Whenever Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, speaks or tweets, the world takes notice. Recently, he did just that reaffirming that he plans on bringing an electric pickup truck to market.
The pickup truck market is comprehensive and complex. Head over to any manufacturer’s build-and-price tool and you’ll find thousands of different configuration options for nearly every truck. Truck buyers expect things that car buyers do not.
So while Musk wants to bring a pickup truck to market, does a Tesla pickup make sense in that truck marketplace? Is this something that truck buyers want?
What do Small Businesses Want in a Truck?
Nate Berges of Berges Trenton Awning is, in a lot of ways, a typical pickup truck buyer. His small business needs trucks in order to survive, but he also drives a pickup as his everyday vehicle. He’s married and has children, so the truck functions as a family car.
Berges currently owns a 2017 Ford F-350 Super Duty Platinum as his daily truck. Hardly inexpensive, he’s not averse to paying for a truck if it suits his needs. In his work fleet, he has everything from Transit Connect vans to chassis-cab trucks outfitted specifically for his business.
Berges lives in New Jersey and, if you couldn’t tell from the business name, makes awnings for people. His service area isn’t massive, but it can require some driving. “We cover roughly a 50-mile area with our business,” Berges says. “We mainly service the New Jersey beach towns from Atlantic City down through the tip of New Jersey in Cape May.”
We showed Berges the render of a Tesla pickup that is shown with a Ford F-150 for the purpose of scale and then talked to him about it and what he looks for in a truck.
Trucks are tools, and they need to be able to get the job done. What does Berges need in a truck, regardless of whether it’s an EV from Tesla or a Power Stroke from Ford?
“Our trucks are carrying tools and hardware at all times, on top of whatever jobs they are tasked with for that day. So a truck may be carrying between 1,500-3,500 pounds worth of weight in the bed area at any time,” he says.
Trucks often perform double-duty around the house on weekends, and Berges’ is no different. “I’m a natural born weekend warrior, always tackling some project around the house or knocking down my ‘honey do’ list.”
He goes on to tell us that a regular half-ton truck, like a Ram 1500 or Ford F-150 could handle his family and weekend chores. But it should be pointed out that his truck can double as a truck for his business if one was to be out of service for repair.
That leads Berges to tell us what he looks for in a truck: dependability and reliability. “We buy a truck every few years with the mindset that it’s going to be a part of our fleet for at least 10 to 15 years of year-round use,” he continues. He has a 1988 Chevrolet 1500 in his fleet that still gets used.
Electric motors have fewer moving parts than an internal combustion engine, which should help with the reliability concerns.
The Tesla render looks larger than a standard half-ton F-150 pickup. Does that create any ergonomic issues for him and his team?
“Bed access is a huge thing for us. We constantly are going in and out of the back of our trucks. With that in mind, we also are going on to our ladder racks, so a truck that is too tall is actually a difficult fit for us, too. We have many beach towns that have tree-lined streets and things like that combat with the top of our trucks. So we have to consider all three dimensions when we buy a new vehicle.”
Just reaching over the side of the rendered truck would be difficult without some sort of assist steps. Chevrolet has power running boards that move towards the back of the cab to help with this. Ford offers a retractable ladder step on the tailgate to gain access to the bed.
It’s unclear from this rendering, or any information Musk has shared, how these ergonomics issues would be handled. But ergonomics will be a big deal because drivers could potentially be getting in and out of the truck and the bed dozens of times a day.
Berges would strongly consider an electric truck in his fleet, but it must have the range to handle an entire day of work loaded, which is 150 to 200 miles. It’d also have to be big enough to carry two or three of his people.
If an electric truck could do all of those things, it comes down to money. He tells us bluntly, “it would have to save me money on fuel in order to be interesting to me.”
Ultimately that’s what fleet buyers care about; money.
Why are fleet sales so important? Because that’s where most of the money in pickup trucks are made. It’ll be important that Tesla makes an offering that appeals to buyers like Berges.
Versatility a Huge Factor
If you look at the current truck manufacturers, you’ll notice most offer at least two different sizes of trucks. That’s important to someone like Will Jenkins, outdoorsman and conservationist.
Jenkins lives in Wisconsin and spends his free time outdoors. He wants a midsize truck the size of a Tacoma or Colorado. It’s just easier to navigate the woods off-road with something smaller.
As a single truck buyer who goes off road, he represents another unique truck buying segment that the truck makers cater to.
What does he look for in a truck? “Ground clearance, four-wheel drive, and storage both in the bed and in the cab,” he starts, “and also oddly, gas mileage.”
It’s actually not too odd to care about fuel economy. It might not be the No. 1 reason to buy a truck, but it’s surely not unsubstantial. Aftermarket support for accessories and add-ons is also a big factor, especially if off-roading is in the cards.
He goes on to tell us that trucks have been sacrificing ground clearance lately. Look at the Chevrolet Colorado and the air dam up front. It keeps the truck aerodynamic for fuel economy, but it’s easily destroyed off-road.
Tesla has some options to innovate in storage. Ram Trucks has their RamBox storage system, Ford offers lockable under-seat storage in the Super Duty, but most storage is still pretty conventional. For someone who hunts, the more storage the better.
Tesla’s vast Supercharger network covers many of the highways in the United States, but once you get off the beaten path, there’s less support. Adverse weather conditions also affect range, so whatever solution is developed needs to have the range to cover whatever might happen.
Both Berges and Jenkins are truck buyers, even though their needs are vastly different. It’s one of the reasons why trucks are so configurable — there’s no one off-the-shelf truck to suit every need. A single pickup truck with no expandability would likely do poorly for Tesla, but a customizable truck – or series of trucks with different sizes and capabilities – would be able to suit the needs of buyers and improve the likelihood of success, especially if the range, dependability, durability, storage solutions, and fair price were factored in.