Electric motors are great for vehicles that haul loads in stop-and-go conditions and at low speeds; that means they could be ideally suited to powering trucks, in certain conditions. While it’s a bit surprising that there hasn’t been a true electric pickup yet, Tesla Motors has one in its longer-range product plan. But now Workhorse, a fleet-vehicle specialist, looks poised to beat Tesla to market with a truck called the W-15.
While the majority of light-duty pickups today are sold for personal use, a significant portion are essentially tools of the trade—carrying supplies for construction or utility projects, for instance, or getting workers and their tools from one job site to the next.
It’s here where the Workhorse W-15 could prove perfect for the task. The truck, which is under development and targeted to go into production in 2018, isn’t a pure battery-electric vehicle, it’s a range-extended plug-in. “We believe this will be the first plug-in range-extended electric pickup truck built from the ground up by an OEM in America. It’s not a conversion vehicle,” said Steve Burns, Workhorse CEO, in a release.
Workhorse argues that with an 80-mile range it will cover the vast majority of needs for locally driven trucks. It says that what underpins the W-15 will be an extension of the E-Gen powertrain, as used in the company’s electric commercial delivery trucks—which would mean a small fuel tank and an emphasis on gasoline power truly as a backup. Those E-Gen models have 60 kWh of battery capacity (split between two packs) and 268-hp motor, plus a 647-cc two-cylinder BMW gasoline engine (from the BMW i3) that acts purely as an onboard generator, extending these trucks’ range from 60 miles up to 90 miles. It’s possible that the pickup will use a stronger range extender or bigger fuel tank—the company hasn’t yet said—as it boasts that the setup will allow the driver “unlimited range to complete the days’ tasks.”
The company already projects efficiency: at 75 MPGe in fully electric operation, or 32 mpg city, 28 highway in its E-Gen mode. It has also confirmed to us that it’s targeting a payload of 2200 pounds and a tow rating of 6000 pounds—respectable numbers, but clearly not intended to be a part of the great arms race among Ford, Chevy/GMC, and Ram. Workhorse is anticipating W-25 and W-35 models in the future, and it’s likely that those would have higher capability; in the meantime it sees utilities, municipalities, and government agencies as the primary customers.
The W-15 will have a body-on-frame layout that isn’t shared with any other light-duty production truck, with composite body panels. Panasonic lithium-ion cells—in the 18650 form factor (roughly AA-sized) that Tesla currently uses in its vehicles—will be packaged between the steel frame rails and between the axles. Front and rear motor systems give this truck four-wheel-drive traction. DC fast-charging is probably not necessary, as these trucks will be plugged in overnight, typical home/shop Level 2 (240V) hardware could easily bring a full charge by morning.
The cabin is claimed to be good for five adults, and there are AC and DC power outlets inside, feeding directly from the battery pack. The small range-extender engine gives the Workhorse a packaging advantage: It’s expected to be the only pickup of its kind with a front trunk of the sort normally found in mid- or rear-engine sports cars, or in the Tesla Model S and Model X. And the company points to both “lane-centering” (we assume that to mean a lane-keeping system) and automated braking technology on board.
Workhorse is based in Ohio and has an assembly facility in Indiana. It’s not a new company; it was established in 2007 as AMP Electric Vehicles. AMP bought Workhorse, a commercial chassis builder, in March 2015. Later last year it received a 200-truck order from UPS.
The company plans to show an advanced prototype for the vehicle on May 1, 2017—likely at the Advanced Clean Transportation (ACT) Expo, a major national event for fleet planners. Pricing for this truck, because of its focus on those managing bottom-line operating costs, will be crucial. Odds are the Workhorse won’t have a lot of showroom allure or valet-parking cachet, though—things that Tesla’s truck will have in spades, although most definitely at a price.