By Brian Wong
Any way you slice it, the Tesla Model 3 launch was a huge success, with the sedan racking up 325,000 preorders (and counting) for which buyers put down a $1,000 deposit — all without finalized specs, pricing or an actual production vehicle.
I attended the March 30 introduction of the Model 3 and was one of the few journalists to take a ride in a preproduction version. If Tesla can deliver on its promise — and that seems to be a big if — it has the potential to be an even bigger hit for the electric automaker than the larger, more expensive Model S and will make Tesla vehicles accessible to an entirely new customer base with the Model 3's projected base price of around $35,000.
When the Model 3 hits the streets, Tesla's lineup will include a sedan, a sports car and an SUV, which leaves one important stone unturned: What if Tesla decided to offer a pickup truck?
Longtime PUTC readers know the idea of a full-electric pickup is not a new idea, and there are plenty of past examples of hybrid pickups that had limited success, but it's our thought that Tesla could be different with its own version of either a full-electric or new hybrid model.
I'm not even going to guess at styling or how big the front glass would be. An all-glass cab anyone? As for size, I think something closer to a midsize pickup or smaller would make the most sense, mostly because Tesla's distribution centers and supercharger stations are focused around urban environments, where smaller trucks are likely to be more prevalent.
Speed and power likely wouldn't be a priority for a Tesla pickup but could be a nice value-added proposition. Each of Tesla's other vehicles have been almost too quick — even the Model 3 can really scoot with five adults in the car — so I don't see Tesla skimping on speed and power in a pickup either. The question would be whether Tesla would give the pickup a sport-truck personality or if it would find creative ways to improve traditional pickup truck characteristics such as payload and towing capability. Of course, it's possible Tesla could offer vehicles with multiple personalities.
A Tesla pickup could be a tailgater's dream, like a Ram 1500 equipped with a RamBox or a Honda Ridgeline with it's bed-trunk. The battery packs or chargers could be used to power all sorts of electrical equipment such as a TV and satellite dish, an electric grill, blender or hand tools, eliminating the need for one of those annoyingly loud gas-driven generators.
Since driving with payload in the bed or pulling a trailer would cut into an electric pickup's range, we'd expect owners' range anxiety to increase unless Tesla addressed a few issues. This would also have implications in regard to Tesla's supercharger network as well. Tesla rightly touts the "freedom of movement" offered by the supercharger network, but right now the miles between supercharger stations could outstrip the range of a pickup with a heavy payload. This could make longer trips and normal usage more difficult, if not impossible, if the pickup can't cover a significant distance between stations.
Given those issues, our guess is an electric pickup would need a minimum range of 200 miles, but some tweaks might be necessary to extend full-electric mode depending on heat or load. Both the Tesla Model S and Model X get at least 240 miles or so of EPA-estimated range, and the Model 3 is predicted to offer at least 215 miles. Whether the solution is an additional plug-in "power pack" or something incorporated into a trailer or bed accessory remains to be seen. But it's very likely some type of mobile power station that extends range will need to be offered.
Finally, a Tesla pickup could have some positive commercial implications. If an electrified pickup can't be an effective work truck, the market for it narrows considerably — especially if it can't be used as a mobile power station itself. Unloaded, 200 miles of potential range is probably enough for most municipal or small-business work applications where the vehicle is consistently on a local job site or at a central location where there could be a charger.
All that said, we hope Tesla takes a crack at a pickup truck in the near future. Whether it will have the gull-wing doors of the Model X remains to be seen. But if there's any company that could push the envelope about how we see, use and define a pickup truck, Tesla is probably the company best positioned to do so.
Got any ideas about what a Tesla pickup truck should offer? Share your comments below.
Illustration by Mark Stehrenburger; manufacturer image