The electric truck wars are in full swing with the Chevy Silverado EV and Ford F-150 Lightning going toe-to-toe with starting prices of $40,000 for their first EV pickups.
Consider the number $50,000, too.
That’s how much more the Silverado EV’s RST trim costs than a comparable, diesel-powered Silverado RST. Ford has also released its price configurator for Lightning, and EV models run from $18,000 to $25,000 more than their gas-powered counterparts. They will also be shopped against startup EV trucks like the $74,000 Rivian R1T and the $125,000 Bollinger B2.
While manufacturers advertise EVs as the future of autos, their initial offerings have a decidedly premium feel. Like Teslas or Mustang Mach-E electric SUVs, American pickups appear targeted at a niche market of luxury customers with multi-car garages — or wealthy corporations with trendy environmental sustainability goals to meet.
“For now, automakers know that EVs are a premium market. Particularly wealthy first adopters in places like Silicon Valley,” said California-based auto analyst Karl Brauer of iSeeCars. “These are the same people who have bought Tesla Model Ss for their high performance.”
Chevy’s all-wheel-drive Silverado EV RST first-edition model will debut in late 2023 at an eye-watering $105,000 — about the same price as Porsche’s AWD electric car, the Taycan. The RST’s sticker is just shy of the GMC Hummer EV Edition 1 price of $112,595.
The Ford Lightning’s top-trim, loaded Platinum model stickers at $92,569 (compared with a loaded, $72,000 Platinum gas-hybrid model) — more than $8,000 north of the standard, rear-wheel-drive Porsche Taycan EV. Lightning will be offered in a variety of lower trims when it hits the market this spring, a year ahead of the Chevy.
All trims carry a hefty premium over their gas-engine siblings. Ford’s base Lightning Pro model starts at $41,669, about $10,000 (32%) above the starting price of the $31,685 gas-powered F-150 XL.
That’s similar to the $10,000 premium that buyers have paid for Chevrolet’s first electric vehicle, the Bolt EV, over a comparably-sized, gas-powered Chevy Trax SUV that starts at $22,595. The Bolt EV was hyped as a volume EV seller when it was revealed in 2016, but its sales have hovered around 20,000 units annually — or just 20% of Trax sales.
Lightning will initially only be offered in a SuperCrew cab (four-door) configuration. In XLT trim, that would align it with the F-150’s meat-and-potatoes XLT gas model, one of the Blue Oval’s best-selling vehicles. Load up a Lighting XLT and gas XLT, however, and the prices diverge.
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.