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Small Electric Pickup Trucks on the Way

As electrification increasingly takes over the auto industry, even the most niche vehicles are being affected.

January 27, 2023
3 minutes
minute read

As electrification increasingly takes over the auto industry, even the most niche vehicles are being affected. Small, battery-powered pickups are becoming more and more common, with at least two major carmakers considering adding them to their electric vehicle lineups. This trend is sure to continue as EVs become more and more popular.

At General Motors Co., a team of engineers and designers is focused on developing affordable electric models, including a pint-sized pickup. However, spokesman Stuart Fowle says that this is just a design proposal at this point, and there are still some steps before it could be considered for production.

Nissan Motor Co. is planning to produce two more battery-powered electric vehicles (EVs) at its Mississippi plant. The first is the Ariya EV, which is already on the market. The second is rumored to be an electric version of the brand's Frontier pickup truck. A Nissan spokesman has called the report speculation and said that the company does not comment on future product plans.

Tiny trucks are a natural target for electrification. They’re already lighter and more aerodynamic than their sturdier pickup siblings, which makes it easier for engineers to outfit them with smaller batteries. The smaller batteries will make these trucks lighter still — a flywheel-type equation that works against the auto industry when it’s churning out massive electric SUVs. Small electric trucks are also relatively cheap to manufacture, which helps offset battery costs.

Small pickups are attracting first-time pickup buyers, which is helping to offset sales of larger rivals.

While few drivers need a small pickup, they offer not much more utility than a similar-sized sedan. They don't handle as well and often have half as many doors. However, people seem to love them, especially Americans. They love the way they look and feel to sit in. They also love what they can do, even if they seldom actually do it.

According to Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Kevin Tynan, there are a lot of people who want a truck but don't really need one. He says this is a great strategy for car companies that not many people are talking about.

Auto executives have a tendency to green-light a wave of tiny trucks every 20-30 years, typically when gasoline prices spike. In the 1970s, they gave us the Chevrolet LUV, Ford Courier and Subaru BRAT. In the ‘90s, it was the Chevrolet S-10 and Dodge Dakota. Today, we have the Ford Maverick and Hyundai Santa Cruz. Both of these trucks hit the market in late 2021; their swift popularity is no doubt a factor in carmakers considering similar electric alternatives.

The Maverick generated $2.1 billion in revenue for Ford last year, according to Bloomberg estimates. This is nearly as much as its larger sibling, the Ford Ranger. Critically, the Maverick did not seem to pull buyers away from Ford's other trucks. Instead, it attracted drivers who typically go for car-shaped cars.

The truck has been so popular that Ford has had to stop taking orders intermittently to allow its factory to catch up.

Small pickups are becoming increasingly popular, with models like the Ford Maverick and Hyundai Santa Cruz selling well. These trucks offer many of the same features as their larger counterparts, but are more compact and easier to maneuver, making them a great choice for city driving.

The Santa Cruz has been a hit with American consumers who want the cargo space of a truck but the smaller size of an SUV. Hyundai has seen a 17% increase in sales in the second half of 2022 thanks to the popularity of the Santa Cruz.

As consumer interest and strong economics continue to drive the market, it's likely that the range of compact trucks available to Americans will only grow. Forecaster LMC Automotive predicts that by mid-decade, sales of gas-guzzling, hybrid and electric compact trucks could reach as many as 200,000 vehicles a year - nearly double the current figure.

At GM, Fowle says the company is working on designing EVs that are affordable from the start. In other words, the company is focusing on designing electric models with affordable parts, materials and solutions, rather than stripping frills away from a more expensive model.

GM doesn't currently make any truck that is the same size and price as the Maverick or Santa Cruz. The closest product is the mid-sized Chevrolet Colorado, which starts at around $31,000 and gets 24 miles to the gallon.

Valentyna Semerenko
Eric Ng
John Liu
Editorial Board
Bryan Curtis
Adan Harris
Managing Editor
Cathy Hills
Associate Editor

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