Why It’s So Hard to Make an Electric Pickup Truck

Carmakers touting electric pickups have either cancelled their products or run into one manufacturing problem after another.

Ford Rouge Electric Vehicle Center
Ford paused the production of the electric F-150 Lightning pickup truck in mid-February due to a battery issue. DR/SP/Andia/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

While the overall electric vehicle industry continues to grow, companies that make electric pickup trucks seem to be collectively struggling to meet their production targets and keep their finances in check, exposing the unique challenges of electrifying trucks.

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Pickup trucks are the second best-selling vehicle category in the U.S., after crossovers, and there is no carmaker that currently offers an electric option at scale. Established EV makers and startups all want to be first to introduce a gas-free pickup. For many, however, manufacturing electric trucks at volume has turned out more difficult than they thought.

Pickup trucks are bigger and heavier than standard passenger cars and therefore require larger batteries, more powerful motors and stronger frames, said John Ellmore, the founder of Electric Car Guide, a consumer guide and information site about EVs.

“Electric trucks need a wider range of more advanced components than regular EVs. Fewer suppliers are making them and the market is not really there yet,” Ellmore said. “This makes them more difficult to manufacture and the cost of improving the technology is greater than that of improving standard EV technology.”

Problems at Ford, Lordstown, Nikola and Rivian

In mid-February, Ford paused the production and shipments of F-150 Lightning, the electric version of the popular F-150 pickup truck, due to a battery issue that could cause the vehicle to catch fire. It still hasn’t resumed production. A week later, on Feb. 23, Ohio-based startup Lordstown Motors also halted the production of its electric pickup, called Endurance, citing quality issues with certain components.

In 2020, Arizona-based Nikola cancelled its Badger pickup truck after a manufacturing deal with General Motors fell through. Rivian, a frontrunner in the electric truck space, recently announced plans to lay off 6 percent of its staff amid a cost crunch and expects to make fewer vehicles than Wall Street analysts estimate this year, citing a shortage of components, the company said in its quarterly earnings report yesterday (Feb. 28).

Even cash-abundant Tesla (TSLA) is struggling to get a pickup truck to the market. Despite years of hype, its Cybertruck is still nowhere to be seen.

In its earnings report yesterday, Rivian said supply-chain difficulties continues to be the main limiting factor of production. During the quarter ended December 31, “we encountered multiple days of lost production due to supplier shortages,” the company said in a letter to shareholders, adding it expects supply chain challenges to persist into 2023.

Adding to the inherent manufacturing challenges are the extra features and specifications promised by many electric pickup makers.

“The expectations are different around electric trucks,” said Josh Aviv, the founder of SparkCharge, an on-demand EV charging service. “Tesla’s Cybertruck have bulletproof windows. F-150 Lightning is able to power your house. All of these are attainable goals but add a layer of additional engineering and time to make them ready for the mass market.”

Why It’s So Hard to Make an Electric Pickup Truck