Truck lovers and Prius huggers alike, prepare to have your minds blown. Elon Musk wants to build an "F-150."
That was the upshot of an interview that the chairman of SpaceX, SolarCity (NASDAQ:SCTY.DL), Tesla Motors (NASDAQ:TSLA) gave to Business Insider last week. Asked whether he had ever considered building big delivery trucks for FedEx (NYSE:FDX) and UPS (NYSE:UPS), Musk confirmed being interested in "trucks" but denied any interest in "delivery."
UPS operates a fleet of nearly 100,000 cars, vans, tractors, and other delivery vehicles, you see. FedEx has an additional 47,000. But according to Musk, that's just not big enough of a market to interest him. He'd much rather build something like an electric version of Ford's (NYSE:F) F-Series full-size pickup trucks, which sold 60,000 units in September alone. Ford moved 60,000 units of the F-150 in September alone -- or about three times as many units as Tesla hopes to sell of its Model S sedan this entire year.
Now, on the one hand, Musk's statement may have been typical Musk thinking out loud. On the other hand, though, you can sort of see where he's coming from. Why target a limited commercial delivery truck market of just 147,000 vehicles, when you can go after a consumer market where Ford alone -- and let alone rivals Dodge, Chevy, and GMC -- sells an entire fleet's worth of trucks in just three months?
Will truck guys go electric?
Looked at that way, Musk's idea to build an electric pickup makes a lot of sense. But will "truck guys" even be interested in expensive, green, electric trucks in the first place?
I think so. For one thing, it's generally understood that at low rpms, electric motors produce more torque than internal combustion engines do. Truck buyers love torque, because it's so darn useful for hauling heavy stuff like bricks and boats -- which buyers have a habit of tossing/bolting onto their vehicles. For that reason alone, experimenting with the idea of an electric truck makes sense to me.
Of course, there's still the question of whether pickup drivers would consider buying electric trucks in the first place. After all, "going green" comes at a cost, and the Model S sedan costs a hefty 60,000 greenbacks. But here, too, I think Tesla has a chance of booking some sales.
Consider that "boss truck " luxury pickups (i.e., the ones the boss drives, as opposed to those his employees drive) such as GM's 2014 Sierra 1500 Denali, for example, already start at $46,815. Add in a few options such as four-wheel drive, a nice tonneau cover, and a 6.2L EcoTec3 V8 engine, and pretty soon you're pushing $60,000 for a vehicle that gulps gas like a horse drinks water. A Ford F-450 Super Duty Platinum, meanwhile, can set you back close to $70,000.
What does this mean to you?
Still, you won't want to go rushing over to Tesla's website to place your preorder for a full-size "T-150" just yet. Musk was shooting from the hip last week, and offered no elaboration on the idea other than a blanket denial that Tesla would even consider building an electric pickup for at least five more years. (He's floated the idea before, however, commenting in 2012 that "we have this idea for an electric truck that could really be a big improvement in truck technology.")
For now, though, Musk has his plate full while launching Tesla's anticipated 2014 Model X electric crossover, and working to bring a cheaper, mass-market Model E sedan to market after that.
But once Tesla does get around to building an electric pickup truck, yes, I think there's going to be a market for it.