In Alberta’s farm country, they like their meat red, their roads dusty and their trucks powered by internal combustion. Don’t talk to them about electric trucks just yet.
“On the farm, we’re not so worried about fuel economy,” said Jason Lenz, a farmer near Bentley, Alta., about 50 kilometres northwest of Red Deer. “I mean, it’s important. But first and foremost, the truck needs to do the job.”
News that Ford Motor Co. is investing US $500 million (Cdn $665 million) in the Michigan-based electric-truck producer Rivian, which plans to launch an electric pickup by the end of 2021, is generating more guffaws than interest among rural dwellers in Alberta and Saskatchewan.
“No, haven’t heard that one at all,” Lenz said, laughing.
Said Kurtis Hicks, general manager of Sherwood Ford in Sherwood Park, Alta.: “I probably have just a handful of customers asking about electric cars, never mind trucks.
“It’s going to take a lot more convincing with the buyers of F-150 trucks.”
F-150? GOOD GUESS
Alberta is truck country, with 75 per cent of Hicks’ sales either F-150 or SuperDuty F-250s and F-350s. Most of the remaining 25 per cent is Escape, Explorer or Expedition utility vehicles. If a groundswell of demand existed for electric trucks, Alberta dealers would be among the first to hear about it, he said.
In Canada, truck sales of all types — light-, mediumand heavy-duty as well as buses — outpaced passenger cars by about three-to-one in 2018. A total of 1.46 million trucks were sold, versus 578,025 cars, according to Statistics Canada. But in Alberta and Saskatchewan, more than 10 trucks were sold for every passenger car.
“When people come in, you can assume they’re an F-150 buyer, and you’re pretty much always correct,” said Hicks. Still, the investment in Rivian and electric vehicles as a whole will help improve Ford’s average fuel economy, while raising the bar in the development of EV technology, he said.
“My gut feeling is they’re going to ease their way into the market.”
Hicks expects Ford’s push with electric trucks, as it is with electric cars, to be about the performance initially, with functionality as a work vehicle coming to the fore later.
At the 2018 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Ford said it would market its electrics based on performance, on the instant torque available from electric motors. Its investment in Rivian is in addition to the automaker’s US $11-billion financial commitment (Cdn 14.6 billion) to electrifying its lineup through 2022.
Industry analyst Dennis DesRosiers said factors such as price, range anxiety and the lack of EV charging stations are hampering sales of battery-electric vehicles.
“Consumers at this point have to make a lot of compromises to buy an EV,” said DesRosiers, president of DesRosiers Automotive Consultants Inc. in Richmond Hill, Ont. “And the consumer has to make major league compromises to buy an EV truck.”
Lightweight electric cars can work for urban dwellers, he said, but trucks are “big, heavy, and they need a lot of torque.” All of those factors can drain batteries fast.
“The range would be minuscule,” DesRosiers said, noting that 480-volt Level 3 DC fast chargers are virtually nonexistent outside cities. With a 240volt Level 2 charger — the typical cost-effective home station — a full charge takes hours, not minutes.
Joel Mryglod, general manager of Merit Ford in Carlyle, Sask., about 200 kilometres southeast of Regina, said the odds of electric trucks making inroads in the market were “zero.”
Capability is the No.1 driver of truck sales, by far the biggest at his dealership, he said.
“It’s all we sell — that and SUVs.”
NO TIME FOR RECHARGING
Whether they’re hauling grain augers from bin to bin or a dozen cattle to market, Lenz said, farm trucks are in almost constant use daily. Any downtime for recharging isn’t something his farm could tolerate.
Lenz, who grows malt barley, wheat and canola on 2,000 acres (800 hectares), did open the door to electric pickups because in most circumstances, his vehicles don’t travel large distances. But he tempered that with the realization that to be feasible, a fleet of electric farm vehicles would require investing in charging equipment and possibly upgrading electrical service to the farm.
Lenz claims no brand loyalty, saying he buys based on capability and price, with Ram and Ford trucks on the farm now and Chevrolets previously.
For him, capability and reliability beat fuel savings every time, especially give the value and perishability of much of a farm’s cargo.
“If you’ve got a dozen cattle, that’s a lot of weight to haul around,” Lenz said.
Hybrid trucks might be a more viable option, said DesRosiers. But they come with their own issues, such as higher prices.
“I think it’s going to be a long time before you see penetration” with electric trucks he said.
Merit Ford’s Mryglod is not writing off electric pickups.
“I’m not sure I’ll still be working when it happens,” he said, “but someday.”
With files from Doug Firby.