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What’s stopping electric trucks from mainstream adoption?

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With the superior off-the-line speed, quiet cabin, cheaper cost to drive and tech overload, many have questioned why so-called “truck guys” wouldn’t want to buy electric trucks. Well, let me rain on the EV parade.

Before I get too far into the cons, let me start by saying, I’m a fan of electric trucks like the Ford F-150 Lightning and Rivian R1T. They are real options for truck buyers — and not some alien-looking thing from the early EV days. These are legitimate trucks that can work in many different lifestyles. 

However, with all the pomp and circumstance around their introduction, I’m still cautious to declare electric trucks are the ONLY trucks to consider — and the best thing since sliced bread. That’s coming from someone who has a Chevrolet Silverado EV on order.

Here are the reasons why, as a truck guy, I think I’ll still need gas truck in addition to the Silverado EV.

Real-world range

One of the odd things I keep seeing on various YouTube videos is people discussing the stated EPA range. So many are taking these ranges as 100% correct when consumers have known for years the gas equivalent of EPA fuel economy numbers are normally way off in real-world testing. Yet all of a sudden, because it’s an EV, it’s now completely accurate?  Huh?

As I’ve watched videos from various outlets, including our friends at TFL truck, I’ve seen EV range not meet the stated EPA numbers. 

For example, TFL bought a 320-mile range Lightning and got about 270 miles of real-world range driving it back to Colorado. 

In real-world terms, this means a Lightning owner on a road trip would have to stop every 3.5 hours, find a charger, make sure the charger works, then wait an inconsistent amount of time (chargers have different rates of charge) to get back on the road again. Oh, and these chargers aren’t always located in an area you might want to be or with easy access to restrooms and food. 

EV advocates will argue nobody fully charges, charging times are the same as a normal gas station stop (30-45 mins), and I should just be patient as the infrastructure gets built out. Uh, excuse me? Why do I have to be the guinea pig for a brand-new technology?

Also, I’m not sure how most Americans road trip, but I don’t want to wait for a charger. I want to GO! When I’m on a road trip making a stop for gas or food, it’s like watching a NASCAR pit stop. It is go, go, GO! The last thing I want to do is stand around and twiddle my thumbs.

Towing range

Adding on to the topic of real-world driving range is towing range. Brands like GM and Ford have dodged these questions, suggesting it is similar to gasoline trucks. However, we are finally seeing some real-world data, and it isn’t the same at all. 

The answer to how far you can tow with electric trucks is pretty simple: Not far. 

A fully charged 320 mile Ford F-150 Lightning with a camper will get around 100 miles of range before range anxiety sets in. Of course, this will vary with driving style, type of camper, payload, etc. To pile on to the towing-range problem, most charging stations aren’t setup for pull-through charging. This means you either have to unhook the camper before charging (and then hook it up again — in a parking lot!), or pull up to the charger and block driving pathways in the lot. It makes me really concerned about my ability to tow with the Silverado EV. 

Frankly, I will probably buy a gas truck in addition to the Silverado EV and relegate the electric truck for around-town duty. I don’t want to deal with towing range anxiety when I’m trying to go camping with the family. 

Cost to charge

One of the really overlooked things about electric trucks is going to be the cost to charge. So many people don’t realize charging an EV isn’t free. Whether you are using an at-home charger or a public station, there is a cost associated with “fueling up.” 

Sure, if truck consumers use their vehicles like sedans, driving back and forth to work and charging overnight, charging at home (which is currently at about $0.15/kWh) will be infinitely cheaper than spending $5/gallon on gasoline. But trucks are meant to go off-road on the weekend, take road trips, tailgate at football games and tow things. So, truck owners and sedan owners are not alike.

And though I currently don’t have the stats to back it up, I anticipate truck owners will visit public chargers (which is currently at about $0.43/kWh) far more frequently than sedan owners.

Let’s go back to TFL’s road trip video for a real-world example: They spent around $193 dollars on electric charging and gave up more than 5 hours to charge. I’ve done the same trip with a gas truck and spent about $300 for gas without the extra 5 hours.

You might say it was cheaper for the EV ($193-$300=$107), but my question is: How much of that savings was spent buying food and drinks while waiting for it to charge? And how much is your actual time worth?

So, the “cost” to charge is about more than just money.

I’ve done that Detroit-to-Denver drive plenty of times, and it is a long drive. Making it longer with charging wouldn’t be fun experience, and I’ll gladly spend the $107 to get home sooner.

Premium price of electric trucks

The Ford Lightning Pro has a base price of $40k for a crew cab truck. That’s a good deal IF you can find one and if you are ok with less features plus just 230 miles of range. What they don’t tell you is how it compares to a gas truck.

For example, the trim above the Pro is the XLT, and if you select the 300-mile-range option (because why wouldn’t you?), the starting price is $72,474. And yes, you can save $7,500 with a tax rebate for now, but it is expected Ford will run out of these credits by the end of the year. 

What about the gas truck? With a similar cab and configuration, the XLT with the 2.7-liter EcoBoost engine starts at $51,700 and returns 20/26 city/highway MPG.

You read that right. The difference is $20,774 without any rebates. Oh, and make sure you add in around $1k to have an electrician come out to wire-in your at-home charger. 

You can buy a lot of gas for $20k. 

According to CNBC, the average American household is spending $5k a year on gas, and that’s up from $2,800 last year with the lower prices and $3,800 as recently as March. 

Depending on your driving, where you charge and how much that costs (home charging isn’t free either) and what happens with gas prices, you are 4+ years away from breaking even. So, while average Americans might keep their cars for 8 or more years, you have to determine how long you’ll keep your car, and if the $20k premium is worth it to you.

But, the TECH is COOL, Tim!

One of the last things I’ll discuss is all the cool tech. As a former owner of a Ford F-150 PowerBoost, I like a lot of the new truck tech from Ford.

For example, I’m a big fan of Zone Lighting (on-demand lighting for different areas around the truck) and the Pro Power Onboard with its 7.2kW of power output. The Ford Lightning has both of these things as well as even more power with 9.6kW of power output. The Ford Lightning also has a big screen for navigation, a program to map out road trips with charging stations and cool tricks like the lockable storage with power in the frunk (short for “front trunk”). 

Well, the gasoline Ford F-150 has a lot of those same things. The Lightning is just an F-150 with a battery. My point: Besides the EV part, most of the tech (except the frunk part) is already available on regular F-150s. 

The bottom line on electric trucks

Electric trucks are quick, quiet and can be perfect for a lot of consumers. And yes, an EV gives you the freedom to ignore all the rhetoric around gas prices. But the trade-offs are: You pay a lot more for electric trucks than gas models, and you’ll potentially have to deal with the headaches of public charging — not to mention the range anxiety while towing or hauling.

As a “truck guy,” I enjoy the rumbling sound of the engine, and I look at my truck as both a tool to do a job and an extension of my lifestyle. I enjoy hunting and road-tripping, and upon occasion I use my truck to do work on my father-in-law’s farm. I don’t love the idea of overpaying for the tool, and I definitely don’t want to lose time (any time) on public charging.

The charging infrastructure will one day get up to snuff, and we may soon end up with no other options besides full battery electric trucks. I’m just not sold on whether consumers actually want them.

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Tim Esterdahl

Automotive Journalist Tim Esterdahl has been a lover of trucks and SUVs for years. He has covered the industry since 2011 and has pieces in many national magazines and newspapers. In his spare time, he is often found tinkering on his '62 C10 pickup, playing golf, going hunting and hanging out with his wife and kids in Nebraska.

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3 Comments

  1. Jules Stayton July 7, 2022

    Nailed it Tim! Great article!

    Reply
    1. Tim Esterdahl July 7, 2022

      Thank you!

      Reply
  2. Edd Martin July 9, 2022

    Tim: I understand your not wanting to get political about the EV movement so we’ll leave that alone. Hopefully Jill’s article will illuminate us all on the true costs to operate an EV. Specifically when you speak of pickups. A lot of these vehicles operate in areas where charging stations are not available unless your willing to spend quite a bit at your home, ranch or farm to adapt to charging an EV. Also the costs to charge an EV goes unnoticed because electricity is free, RIGHT!. Also from a clean energy perspective mist electricity is still generated by fossil fuels. BTW that’s not political that’s just the facts. Bye!

    Reply

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