With Elon Musk in the throes of “production hell” and other mainstream manufacturers rolling out their own takes on the all-electric car, machines powered solely by electrons occupy an increasing number of driveways across the nation. One segment largely devoid of purely electric propulsion? Pickup trucks.
On the surface, this is logical. Trucks are meant for work — or at least they were, before hordes of buyers (myself included) started deploying them as crew-cab family machines and jacked-up brodozers intent on intimidating the drive-thru lane into submission.
Trucks and electric power may, at first blush, seem well suited together as chalk and cheese. Look closer, however, and there is definitely a segment of pickup buyers who would benefit from instant torque and low maintenance while not being bothered by the truck’s relatively (compared to a gasoline-powered pickup) limited range.
Canadian company EcoTuned Automotive has designed, engineered, and is installing electric powertrains into 12th-generation Ford F-150 pickups, a truck built from 2009 to 2014. EcoTuned’s business model is formed around yanking the factory gasoline engine and attendant transmission with a cherry-picker, then plugging their kit in its place.
Michelin hosted an event in Montreal called Movin’On, a nearly week-long symposium packed with leading thinkers in the next generation of mobility. It was at this event where the future of transportation was discussed at length, from Michelin’s leadership in tire stewardship to entrepreneurial efforts aimed at reducing a vehicle’s carbon footprint. It was here we jumped behind the wheel of an EcoTuned F-150 for a drive. The results were surprising.
What Powers an Electric Ford F-150?
Rated at 210 horsepower and 300 lb-ft of torque, the electric powertrain has more twist than the base V6 engine found in Ford’s current base model truck and is roughly equal in torque to what was found in the old two-valve 4.6L V8, a motor installed in many 12th-gen F-150 pickups.
The EcoTuned F-150 looks remarkably stock, avoiding a half-baked science project appearance that plagued so many early examples of electric motoring. In fact, save for a covered charging port on the driver’s side front fender, bystanders would be hard pressed to tell there’s anything unique about this pickup.
People who buy electric cars to loudly – and annoyingly – advertise they’re saving the planet need not apply, then.
If that charging port looks familiar, you’re right. It’s the same unit found on the Ford Fusion Energi, an electric sedan manufactured by the Blue Oval. EcoTuned’s founder, Andy Ta, insisted on using genuine Ford materials so the creation didn’t look like a slapped together prototype hammered together in someone’s backyard shed.
This commitment to sweating the details continues in the truck’s cab, where all of the gauges function normally and there’s a distinct lack of janky wiring strewn about the cabin. The fuel gauge in the stock cluster reads ‘F’, a commentary on the battery’s current state of charge. In fact, the interior mirrors F-150s found on showroom floors of the era save for an extra gauge mounted near the 12v power outlet that monitors battery state and juice flow. Even then, that readout is an optional extra, installed by EcoTuned for today’s test drives of the electric Ford F-150.
“Why the F-150?” I asked, nosing the silent pickup onto Montreal’s notorious pothole-infested streets.
“America’s best-selling vehicle seemed like a good place to start,” grinned the EcoTuned rep who was riding shotgun. Fair enough then.
Hit the gas – erm, accelerator – pedal, and the truck takes off more aggressively than a normal F-150, thanks to the unique properties of electric propulsion that allow maximum torque to be produced at zero rpm. Simply flexing my big toe spurns the truck forward with more vigor than I have experienced in a 4.6L V8-equipped F-150 from the same generation.
One trait advertising EcoTuned’s electric powertrain is the noise being made by the transmission, a unit which, in first gear, whines like a spoiled socialite. The tranny is a two-speed ‘box of EcoTuned’s own design, unique by dint of most electric vehicles deploying a single-speed unit. Many iterations of the transmission were built in an attempt to quell the first gear whine that remains present but is not outrageous. The din goes away when the truck shifts into second gear at around 40 km/h.
Worth noting are the simulated PRNDL detents, easily felt while using the column-mounted shifter. EcoTuned’s goal was to make the electric conversion largely invisible and, with details like these, they’ve succeeded. It is smoother column shift action than stock but the detents, normally part of a mechanical linkage no longer present in the truck, are still detectable. It feels not at all foreign or different.
This is a key part of the buy-in. For electric vehicles to be widely accepted, especially in work environments for which the F-150 is intended, the transition from traditional gasoline-powered machine needs to be a smooth one. That the EcoTuned electric Ford F-150 looks and feels like a “normal” F-150 is a huge win.
A big knock against electric-powered vehicles always has been range, especially when compared to a fully fuelled gasoline unit. This is especially true for trucks, as they are often more heavily worked than a commuter car. EcoTuned says their truck is good for 100 miles (160 km)when fully charged, a process which takes about seven hours. Company reps told us that working the truck hard – towing, for example – will cut that range to about 70 miles (115 km).
That’s not a lot, but existing customers are satisfied. Most trucks are deployed in workplaces where distances are short and parking/charging opportunities are ample, such as the pickups used as support vehicles on an airport runway. There is a diesel-fuelled cabin heater to warm driver and passenger in winter months, a unit that also warms up the air-cooled batteries when ambient temps are super cold. Diesel is added via the stock F-150 fuel flap.
EcoTuned claims the truck weighs a scant 100 lbs more than a stock F-150, thanks to the electric powertrain being lighter than the gas burner. The company chooses to locate 80 percent of the batteries it adds during conversion underneath the truck, contained in solid looking metal boxes between the frame rails. Remaining batteries are located ahead of the firewall. On the road, all this down-low weight has the effect of lowering the truck’s center of gravity, creating a very stable driving feel.
The lowest points of those new underbody boxes are said to be roughly equal to or a bit higher than the bottom of the truck’s rear-end pumpkin, a unit which remains externally unmodified. EcoTuned also claims the same payload and towing prowess of a base short-bed SuperCrew F150 from an equivalent model year, keeping in mind the attendant haircut given to range mentioned earlier.
Our test truck was a two-wheel drive model, but the company says they can retrofit 4×4 trucks as well. Total cost for the package? Around $40,000. That’s roughly equal to the price of a new truck, a point to which EcoTuned reps have a response.
“This electric powertrain is projected to last a million kilometers,” said my passenger. “When the truck in which it is installed reaches end-of-life, the customer can pluck it out and put it in another one,” meaning the cost can be spread over two or three trucks rather than one. It goes without saying operating and maintenance costs are significantly less than a gasoline-powered truck, as well.
Before making the switch, a company would definitely have to closely examine the cost/benefit of forking out all that upfront cash, a process which would likely take several Excel spreadsheets and an abacus or two. Currently, EcoTuned counts companies like Aéroports de Montréal and Hydro Québec amongst its customer base. These are organizations not prone to making decisions lightly, so the numbers must work for them.
Steering back into the parking lot, EcoTuned’s president is beaming. “The technology that we have developed is unique in the world and combines economic profitability, technological innovation, and environmental protection efforts. This contributes to sustainable development in the field of automotive transport,” said Mr. Ta.
I walk away from the truck impressed with both how it drives and its craftsmanship. Like a good restaurant, the visible attention to detail speaks to the sweat poured into parts of the truck one cannot see. An electric truck might not work for everybody, but for those whom it will, EcoTuned has crafted an excellent solution.
Production hell? You won’t find it here.
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