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Automakers Race To Bring Electric Pickup Trucks To Market

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

At the moment, it is impossible to buy an electric pickup. That's about to change, though. Automakers from Tesla and General Motors to Ford, Rivian and Lordstown, are all racing to bring them to market. NPR's Camila Domonoske reports.

CAMILA DOMONOSKE, BYLINE: If you've been watching automakers' promotional videos, you might know that the Hummer EV is a thousand-horsepower pickup that can turn all four wheels to drive diagonally.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: With no limits, no emissions and no equals.

DOMONOSKE: The electric F-150 can tow a freight train.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Are you kidding me?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: What?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Dude, it's moving the train.

DOMONOSKE: And in a tug of war between a traditional truck and a Tesla Cybertruck...

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: Pull.

DOMONOSKE: ...Or a Lordstown Endurance...

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: ...One, go.

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DOMONOSKE: ...The electric pickup wins. All these stunts are designed to make the case that an electric pickup truck is a better pickup truck. And the potential market here is big. The best-selling vehicle in the U.S. is a pickup. The second best-selling vehicle is a pickup. The third, also a pickup. This market is so big and so profitable that even a small portion of it could mean big money.

ALEXANDER EDWARDS: A third of all pickup truck owners are open to the idea of electrification.

DOMONOSKE: Alexander Edwards is the president of Strategic Vision, a company that regularly surveys new car buyers. He emphasizes that these aren't definite electric customers, but they might be persuadable. And crucially, this is a different pool of people than current electric vehicle owners. They're not as wealthy. They're less liberal and less interested in the environment or in high-tech innovation. But they can be swayed by other arguments.

EDWARDS: They were looking at this electrification of their vehicle to enhance the overall truck-ness (ph).

DOMONOSKE: It's that truck-ness that automakers are emphasizing in all those stunts. Consider a truck that's trying to tow a heavy load. To get all that weight moving requires a lot of low-end torque, a lot of rotational force. Some engines are better at this than other engines, and electric motors are actually really good at it. They have an advantage over gas or even diesel. Edwards says that performance edge could persuade some truck shoppers who aren't moved by appeals to save the environment.

EDWARDS: These guys are looking for rugged, powerful, capable vehicles.

DOMONOSKE: The world's governments are pushing toward electric vehicles as part of the fight against climate change. And many automakers are now convinced electric vehicles are the future. Appealing electric pickup trucks could help get the general public on board. Of course, some people don't need persuading. There are drivers who definitely want an electric pickup even before they've had the chance to take one for a spin. Madison Gross is the director of consumer insights at CarGurus, which recently surveyed truck owners.

MADISON GROSS: It's really Gen Z and millennials who are driving increased interest in electric pickups.

DOMONOSKE: But especially for these younger drivers, being interested in a vehicle is not the same as being able to afford it. New trucks are already expensive. New, full-size pickups are averaging nearly $55,000. And while electric vehicles cost less to operate, they are more expensive upfront.

PAT TURNER: For this foreseeable future anyway, they seem kind of unobtainable.

DOMONOSKE: Pat Turner (ph) of Baltimore is 30. He drives a Nissan Frontier. And he is pretty stoked about the prospect of electric pickups. But...

TURNER: Prices are just insane. I mean, GM came out with, you know, their EV Hummer at over $100,000. That's nuts.

DOMONOSKE: Affordability has been a big concern for pickup drivers for a while. Turner says he'll keep an eye on electric pickups but probably won't buy one until the prices drop substantially. Camila Domonoske, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF WHALE FALL'S "OLD COUNTY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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