Did American Car Makers Make a Mistake with EV Pickups?
What electric car buyers really want is smaller sedans, research shows.
Over the next few months, the electric pickup truck lineup in the United States will double. Chevrolet, Ram, Tesla, and GMC are all set to release competitors to the three electric pickups already on the market: the Ford F-150 Lightning, the Rivian RT1, and the GMC Hummer EV.
That automakers are excited by the idea of electrifying one of their most lucrative gas-powered segments is hardly surprising. But what might be more surprising is how little pickup buyers seem to share their enthusiasm.
A recent survey from automotive market analytics firm AutoPacific shows that pickup truck buyers may be the most hesitant of all market segments to go electric. Only 12% of full-sized and 8% of mid-sized pickup buyers surveyed are interested in fully electric trucks. Yikes.
Get one great climate story in your inbox every day:
This research comes from AutoPacific’s Future Attribute Demand Study (FADS), an annual project which tries to gauge what exactly resonates with consumers. Between July 5 and July 17, the firm surveyed 11,000 licensed drivers all over the United States who intend to buy a new vehicle within the next three years. The survey’s sample size was split evenly between men and women and the average age of a respondent was 45.
The survey found that out of all the segments where buyers are interested in going electric, pickups scored the lowest. “Pickup truck buyers are typically the most engrained in their roots and opinions when it comes to straying too far from the normal pickup truck DNA,” Robby DeGraff, a product and consumer insights analyst, told me over email. “Demand for ICE pickups will never fade, and it rages on in popularity, but that type of demand isn’t and likely won’t ever be mirrored for EV pickups.”
There may be other factors at play, but it seems reasonably clear that pickup trucks aren’t yet top sellers in the EV space. GM has sold just over 1,200 Hummer EVs so far this year, while Ford has sold about 12,000 Lightnings. (Rivian does not disclose unit-by-unit breakdowns.) By comparison, GM has sold almost 50,000 units of the discontinued Chevy Bolt to date in 2023.
AutoPacific says that although charging infrastructure and range are big reasons why pickup buyers in particular aren’t interested in EVs, price is one of the biggest for any type of EV consumer. The Rivian R1S and R1T are two trucks that easily can touch the mid $80,000 price range. Ford also dramatically raised prices on the F-150 Lightning, and it’s common for the model to hit $75,000 or above. Only recently has the brand reduced prices of the Lightning, and the new prices are still substantially higher than the initially promised $40,000 price point back in 2021.
Similarly, the Chevrolet Silverado EV’s $39,990 base price is missing in action; GM has quietly admitted that it will now start at $50,000, but hasn’t revealed the exact price. The only pricing it has revealed is for the not-very-nice Silverado EV 3WT and 4WT fleet-only (work truck) trims, the former of which starts at $74,800. Initially, the only consumer-available Silverado will be the top-trim RST model, which starts at a whopping $106,895.
By comparison, a basic gas-powered F-150 or Silverado starts in the mid $30,000 range.
The low desire for EV pickup trucks doesn’t mean there isn’t a market for EVs at all. Crossovers like the Tesla Model Y and the Ford Mach-E are already selling like hot cakes. And there’s a huge opportunity, DeGraff told me, in reasonably priced sedans. “When we look at our most recent batch of data, EV powertrain intenders are much more interested in midsize and compact cars than pickup trucks, when it comes to segments. 26% of all polled EV intenders intend to buy a ‘compact car’ and 21% a ‘midsize car’… higher than demand among EV intenders for [SUVs and crossovers] that are compact, midsize, and subcompact, and even in some instances large,” wrote DeGraff.
Although most of the respondents who wanted an EV planned on spending around $50,000 for one, it found that there was real demand for EVs in the $35,000 to $49,000 price range. The firm also found that an MSRP under $35,000 was the sweet spot that would get EV skeptics into the driver’s seat.
Now, it’s worth asking the obvious question: Is this yet another front in the culture war, with urban, sedan-craving Democrats eager to go all-electric and rural, pickup-loving Republicans skeptical or downright hostile? It’s possible. Pickup trucks really do skew Republican, the market research firm Strategic Vision has found, and President Trump has turned EVs into a new bit. Meanwhile, Strategic Vision has also found that buyers of sedans and smaller cars skew Democrat. Democrats surveyed also said they wanted an “environmentally-friendly vehicle that is both economical and cool.”
That might explain the Tesla Model 3’s rousing success. Not only is the base Model 3 attractively priced, starting now at about $39,000 before any tax credits or on-the-lot discounts, but its sedan-body style may make it a virtuous choice to a certain subset of buyers. It also might explain why the Chevy Bolt was doing pretty well before it was canceled — and why GM is now planning on reviving it.
By comparison, Republicans want a vehicle that is seen as “powerful, rugged, and prestigious.” Trucks like the Rivian R1T and Ford F-150 Lightning are more powerful than most trucks – the Rivian R1T has 835 horsepower, and the F-150 Lighting is the second-fastest truck in Ford’s lineup. Yet, misinformation from Trump and a political identity centered around “drill, baby, drill” might be keeping truck buyers from lusting after EVs (which is particularly odd, considering Elon Musk’s politics).
Still, what AutoPacific’s research unequivocally found is that we need cheap EV shapes to satisfy the underserved demand of drivers already out there. As our production capacity grows, we’ll need to figure out a way to get truck buyers into EVs or we won’t decarbonize. But for now, there’s an enthusiastic segment of buyers just waiting for the right form at the right price.
Read more about electric vehicles: