received State of Illinois funding, tax abatements, and a manufacturing plant in Normal, Illinois, to start producing their R1T electric pickup in 2021. Tesla, of course, has the controversially shaped CyberTruck, in development since 2018.
The big three, however, are also ready to step into the ring, with Ford and GM being the closest to actual electric truck production. There is a Ford F-150 EV slated to launch in the next two years, and a Chevrolet Colorado EV has been hinted at quite strongly. All of the big three, however, also have hybrid model trucks, using electric motor boosts to give more low end torque and higher end fuel efficiency.
Other states in the Union may lay claims to being the production capital of the US, the EV capital of the US, or other vehicular claims, but Texas is far and away the truck capital of the US. While Californians also love their trucks, more pickup and heavy duty trucks are sold in Texas per capita than anywhere else. Texans also not just love owning their trucks, but love talking about them, modifying them, personalizing them, and driving them.
It makes sense that Texas would be the best place to gauge interest, and more important acceptance, of EV trucks. These electric trucks will need to be as durable as the rough and tumble RAM trucks used on ranches, as capable as the Chevy heavy duty trucks that haul trailers around the state, as reliable as the nearly unkillable F-150’s. And they will all have to be as comfortable and daily driveable as any mainstream gas or diesel truck
Let’s not beat around the bush: Texans actually use their trucks. What might be a status statement in California is a thing that will haul a horse trailer in Texas. As such, there are both cases for and against EV trucks in Texas.
The first consideration that will be at the top of every Texan’s list will be torque and power. A truck isn’t a truck unless it can carry some weight, haul a trailer, and get things done. We ain’t lazy, we are hard working folk that like to end the day dusting off our hands and going “Yep, that’ll do for today.” And if an electric truck comes down the line that can’t haul a wet brick across some mud, well, it’s not worth having.
The thing about electric vehicles, however, is that the motors used these days have insane torque. Rivian Automotive, with their R1T, has four independent electric motors, one at each wheel, that can produce an Earth-turning 215 lb-ft of torque per wheel at 1 RPM. They also can quad-link and produce 860 lb-ft of grunt. Oh, and when they’re quad-linked, they also produce a shared 800+ HP.
This gives the R1T, which is slated to hit the road in July 2021, a towing capacity of over 11,000 lbs, and a payload capacity of just under 2,000 lbs. And, unloaded, if you floor it, it will travel from 0 to 60 MPH in just about 3 seconds as all four motors use maximum power. With towing and torque sorted, the next thing that Texans need is comfort. It gets damned hot here, and being able to hop into a truck and be blasted with arctic levels of air conditioning is pretty much a necessity. A nice interior just adds to the experience.
Rivian, has thankfully thought of this, and all of their vehicles will come with what is called “Ambient Temperature Control.” Simply set the preferred temperature via the infotainment screen, and hidden vents around the truck will keep the interior at that temperature. Seeing as the EV community was lavishing high praise of the Tesla Model 3’s somewhat more rudimentary version of the same concept, we’re sure it will be well loved in the Rivian R1T.
For the R1T, Rivian has also gone the eco-friendly route, using vegan leather for their heated and ventilated seats, recycled microfiber for the carpets and headliner, and reclaimed wood for accents. Reclaimed precious metals from electronics recycling are also used in the circuitry for the systems on board. Tesla, on the other hand, has not fully revealed what is in their interiors, and Ford will stick with what they know.
Another important aspect, for Texans especially, is ruggedness. While the Ford F-150 EV will use the same type of body and materials as the gas and diesel powered F-150’s, the question about new vehicles and their materials is a very valid one.
Both Tesla and Rivian have answered the call, one dramatically, the other with a more subtle but no less legendary demonstration. When the CyberTruck was first announced, apart from its weird shape, it looked to be made entirely of steel. That is partially correct, as it in fact uses cold-rolled ⅛ inch stainless steel. This steel is unusually dent and impact resistant, which was demonstrated by Elon Musk quite literally hitting the truck with full force with a 20 lbs sledgehammer, with no marks left on the body.
The R1T, however, has shown its durability through an actual real world application. Actor Ewan McGregor and his friend Charley Boorman, having already done epic motorcycle trips known as “Long Way Around” and “Long Way Down,” decided to do “Long Way Up.” Starting in Argentina, the two rode heavily modified Harley-Davidson LiveWire electric motorcycles converted into adventure bikes, backed up by two Rivian R1T prototypes carrying all their supplemental gear, diesel powered generators for charging, and the filming crew.
The journey started in September 2019, and over 100 days, they made their way to Los Angeles, California, arriving 14 December 2019. Throughout the journey, apart from a few unexpected issues, both the LiveWire bikes and the R1T trucks performed flawlessly through rain, dust, high and low altitude, and hot and cold temperatures.
While the three points examined above, that of power, comfort, and durability, there are several factors that could be detrimental to EV trucks being accepted by Texans. Keep in mind, however, that while EV cars have been around now for a good 8 to 10 years, EV trucks are coming into their first generation, and some of these points may be resolved in the next 5 years.
The biggest case against EV trucks at the moment is range. All of the EV trucks slated to come out over the next two to three years all claim ranges of 300+ miles. This, realistically, translates to “300 or more miles with one person on board, in the most economical setting, completely unloaded otherwise.” Texans do not drive around with their trucks unloaded. Hell, it’s one of the reasons we love trucks so much, the fact that they can carry or tow pretty much anything we need them to!
On the face of it, 300+ miles is also fine if you’re driving around the same city all the time. It will get you from Dallas to Austin, or Houston to Dallas, with a little extra power left over. However, if you want to do Dallas to Amarillo, well, you’ll be stopping to charge up twice along the way. And you’d better hope that those stops are at the 300 A 120+ kW supercharger stations, or a one day drive may turn into a three day trip.
As well, adding a load to any of these EV trucks, either payload or towing, much like with gas powered versions, means that more power is needed to break inertia and get the truck rolling. This is the exact reason that trucks are now getting mild-hybrid electric assist motors, so that low end torque is boosted and the hybrid helps the truck get rolling. If you loaded up the Rivian R1T, for example, to its full 11,000 lbs towing capacity, you could realistically lose from 100 to 150 miles off that total range estimate if you’re in heavy stop/start traffic in downtown Houston.
Another point against EV trucks in Texas is that, realistically, the support network doesn’t quite exist yet. If you live in Houston, Dallas, Austin, or any city that may be considered “important,” (and who really decides that, anyways?), well, you’re in luck because there are charge stations all over the place inside the city limits
Texas, however, is not exactly… small. In fact, only Alaska is bigger by land area. And part of being Texan is that when you want to visit another city, either for business or pleasure, you need to plan out the trip because of the hundreds of miles between cities. And, as it stands, only Tesla is putting level 2 regular charging stations between cities, and only then on the interstates. The only level 3 supercharger stations exist between the big triangle of Dallas, Austin, and Houston.
It is improving, but Texas has nowhere the coverage that California has, where you can’t drive more than 20 miles along an interstate before you find a ChargeHub, Tesla SuperCharger, or mom-n-pop gas-and-charge station.
The final and probably most challenging aspect of EV truck adoption in Texas… are Texans themselves. We are known for being friendly, but we’re also known for being stubborn as a cinderblock wall when it comes to our opinions. Just ask anyone who is better, the Dallas Cowboys or the Houston Texans, and bring a packed lunch to get through that entire argument.
In the same way that football teams can divide opinion, so can electric vehicles. Texas was built upon oil and gas, and while we are starting to come to terms that things are starting to shift away from that industry, many down and dirty, hands in the mud Texans swear by their diesel powered Silverado HD2500, or the distance their Ford F-150 LARIAT can travel on a single tank while carrying a full bed of stuff.
Opinion has definitely shifted in terms of electric cars and electric motorcycles in Texas, but those are seen as mostly in-city modes of transportation. Trucks, however, are the backbone of the state. If the truck never existed, let’s be honest, Texas would not be the amazing state that it is, having been built by the workhorse truck and the gruff masons, carpenters, builders and ironmongers that made it the place it is after the Second World War.
So the challenge of accepting an entirely new form of truck, powered by electricity contained in batteries… it’s not the easiest sell of all time. However, once an EV truck emerges that is rugged, can tow three times its own weight, and can travel 600+ miles fully loaded on a full charge, maybe, just maybe, there is a chance of widespread EV truck adoption.
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