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Irina Slav

Irina Slav

Irina is a writer for Oilprice.com with over a decade of experience writing on the oil and gas industry.

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The Electric Truck Race Is Heating Up

When a company called Nikola debuted on the stock market last month, its stock soared more than 100 percent in just the first few days of trading. The company had not even built an actual vehicle yet, but it had big plans for electric—and hydrogen—trucks. Then another company, called Fisker, said it would go public in a deal worth nearly $3 billion. Fisker, too, was planning to take the EV market by storm with its new electric vehicle—an SUV that was a stark departure from Fisker's first models: high-end, sporty electric cars.

Then, a third company came on the stage. Rivian, quite unlike the rest, raised $2.5 billion on the quiet, to fund its plans for an all-electric pickup truck in hopes of upending the EV market. 

Welcome to the e-truck wars.

Some will no doubt claim that Tesla started the hype around electric vehicles. Indeed, Tesla was ahead of other carmakers in sensing the potential of EVs in a then relatively distant future. Or it just got lucky that the wind changed and is now blowing due electrification, at least in some parts of the world. Whatever the case, Tesla earlier this week reported its fourth consecutive quarterly profit and said it would build a new factory in Texas. In it, it would manufacture, among other vehicles, its Cybertruck.

The Cybertruck is a bit like the British spread marmite – you either love it or hate it. Yet besides personal opinions on the vehicle, statistical data suggests that people tend to buy trucks and SUVs over smaller models. No wonder then, that this new wave of EV companies are focusing on the larger vehicles.

And not all EV makers are playing in the passenger car field. Nikola's long game is zero-emission heavy-duty trucks, for example. Pickups are part of its future lineup. While the passenger car market is still an attractive one, it is not the only one that Nikola will be targeting when it starts making EVs.

Related: Oil Traders Discount Crude As Chinese Demand Weakens

Fisker, on the other hand, is strictly targeting the passenger car market with its Ocean SUV. The vehicle, "designed for optimal space and usability," according to the company's owner Henrik Fisker, should hit markets in two years with a price tag of $40,000. This is probably not what many would call particularly affordable, but it is also not quite as expensive as many other high-end SUVs on the market.

And Rivian? Rivian has the ambition to become the first company to bring a fully electric pickup to market. According to a CNBC report from earlier this month, plans are to do this in just a few months. This would indeed make Rivian first: Nikola just opened for reservations for its Badger EV pickup truck, but it isn't set to unveil its prototype until December.

So, where is Tesla in all this? Tesla has boasted 650,000 pre-orders for the Cybertruck and has said that the first pickups will be available late next year, starting at $39,900 before incentives. It could be a tight race with Rivian, which Tesla is now suing on allegations of trade secret theft and talent poaching. This could be just one of the first shots in the e-truck war that is bound to heat up further because it is not just exclusively EV startups that are eyeing a market that most say will explode in the coming years.

GM is making an all-electric Hummer, for example, as part of a $20-billion EV drive, the Wall Street Journal noted in a roundup on traditional carmakers' plans in the electric vehicle field. We've all heard about Ford's Mustang-based all-electric SUV, due out later this year, and then there's Jeep's plug-in Wrangler, also due to hit markets before the end of the year.

SUV sales have doubled in the last decade. From 35 million in 2010, there are now 200 million SUVs around the world. That's 60 percent of the increase in total car sales in the period. It seems that people really like their SUVs. Yet at the same time, people have been getting more environmentally conscious over this past decade. In light of these two parallel trends, any company that has an all-electric, zero-emission SUV or pickup truck to sell could potentially become a very successful company in just a few years.

Of course, there are a few ifs here. Regulatory support is a must, because try as they might, EV makers still have a way to go before their vehicles are genuinely as affordable as ICE cars without subsidies. Progress on range has been impressive, allowing these companies to produce SUVs that people would buy without worrying it would leave them juiceless on the highway with no charging station in sight, but charging stations also need to grow in numbers. In short, there is still work to be done before electric SUVs come to dominate the market.

By Irina Slav for Oilprice.com

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