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Charge it! Pricey Detroit EV pickups target premium customers

Henry Payne, The Detroit News on

Published in Business News

An AWD Lightning XLT, for example, costs $75,000 compared with its $57,000 hybrid-gas XLT counterpart before a $7,500 federal tax credit. That’s also on par with the luxury-market, $74,000 Rivian R1T. The price spread is comparable to the gulf between a top-trim, $57,000 mainstream Ford Explorer three-row SUV and a luxury, $75,000 BMW X7 three-row SUV.

Automakers like Ford and GM have targeted EV sales to be half their volumes by the end of this decade — with GM aggressively forecasting all-EV sales by 2035. Initial market offerings point to less bullish expectations.

“This is not volume pricing. Automakers don’t think they can sell EVs in volume,” said analyst Brauer. “EVs don’t make sense at volume right now because automakers wouldn’t be able to make the profit they make on gas cars.”

Consistent with selling luxury compared with a mainstream brand, Ford emphasizes the capabilities of Lightning versus the gas F-150, such as a whopping 563 horsepower (versus 430 for the hybrid V-6 engine) and 775 pound-feet of torque (versus 570 for the hybrid). Similarly, a Silverado EV specs 775 pound-feet of torque versus a $56,600 diesel Silverado’s 460 pound-feet.

“Lightning has a number of capabilities only an all-electric powertrain can deliver,” said Ford spokesperson Hannah Ooms. “Such as 9.6 kilowatts Pro Power Onboard (charging), Ford Intelligent Backup Power, vehicle-to-vehicle Charging, 400-liter front trunk, 775 lb.-ft. of torque, and 0-60 mph time in the mid-4 second range,” compared with the hybrid F-150’s 5.3 seconds.

In addition to its price advantage, the hybrid-gas F-150 boasts other its own advantages such as 700 miles of range (versus 300 for the Lightning) and a significantly higher towing capacity (12,700 pounds vs. 8,000 for the EV).

So distinct in pricing and features are the Detroit EV trucks that car buff sites like Car and Driver list them as separate models.

The premium EV message plays out in work truck models as well. Detroit automakers sell huge volumes to fleets serving everything from landscape to construction businesses. But Chevy and Ford are targeting EV work trucks at billion-dollar corporations that need to meet Environmental Social Governance quotas demanded by activist investors and governments.

 

“The work truck is about supporting our fleet customers and their sustainability goals with wanting to have a sustainable future (and the) ESG demands of their green investors. So we’re starting with our fleet model first,” said Silverado chief engineer Nichole Kraatz in an interview, previewing the Silverado WT’s debut in early 2023.

The activist push to electrify big fleets follows other trendy solutions in recent decades like ethanol and natural gas. In the wake of 9/11, the Bush administration in 2005 mandated the federal government's vehicle fleet be capable of operating on corn-based ethanol. And FedEx, one of GM’s key partners with the Silverado Work Truck, invested in natural gas-powered vehicles last decade to meet sustainability goals.

Startup automakers like Rivian and Bollinger also see the opportunity to take corporate fleet share from legacy automakers. Rivian has benefited from Amazon capital as the tech company builds a fleet of delivery vehicles on the bones of the pickup-maker’s battery platform.

“Big corporations have a symbiotic relationship with Big Auto. They both need to claim how green they are,” said Brauer. “The mantra among the tech and government crowd is sustainability. Big corporations also have money they can put into charging infrastructure, which is ideal for commercial trucks with set routes in an urban area.”

Expensive EV trucks also dovetail with the premium pickup phenomenon of recent years. While Detroit luxury brands like Cadillac and Lincoln have concentrated on SUVs, top-trim trucks like the Chevy High Country, Ford Platinum, and Ram TRX now compete with top-drawer German luxury brands with big screens, high tech and gilded interiors. A special Ignition Edition of the 702-horsepower Ram 1500 TRX, for example, retails for $93,280.

Can pickup makers translate premium EV cache into mainstream sales volume?

“Who knows what will happen in 10 years?” smiled Brauer.

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