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Electric US pick-ups a tough sell – for now

Importers of US pick-ups waiting until market conditions suit RHD conversion for EVs

18 Oct 2021

ELECTRIC pick-up trucks – including the Ford F-150 Lighting, GMC Hummer and Chevrolet Silverado E – will only be considered for right-hand drive conversion if “significant interest” in these battery-powered mega-utes is witnessed in the Australian market.


This is the word from two of Australia’s largest importers of American pick-up trucks, Victoria’s Harrison F-Trucks and Queensland-based Performax International, which say current demand for heavy-duty hybrid and electric examples of their best-selling models is not yet strong enough to justify making the leap.


Reasons include the impact of heavy towing on battery range, a lack of charging infrastructure in regional and remote areas and the absence of an EV equivalent to the fuel tax credits that exist for several of the industries in which converted trucks are popular.


Speaking to GoAuto this week, spokespeople for both Harrison F-Trucks and Performax said that conversion of electric pick-ups was “technically possible”.


However, the majority of heavy-duty Chevrolet, Ford, and Ram models sold in Australia are converted to right-hand drive by local vehicle conversion specialists that are yet to observe the level of interest in battery-electric pick-up trucks that would enable them to muster sufficient R&D muscle to set the wheels in motion.


“Our discussions with VDC (RHD converter Vehicle Development Corporation) surrounding electric truck conversions have been very positive,” a spokesperson for Harrison F-Trucks told GoAuto.


“I understand that they are capable of converting an electric pick-up truck like the F-150 Lightning – and gaining compliance – and that it could be managed without too much hassle, but we’d really need to make sure the business case makes sense first,” they said.


The sentiment of Harrison F-Trucks was echoed by Ford’s global general manager of battery electric vehicles, Darren Palmer, who agreed that the conversion process for battery-electric vehicles like the F-150 Lightning could be simpler than it is for combustion-powered models, although he stopped short of confirming such a version was in the works.


“It is slightly easier, because (for example) when you’re building a gas vehicle you have a lot of NVH issues and vibration that you’re trying to manage on those vehicles, and it’s quite complex and challenging. With electric vehicles, we’re not dealing with any of that, which makes sign-off easier, everything goes the way you expect it to go,” said Mr Palmer.


“We are still having to take right-hand drive into account (with electric vehicles) but as a company we’re used to doing that.”


Performax International national sales manager Kevin Thoroughgood said the company had already been fielding questions about electric pick-up trucks.


“We are getting a reasonable amount of enquiry on new electric pick-up trucks, particularly the F-150 Lightning and the new Hummer,” Mr Thoroughgood told GoAuto.


“At this stage, we are certainly looking further into their viability for use in Australia; I would suggest the F-150 Lightning will most likely be the first one we look at after it’s released in the United States early next year. It’s generating the most interest out here and is probably best suited to the needs of our clientele.”


The F-150 Lightning is available with two battery options and is paired to dual motors offering all-wheel drive as standard. The duo offers up to 420kW/1051Nm of power and a range of up to 483km.


Payload and braked towing capacities are listed at 907kg and 4536kg respectively, with the fastest charging option topping up the battery from 15 to 80 per cent capacity in 44 minutes when coupled to a 150kW DC charger.


Meanwhile, a spokesperson for GMSV – producing factory-backed conversions of US pick-up trucks and sportscars at the former Holden Special Vehicles base in Clayton – told GoAuto there were no specific plans for the conversion of battery-electric pick-up trucks and that for now its focus remains on petrol- and diesel-powered vehicles.


Among converters, a lack of EV charging infrastructure in remote regions, coupled with the long distances and the hauling and towing requirements of many converted pick-up truck owners were cited as reasons behind the reticence toward battery-electric commercial vehicles locally.


The Harrison F-Truck spokesperson said remote and regional customers did not feel supported by charging infrastructure or government tax incentives in the same way they are with existing diesel-powered models.


“There’s an opinion that, for the time being at least, battery-electric pick-up trucks are better suited to urban and metropolitan use where charging infrastructure and range issues are less of a concern,” they said.


“Most of our customer base use vehicles like the F-150 and F-250 in remote agricultural environments where the required charging infrastructure simply doesn’t support a battery-electric vehicle.”


Performax’s Mr Thoroughgood said the wants and needs of Australian buyers varied from their counterparts in the United States and despite a positive reception to the likes of Ford’s F-150 Lightning, a wait-and-see approach was necessary in the Australian market before the right-hand drive conversion of electric pick-up trucks would commence in significant numbers.


Hinting that local buyers were not afforded the same level of incentive to purchase an electric work truck, he added that the limited charging infrastructure currently available – as well as the costs associated with bespoke conversion – would delay the mass adoption of such models Down Under.

“All I can say for now is ‘watch this space’ and we will see what happens once the US consumer has evaluated them,” Mr Thoroughgood concluded.


While Australia’s states and territories are rolling out various EV policies and incentives, several do not apply to vehicles in the price range of a US pick-up truck and the Harrison F Trucks spokesperson pointed out that there was still no equivalent for industry-based fuel tax credits applied to petrol and diesel models.


“You also need to consider that fuel tax credits apply for certain industries, like forestry, agriculture, mining, and so on, and at the present time there is no similar incentive for electric-powered vehicles. I think that’s a challenge we would also need to overcome,” they said.


“If we had enough people engaging with battery-electric pick-up trucks, then the research and development that would need to go into converting a left-hand drive vehicle would obviously pay off. But, at the moment, there simply isn’t the level of interest necessary to facilitate that kind of outlay.


“There’s other issues surrounding remote region use, as well. The distance between charging points is one thing, but the reduction in range that comes from hauling or towing heavy loads is also of concern to buyers we’ve spoken to about electric vehicles.”


Ford Australia president and CEO Andrew Birkic said the company was considering a variety of hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and pure electric vehicle opportunities in right-hand drive markets, noting a clear trend towards electrification.


“As to the capability of our batteries, and the availability of right-hand drive (models), it certainly gives us some opportunity. We will continue to look at these options and study these opportunities very closely,” he said.


Mr Palmer added that upcoming technology will make it easier for car-makers to develop new vehicles for right-hand drive.


“In later years, it’ll be even easier because we’ll have drive-by-wire, steer-by-wire, and brake-by-wire technology that’ll make it really easy to swap between the two,” he said.


“That’s not ready yet, but yes, it is easier to do throughout the development and production process.”


Mr Birkic was positive about the global shift toward electrification, as well as the growing awareness and interest in electrified vehicles in Australia and overseas.


“Whether it’s in Australia, in New Zealand with their Clean Air Act, or in other markets around the world. In Europe, for example, there’s certainly a strong push towards electrification,” he said.


“The company has made some really strong announcements regarding being carbon neutral by 2050, so we go into this with a sense of energy and momentum. But really, we’re just starting our journey. We are building our EV roadmap and we’re certainly all-in; the wider team at Ford looks forward to it being a significant contributor to Ford’s story.”


Ford’s long-term rival Chevrolet will release its all-electric Silverado E in the United States in early 2022. The Silverado E is based on GM’s all-new Ultium platform that is shared with the GMC Hummer EV.


The pick-up truck shares the same 200kWh battery as its military-themed sibling and is expected to offer up to 645km of range from a single charge.


Chevrolet is yet to detail full specifications of its commercial EV but given its shared architecture with the Hummer it could produce up to 746kW and 1085Nm.


Recharging is also anticipated to better that offered by Ford as GM’s Ultium battery pack is claimed to gain up to 160km of range from just 10 minutes of charge time.


“What’s especially important is that this truck will be sold in a high-volume, entry variant and in one of the most popular and competitive segments in the industry,” said General Motors CEO Mary Barra of the Silverado E.


“The initial interest has been overwhelming, especially from commercial and government (fleet) customers. We gave a small number of them a ‘sneak peek’ and they said it exceeded their high expectations.”


A GMSV spokesperson said told GoAuto the company is “focusing on bringing to market the Silverado LT Trail Boss, LTZ Premium, and HD, as well as the first-ever right-hand drive Corvette”.


“The Silverado E is another vehicle in the General Motors line-up that demonstrates our vision of an all-electric future. However, with specific regard to GMSV, we don’t have any other product-related announcements to make at this stage.”

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