By on January 26, 2019

Image: GMHardly a month goes by without a manufacturer expressing an interest in making an all-electric truck for the masses. Indie manufacturers like Bollinger and Rivian have lit a fire under the traditional automakers playing in this segment, with Ford confirming last week that it is planning an EV F-150.

Perhaps predictably, General Motors quickly jumped on the bandwagon after the Blue Oval news, with top brass uttering phrases about electrification as it relates to their line of pickup trucks.

Today’s truck shoppers shouldn’t put aside their purchase plans, though; it seems The General won’t be acting on these ideas anytime soon.

Speaking to CNBC, Duncan Aldred, veep of GMC, says the brand is looking at electrifying its heaviest trucks. Hardly a resounding endorsement, but it at least puts the topic on their corporate roadmap.

“Certainly, it’s something we’re considering,” Aldred said when asked about an electrified Sierra. The outlet reports he would not confirm if development is already underway. Last year, CEO Mary Barra said in an interview the carmaker is on a “path to an all-electric future.”

Don’t forget: Electrification doesn’t necessarily mean allelectric.

Battery technology is eye-wateringly expensive. Recall the late Sergio Marchionne speaking ill of the diminutive Fiat 500e, a machine about which he said FCA lost $20,000 on every one they made. Plugging EV tech into a truck makes more sense, since they are already laden with profits and could possibly eat some of the extra production costs. Car makers aren’t fond of giving up their cash cows, however.

GM has zapped a few electrons into its pickup trucks in the past. Way back in 2004, the Silverado Hybrid used a 14kW integrated flywheel starter-generator, replacing the alternator and traditional starter to take over shutoff, startup, and charging duties. The system allowed the engine to turn off under certain conditions, potentially saving fuel and limiting emissions. It added $2,500 and approximately 1.0 to 1.5 mpg to the sticker.

Years later, the Tahoe Hybrid was able to run for brief periods, under certain conditions, purely on electric power. Its 6.0-liter V8 teamed up with a pair of 80 hp electric motors to provide a meaningful bump in mileage — an increase of up to to 5 mpg in mixed driving was reported by some outlets at the time.

So a precedent exists. Lately, General Motors is talking loudly about moving development dollars away from research on hybrids and into all-electric tech. Pure EVs are known for making gobs of torque right off the line, a trait which could be twisted into hauling prowess if approached correctly.

Note as well that the report states Aldred mentioned the company is looking at electrifying its ‘heaviest trucks’ which could mean anything from the half-ton or HD line to its enormous Class 6 chassis cabs.

[Image: General Motors]

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30 Comments on “More Power to Ya: GM Might Make an EV Pickup. Maybe....”


  • avatar
    jatz

    The entire industry appears to be telling EV zealots “maybe later”, and why not since that’s usually worked with fractious children?

    • 0 avatar
      Brett Woods

      “EV zealots?” “fractious children?” You got a weed up your ass pal. Sounds to me more like industry hot air. You know what I mean?

    • 0 avatar
      Luke42

      I’ve owned 3 pickup over my driving life so far, and a PHEV or EV powertrain is what it would take to get me into a 4th. (I’ve also owned two minivans, 3 sedans, and a Prius.)

      I’m in a “big family vehicle” stage of life, and currently drive a minivan.

      I’ve really missed having a pickup this year, but pickups have a lot of limitations and drawbacks (I have 3 young children) — but also bring some important towing and hauling capabilities to the table. A smarter electric drivetrain could fix about half of a pickup truck’s shortcomings, while retaining the capabilities.

      Besides a pickup truck, vehicle that would work well for me would be a minivan with PHEV/EV drivetrain and a pickup-like towing capacity. The closest vehicle in existence to this is the Tesla Model X, which costs about as much as my house and is about the size of a Mazda5 inside.

      Yes, I realize I want to have my cake and eat it too — but, hey, if a car company wants me to replace my existing vehicles at a premium price, that’s what I’m looking for. I can get by with old fashioned ICE technology if I have to — but not selling me an EV/PHEV family + towing vehicle is leaving money on the table.

      // Your local EV zealot, Prius enthusiast, and fractious child

  • avatar
    jeffjeffmurray

    EV makes a ton of sense for pickups, as long as you can get the batteries sorted out. There is a reason that locomotives use purely electric motors for propulsion, and have for many years now: gobs and gobs of torque, albeit getting their power generated by deisel. In the short term a Volt style electric motor with a gas/deisel generator could give some truck a huge torque advantage over the competition.

    • 0 avatar
      Luke42

      +10

      Also, pickup trucks run on a variety of duty cycles. The trucks driven by my local university’s maintenance people and by my town don’t look like they travel many miles per day, but the services they provide to my community are essential, and a pickup truck is a good fit.

      A 30-mile PHEV pickup or a 250-mile EV truck would be pretty much perfect for those folks — they’d go months without refueling, but would retain the ability to run to the next city over (and back) if they need some obscure part in a hurry.

      Plus, having towed with manual and automatic transmission trucks, I agree completely that being able to bring massive torque smoothly into the equation would move a combination vehicle would better than anything an ICE drivetrain can accomplish. An EV/PHEV pickup vehicle really would tow like a mini-locomotive!

      • 0 avatar
        Scoutdude

        Yeah there are a lot of fleets that would be a perfect fit for an EV pickup. I know that I often see University vehicles go out to auction with under 100K even though they are 20+ years old.

        Many may not leave the campus for weeks at a time, and when they do leave the campus they don’t venture that far away.

        Many small to mid size cities are also prime candidates for EV or PHEV trucks for the same reason.

        They usually only work 8-10 hrs a day and return to their parking space which is usually dedicated for that vehicle.

    • 0 avatar
      Dan

      0 rpm torque is key to getting a 6,000 ton train moving, but for automotive applications it’s academic. The engine is absurdly high powered. The torque converter can slip. The transmission has a granny gear. Between the three you can already put down enough torque from a stop to melt the tires, twist the driveshaft, and snap the axles in that order.

      If the ECU safeguards would let you, which they thankfully won’t.

      • 0 avatar
        Luke42

        @Dan,
        If you had ever driven an EV, you might feel differently.

        Yes, conventional powertrains work just fine in cars and pickups. But even the humble Nissan Leaf rides like one of this linear accelerator roller coasters from 0-30, and does it with a smoothness that can’t be beat.

        The smooth application of wheel torque makes towing much easier to control.

        I’ve once towed with 5-speed 2.5L RWD Ford Ranger in the snow. I can do it. Check. I’ve got my man card. Now, if I were to do that again, would I prefer it with an EV or PHEV truck? Yes! Not having to work around the limitations of an ICE + gearbox means I can focus on moving the load.

  • avatar
    scott25

    EV pickups make far more sense than 4 cylinder pickups, with the additional advantage of not constantly generating negative publicity.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    The 2.7 ltr “TRIPOWER” turbo 4 that GM has developed might work better as a generator for a hybrid powertrain anyway. It sure doesn’t have anything to recommend it as a stand alone.

    (FYI I went on AutoTrader and looked at used 2000-2007 Tahoes, Yukons, and Suburbans after the discussion about AFM in the thread on the expansions at the Spring Hill TN engine plant. That was the last Gen not to have AFM of some type and what amazed me is that the EPA ratings really weren’t all that different hwy for all the additional gears in the transmission and the electro-mechanical engine trickery.)

  • avatar

    The good thing about an EV pickup is that it won’t need the big ugly honker of a grille as featured on that Sierra HD.

    • 0 avatar
      Luke42

      Most EVs still need a very small radiator, though, since motors, inverters, and batteries all can be liquid cooled.

      They don’t require as much cooling as an ICE vehicle (because the Carnot Cycle and its associated losses happen offboard), but a small grill can still make sense in some cases.

      • 0 avatar
        ToddAtlasF1

        Do EVs use the same A/C technology as IC automobiles? Many gasoline vehicles have A/C compressors of roughly equal surface area to their radiators. On the other hand, many cars have grills that are primarily present for styling reasons. Their actual cooling air comes in through a slot below the bumper. I suspect that the current trend towards air dams on trucks means that their grills are going to be blanked off more and more, even if they remain enormous.

        • 0 avatar
          MBella

          Yes, and they’re also used to cool batteries more than the liquid system could by itself.

        • 0 avatar
          ToddAtlasF1

          “Many gasoline vehicles have A/C compressors of roughly equal surface area to their radiators.”

          This should have said that many gasoline vehicles have A/C systems that use condensers which are of roughly equal surface areas to their radiators.

    • 0 avatar
      ttacgreg

      The big honker grilles are a fashion statement, not a functional necessity.

  • avatar
    TimK

    If any of this made sense, they would have done it by now. The laws of physics and simple economics tell us that EV trucks are impractical with the batteries available today. Will battery performance double in five years? Roll the dice.

    Hybrid power trains suited for “trucks” do exist, and Toyota builds them in a few SUV models. Oddly enough, they’ve never put one in a pick-em-up truck. I wonder why?

    • 0 avatar
      Luke42

      That’s not quite true, and I’ll tell you why.

      Creating economies of scale (which reduces the per unit cost of batteries) takes investment. That investment has already been made for old fashioned ICE engines, and has been made (to some extent) for hybrids like the Prius. But that investment is still in the early stages for full EV drivetrains.

      Building and owneing these economies of scale is what Tesla’s gigafactory is all about.

      It’s also what the EV tax credit is all about. And what the hybrid tax credit was about, before that one ran its course and became obsolete.

      Once the factories are built and there’s an established market for 200-mile and 400-mile battery packs, then the business people less crazy than Elon Musk and organizations with shorter term thinking than the US Government (current administration aside) will be willing to invest private funds. Without the investment required to build those economies of of scale (meaning multiple gigafactory-like projects, preferably within the US) and bring the battery prices down, the battery industry (and any number of other good industries) will remain merely an engineers’ daydream.

      • 0 avatar
        TimK

        In round numbers, one kilowatt-hour is equivalent to one horsepower for an hour. A 200 kWh EV battery (likely the minimum you’d want in a working pickup truck) is just too heavy using today’s battery technology. Doesn’t matter how cheaply a “Giga Factory” can make it, it’s too darned big and heavy to be practical.

        I’m sure the technology will improve, and the car companies have lots of smart people keeping tabs on battery developments. So fare none of them have forecast a positive ROI, so it’s hard to fault them for their lack of EV products in this area.

        • 0 avatar
          Luke42

          Tesla has already announced a 200KWH battery pack in the Roaster 2.0:
          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tesla_Roadster_(2020)

          That thing is a lot smaller than a pickup truck.

          Of course, Tesla is prone to Forward Looking Statements (TM)… But they’ve delivered a surprising amount of it, FWIW.

  • avatar
    MBella

    Another hybrid truck would be the winner here, if they marketed it correctly. GM’s PHT was a failure because it worked well as a work truck, but was only available as a high trimline model. If they made it available as a work truck, and showed how it worked well supporting work on your jobsite, they would have sold more.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      The problem was that it was so expensive they couldn’t afford to sell it as a work truck.

      I did used to see a county GMC Hybrid pickup, which was a high trim version, presumably due to alternative fuel mandates, which Hybrids count against.

  • avatar
    Robbie

    That will never sell.

    A pickup is a lifestyle vehicle; only a small fraction of truck beds ever see any real use. An EV version goes against the entire branding.

    In short, this will not sell for the same reason why a Prius “NRA edition” will not be a great idea and why an assault rifle ad on a vegan website will get surprisingly few clicks.

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      What makes you think EV pickups would be any less “lifestyle”? They’d likely be more so. And nothing beats the “potential” utility of EV pickups for the lifestyle, EV, or greenie crowds that aren’t currently being served by anything in the EV market, other than sedans and whatnot.

      Even with a small percent of pickup buyers opting for electric, that’s still a lot of EV pickups.

      By the way, at least 30% of 1/2 ton pickups are fleet orders, more so for 3/4 tons, less so for midsize.

  • avatar
    jatz

    “A pickup is a lifestyle vehicle”

    Lifestyles of the Safe and Comfy.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      They’re also a replacement for the Big Ol’ 4-door sedans of yore, like the Crown Vic, Mercury Marquis, and Towncar.

      One I guy I know replaced his old 1988 Towncar with a Lincoln Blackwood (when they were still sold).

      He still drives it today. Met him for lunch at Pizza Hut this past week.

      • 0 avatar
        jatz

        I think that’s unarguable. Big, safe, immune to potholes or a foot of snow, ergonomically friendly to arthritic skeletons or 50″ waistlines and providing the best visibility of any private motor vehicle, their sales are proof of their superiority.


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