Andrew Moseman has covered science, technology, and transportation for publications such as The Atlantic, Inverse, Insider, Outside, and MIT Technology Review. He was previously digital director of Popular Mechanics and now serves as online communications editor at Caltech. He is based in Los Angeles. Read MoreRead More
The Sporty EV Pickup of My Dreams Is Coming — But Not to America
Toyota’s electric Hilux prototype has debuted in Thailand. It would be a hit in the United States.
My wife drove one of the last great little trucks. The 2000 Toyota Tacoma had no extended cab and no frills, just a bench seat and a short bed to shuttle her stuff back and forth from L.A. to Berkeley. To no one’s surprise, it still runs. We just moved a loveseat in it this weekend.
That kind of two-door utilitarian pickup, which was commonplace in the heyday of the Chevy S-10 and Ford Ranger, is critically endangered in the era of supersized F-150s and Ram 1500s. And the new EVs in the truck space are predictably big. Toyota, though, just revealed an electrified version of the simple little truck: the Hilux REVO EV, an updated, modernized version of my wife’s classic two-door.
I want it. It is in Southeast Asia.
“Why can’t we have this in America” is a familiar refrain in the automotive world. It’s been especially fitting in the last couple of decades, as the American car market consolidated around big trucks and crossovers, the only vehicles that sell en masse. Other countries get station wagons, hatchbacks, tiny city cars, small pickup trucks, and other shapes that make enthusiasts swoon, but don’t reach the U.S. market because they don’t sell in high volume here. (You can’t just buy one and import it, either, because of the United States’s 25-year rule.)
The Hilux is a perfect example. Toyota’s global truck is the world’s workhorse, selling countless numbers in countries where a pickup is meant to be a beater, not a cushy family car that happens to have a bed in the back. The Hilux is notoriously dependable and serviceable. Parts are easy to find since so many of these things exist around the world. You just can’t buy one in the United States, where, since the 1990s, Toyota has sold the larger, comfier Tacoma to compete with the monster trucks on American roads.
Toyota showed off the Hilux REVO EV last month in Thailand, one of the biggest markets for the traditional gas-powered Hilux. The truck is a one-off concept that engineers from Toyota Thailand built using the brand’s EV parts. While the demo is far from becoming a production vehicle, it’s an interesting move by Toyota. The world’s largest automaker has been conspicuously slow in electrification, allowing the other legacy car companies to make their big EV splashes first. Toyota President Akio Toyoda has said more than once that the car industry has put the cart before the horse with electrification, and that Toyota will not race to produce EVs until it is confident the infrastructure those EVs need is in place.
When that infrastructure is in place, Toyota will be in position to offer the world the battery-powered small pickup of my dreams. Here in America, the brand’s eventual EV truck offering is liable to be a much bigger boy. But are we really sure a smaller EV truck can’t succeed here?
To American drivers lusting after the small trucks available overseas, the car companies had a ready-made reply: Sorry, but the numbers don’t lie. Full-size pickups are the best-selling vehicles in America. By comparison, compact trucks aren’t worth the effort. Ford’s mid-size Maverick is a success story, but its sales still can’t hold a candle to the more than 500,000 F-150s and Silverados sold in America each year.
The legacy carmakers thought they could replicate the same dynamic to spur America’s transition to EVs. The Ford F-150 Lightning is available, and the electrified Chevy, Ram, and GMC full-size trucks are coming soon to form the vanguard of Detroit’s big EV push. But it’s not clear the old rules hold true in the new world. Full-size truck owners say they are troublingly unwilling to consider buying an EV as their next pickup. The people who do buy EVs trend urban and Democratic, the kind of people more likely to drive a Honda Civic than a Ram 1500.
In other words, the EV market — at least for now — doesn’t look a lot like the overall American auto market. And maybe that’s an opportunity for the forsaken car shapes to stage a comeback. Chevrolet looked like it would kill off the plucky Bolt to make way for electrified SUVs and trucks. Amid steep headwinds in that effort, the brand says the Bolt is coming back.
A reasonably sized pickup truck could be just the ticket for the urban dwellers who are actually interested in buying EVs. The pickups available now, the Rivian R1T and Ford F-150 Lightning, are simply too much truck for a lot of people. Their huge batteries can deliver a ton of power — just ask actor Alan Ruck, who crashed his into a Hollywood pizzeria last week. As much as I lust after the Rivian when I see one around Los Angeles, I couldn’t get it into my parking space. You know what would fit in there? The Hilux EV.
My wish is that the EV revolution sets the pickup free. The sovereignty of the oversized truck is tied to its capability, sure, but also its status as a market of tribal membership. Country songs name-drop Chevy Silverados for a reason, and lots of people who wouldn’t dare get mud on their boots own a King Ranch. Given that trucks skew right, and EVs still skew left, the EV truck exists in a liminal political space. Perhaps that’s enough to redefine the form, and make the electrified pickup about practicality more than posturing.