Tesla wants to build a pickup truck — here’s why that will be its biggest challenge

TeslaAn enormous Tesla pickup concept at the Semi reveal.
  • Tesla has ambitions to enter the pickup-truck market – one of the most brutally competitive markets in the entire auto industry.
  • CEO Elon Musk has suggested that a Tesla pickup could have many compelling features.
  • Tesla’s best bet might be to carve out a niche in the high-end of the premium pickup market.

Despite all its recent troubles, Tesla continues to think big. Development of its Semi truck continues, and it’s widely expected that a compact SUV, the Model Y, will be unveiled next year, and the drool-worthy next-generation Roadster will follow as a production vehicle.

Which leads us to the other much-discussed Tesla project for the future: the Tesla pickup truck.

CEO Elon Musk seems pretty excited about the pickup, suggesting that it will have range well beyond the 300-plus miles currently delivered by Tesla’s top-of-the-line batteries in its existing cars. He’s also said that it will be able to serve up 240-volt, on-site power to plug in tools, and have towing capacity that’s as good or better than what customers expect from Chevy, Ford, and RAM’s full-size offerings.

An all-electric pickup has obvious advantages. Electric motors serve up massive torque, which translates into towing power. It never hurts to have that plus speed, as Ford has learned with its Raptor high-performance version of its bestselling F-150. And a big Tesla battery under a pickup bed would be a boon to contractors with plenty of power-drills and buzz-saws.

The engineering isn’t complicated. Tesla would likely reinvent the wheel with a pickup, because that’s in their DNA. But they wouldn’t have to. Although trucks have been modernised over time, both Ford and Chevy still use rear leaf-spring suspensions. And when you get right down to it, even though the F-150 might now be crafted from lightweight aluminium and powered in some cases by a turbocharged engine, there’s a reason why the bed area is called a box. It’s a simple rectangle of hauling capacity.

Tesla’s challenge wouldn’t necessarily be designing or building a pickup – it would be selling one.

Taking on the toughest challenge

Ford F150 King RanchFordThe Ford F-150.

There’s some competitive space with mid-size pickups, but when it comes to full-size, the F-150, Chevy Silverado, and RAM 1500 rule the nation.

Toyota has been selling the Tundra in the US for almost two decades, going so far as to assemble the vehicle in truck-loving Texas, but it has been consistently outsold by a wide margin. The Tundra is a great truck, but in 2017 Toyota sold just over 115,000 in the US, while Ford sold almost 900,000 F-150s.

Not that being one of the top three is a bargain. Ford, Chevy (and GMC), along with RAM, fight tooth-and-nail for sales and spend heavily to maintain market share.

That’s what Tesla would be up against.

The company could have one advantage: produce an overtly luxurious pickup. Some traditional full-size pickups are already quite premium, but Tesla’s history is luxury – its average sticker price before the $US50,000 Model 3 went on sale was $US100,000.

So although it might not be able to convert longtime F-150 buyers, Tesla could attract pickup-truck customers who want something different – and aren’t bothered by paying for it.

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