In just the last month, a cybersecurity attack on a single pipeline company—aided by a lot of media hype and panic-buying—resulted in gas shortages along the East Coast. Oil may be a fungible, ubiquitous commodity, but it’s still a physical product that requires both refining and shipment. It’s also a fossil fuel that generates not just greenhouse gases, but pollutants that generate smog and cause extensive health issues around the globe.
In many areas, the power behind electric vehicles also comes from fossil fuels. But it doesn’t have to, and as renewable energy takes the lead in many markets, more and more homes—and vehicles—are being powered by the sun or wind. Electric vehicles are also particularly well-suited to a dispersed energy economy in which solar panels or wind are used for a single structure or neighborhood. Your home may not be connected to an oil pipeline or fitted with a refinery, but most standalone structures can be sites for the generation of electricity.
As the world moves toward attempting to comply with the Paris Agreement and future accords on reducing greenhouse gases, many countries have found it important to offer significant incentives to encourage the movement of the market away from fossil fuel vehicles and toward EVs. In the U.S., that’s meant a tax rebate of up to $7,500 on the purchase of a new electric vehicle, and many states and localities have added to that incentive. The U.S. incentives are up for renewal, with President Joe Biden suggesting an expansion that would open incentives for more vehicles, including used vehicles.
But while incentives are attractive at the moment, don’t expect them to last much longer—because they won’t need to. When it comes to pushing people over the line from gas to electric, incentives aren’t necessary when electric vehicles become the default and gas vehicles become increasingly inconvenient.
Because gas vehicles can’t be fueled up at home, they require an extensive network of an estimated 168,000 gas stations in the United States. Those stations are supported by an equally extensive set of thousands of miles of pipeline and tens of thousands of transport trucks that carry the gas to the stations. The 2% of new vehicles (and even a small fraction of existing vehicles) that are electric today haven’t put much of a dent in that infrastructure. But as the percentage of EVs being sold moves abruptly higher over the next few years, that network is going to be under strain.
Of course, those who live in apartments with no current access to an outlet won’t have the convenience of charging at home. Though there are already 100,000 public charging stations out there, that’s clearly not enough—especially when the convenience of almost never having to visit such a station is one of the big attractions of EVs. Both communities and parking facilities have futzed about with various solutions to this issue, but the pressure to make electrical outlets for vehicles ubiquitous is certain to grow.
At the end of this decade, most manufacturers will still be selling gas-powered cars in the U.S., but almost all of them expect that the percentage of gas cars will be below 50%. Driving a transition won’t just be for the economically and environmentally conscious, but will involve political factors. For example, the U.K. will ban the sale of new fossil fuel cars after 2030. That’s another trend that could easily expand. Manufacturers are getting ready for that date. California is set to follow by 2035.
Already manufacturers are shifting not just manufacturing but design efforts toward EVs. Watch this year’s round of auto shows. The new vehicles, the exciting vehicles, the ones that generate “ahh”s on the viewing stand and become the focus of consumer demand, are almost all EVs. Already gas cars are becoming a backwater. At this point, don’t expect to see much in the way of a new generation of fossil fuel cars. Expect to see iterations and improvements on what already exists in the gas car arena, with the number of new models declining year by year. Until they’re gone.
And if you’re wondering how that’s going to happen, there may be no better place to look than …
The electric truck war
In recent months, the Tesla Model 3 became the best-selling premium sedan in the marketplace, beating out BMW’s 3-series and a whole host of others. And so what? Sure, sedans might still be a significant share of the marketplace in some countries, but this is America. And in America the bestselling vehicle in the U.S. is a pickup truck. The second bestselling vehicle is a pickup truck. The third best selling vehicle is … Yeah, you can tell where this is going.
Even though Tesla has rolled out the even more popular Model Y to target the small SUV/crossover market, it currently has nothing in its lineup to compete with the vehicles that really top the charts. But that’s about to change. Around the end of the year, Tesla is slated to start manufacturing the frankly bizarre Cybertruck. (Author’s note: I’ve had my reservation in for one of these since Day 1.) This stainless steel, wedge-shaped brutalist apocalypse-wagon may be the most bizarre of numerous offerings heading to market, but it also brings with it something that’s starting to become the hallmark of an electric pickup market still taking shape: incredible versatility. With a cab big enough to seat six adults and a “vault” that combines a truck bed with a sliding steel cover, the Cybertruck seems set to bring home the latest purchases from the hardware store, or to laugh at those oil pirates always pestering Mad Max. Either way, the $40,000 price tag is easily in line with existing full size gas-powered pickups, and the level of speed and power offered by the Cybertruck generated over 200,000 reservations within days of its introduction. Estimates are that there are now at least half a million people waiting for the first wedge to roll out of the new factory in Austin, Texas.
For those who like their trucks quirky but in a way that provides less of a “Are you a replicant?” vibe, newcomer Canoo is offering a pickup that’s unique in a more cuddly, less threatening way. Their projected deliveries are still two years away, and their price is mumble-mumble-mumble (but likely to be less then a Cybertruck based on the pricing that Canoo has set for the van they plan to deliver next year). It’s a smaller truck in all dimensions, with fewer seats and a nifty bed that extends when needed. It’s also a truck that’s more likely to fit into a garage or be driving through a parking structure without leaving disaster in its wake.
If 2022 seems like too long to wait, pickups are expected to start within a few months from Rivian. Looking like a sleeked-down Ford-by-Apple truck, Rivian has seen big investments from a number of sources, including other auto manufacturers. Its R1T pickup is definitely high end, with prices starting at $67,500 (and the only model available this year set for $75,000). But frankly, those numbers aren’t outside the range of what many gas pickups cost today (really—ask your neighbor what that nice new truck actually cost), and the list of gizmos and options on the Rivian seems endless. In terms of looking like a truck, but a really nice truck, the Rivian is hard to beat. Plus it can do a tank turn. Can your car do a tank turn? No, it can’t.
If the R1T isn’t costly enough, or the Cybertruck isn’t big enough, GM is reviving a recently retired nameplate for its first EV: the Hummer EV. This driveway MechaGodzilla holds many of the styling cues that made the old Hummer beloved of those who wanted to pretend they were in a Schwarzenegger pic, while offering an electric update that’s both faster and more powerful than anything they ever rolled out in gas or diesel. If you want the first one off the line you’re out of luck, because that one already fetched $2.5 million at auction. However, GM will get an army of Terminators to produce another for you at $112,595 for the first edition. Follow-up versions are cheaper. None of them are cheap.
But the biggest entry into the electric pickup game, and possibly the most exciting, may be the the one that happened on Wednesday night—with President Joe Biden taking a spin on the test track. That’s when Ford uncovered its F-150 Lightning, the electric version of the world’s most popular truck. The electric F-150 is the most pickup truck-y of the EV pickup set so far. Dropped into the nearest Walmart parking lot, it might not even get a second glance from someone more than one shopping cart pileup away. But on close inspection the smoothed out EV truck offers a pretty amazing set of features—including the ability to power your home in a blackout—and does it at a starting price of $39,974 for a king cab, 4-wheel drive version. That makes it cheaper than a comparable gas truck. Even more so when the incentives kick in. Don’t be surprised if Ford is in the news within days reporting a massive number of reservations.
Big and aggressive. Small and practical. Stylish and luxurious. And a direct update of the familiar. In just the next two years, the availability of electric pickups is set to go from 0 to just about anything you could want. And no, none of them is really “cheap,” but then, no pickup currently in the U.S. market is cheap. Just as with fossil fuels, the genuinely inexpensive models are likely to come in the form of small sedans and hatchbacks. (For those who can live with the small range, it’s already possible to pick up a used Nissan Leaf or Fiat 500e for well below $10,000.)
Electric trucks are going to take that market by offering all things to all people, including some people who never considered owning a pickup in the past. EVs in general are going to do the same. All the energy of the auto industry, figuratively and literally, is turning toward electric vehicles. It’s taken a long time to get that massive ship turned, but now it’s moving. Fast.