Could pickups become more popular than SUVs in Europe?

As Tesla delays Cybertruck production, will electric power change our view on trucks?

  Ford CEO Jim Farley takes unveils the  new F-150 pickup truck at Ford’s Dearborn truck plant in Michigan. Photograph: Nic Antaya/Getty Images

Ford CEO Jim Farley takes unveils the new F-150 pickup truck at Ford’s Dearborn truck plant in Michigan. Photograph: Nic Antaya/Getty Images

 

We’ve never really “got” pickups here in Europe. Not to the same extent that our American cousins do, at any rate. To us Europeans, a pickup truck is a hard-used tool for a tradesperson, a builder or maybe a farmer.

While in the US it’s considered utterly normal to use a vast Ford F-150 as your daily driver, on this side of the Atlantic few do the same with a Ranger, Amarok or Hilux.

Pickups are big, big business though. Just look at what happened in the past few weeks on the stock markets. Tesla announced that it was going to push back the start of production for its dramatically-styled Cybertruck from the end of this year to the beginning of 2023. Citing production capacity and component supply issues, Tesla removed the 2022 date from the Cybertruck “custom order” page of its website. That move cost Tesla 6.7 per cent of its share value.

Meanwhile, Ford – long seen as a laggard in the EV race – saw its total market value tick above $100 billion (€88 billion) for the first time ever. Why? Because it announced that demand for its electric pickup, the F-150 Lightning, has been so strong that it’s going expand production to 150,000 per annum ahead of the first versions rolling on to American forecourts in the next few weeks.

Pickups are huge business – it’s often been said that Ford itself is really a maker of pickup trucks, with a small boutique car-making side interest. It’s not a million miles from the truth. That’s what makes the arrival of the all-electric Lightning so significant. “With nearly 200,000 reservations, our teams are working hard and creatively to break production constraints to get more F-150 Lightning trucks into the hands of our customers,” said Kumar Galhotra, president of the Americas and international markets group for Ford. “The reality is clear: people are ready for an all-electric F-150 and Ford is pulling out all the stops to scale our operations and increase production capacity.”

Tesla announced that it was going to push back the start of production for its dramatically-styled Cybertruck from the end of this year to the beginning of 2023. Photograph: Frederic J Brown/AFP via Getty Images
Tesla announced that it was going to push back the start of production for its dramatically-styled Cybertruck from the end of this year to the beginning of 2023. Photograph: Frederic J Brown/AFP via Getty Images

American enthusiasm

Arguably, what’s held pickups back on this side of the Atlantic has been twofold – size and fuel economy. Even with diesel power, current pickups, with their weighty separate chassis and tall bodies, struggle to do much better than 9 litres per 100km on average, with commensurately high CO2 emissions. In that sense, perhaps it’s just as well we’ve never taken to pickups with American enthusiasm. Equally, their vast bulk makes turning and parking such beasts in town rather trickier on narrow European and Irish roads than on vast American main streets.

Could electric power bridge that gap? If pickups can be made with electric power for Europe, then could we see a revolution in what we drive? It’s certainly arguable that the conventional SUV has reached a peak of market saturation, so surely we can’t be far from the day when European car buyers start to shun them in favour of something else?

It’s just possible that Ford, in concert with Volkswagen, could be about to put that to the test. The two companies have come together to jointly design and build replacements for their Ranger and Amarok pickups, with the new trucks to be built in South Africa. While VW is being cagey on electric power for now (VW will only currently confirm petrol or diesel power and “further power units specific in each case to the market”) Ford is thought to be looking at the rapturous reception for its electric F-150 and reckoning it can pull off something similar with the new Ranger.

US website CarBuzz has reported that Ford, having looked at the potential for a plug-in hybrid version of the new Ranger, has since decided that it would be better to go all-electric instead. The new Ranger has already been shown off, but is not yet on sale, and that fully electric version could be in production by 2025.

Another possible route to making pickups acceptable as daily drivers in Europe is hybrid power. Ford, again, has seen major US market success with its compact Maverick hybrid-engined pickup truck. Smaller and lower slung than a Ranger, it mixes upright pickup styling with frugal petrol-electric hybrid power.

Family buyers

Hyundai has gone one better and made a compact pickup, called the Santa Cruz, that’s based on the same chassis and body as the wildly successful Tucson. The Santa Cruz is a little longer than the Tucson – by 248mm or so in the wheelbase and about 300mm overall – and of course has an open-load bed instead of a boot (complete with those gorgeous buttresses sweeping down from the rear of the roof, which add both aesthetic appeal and replace some of the strength that you lose without the separate ladder chassis).

The load bed itself measures 1.3m from front to rear, which is a good bit shorter than what you’d get in a larger, heavier-duty pickup, but then again Hyundai says that’s the whole point – the Santa Cruz is designed to be lighter, smaller, more agile than conventional pickups, at the expense of a little load-lugging ability. What we really love is the little under-bed storage space, effectively a small boot under the load bed, which would make the Santa Cruz rather more of a practical device for family buyers than a conventional pickup.

It should also be considerably more frugal: Hyundai says that in the US market, which is the only market in which the Santa Cruz will be sold for now, it will come with a single 2.5-litre petrol engine, with either 190hp or 275hp with standard four-wheel drive, but if European sales could somehow be brought into the equation, we presume that the Tucson’s excellent 1.6 hybrid set-up would also fit.

Time to start lobbying your Hyundai dealer? Unlike L’Oréal, Hyundai doesn’t seem to think that we’re worth it. By which we mean that the Koran company doesn’t see a market in Ireland for the Santa Cruz.

Will that change? It’s possible, but the tripwire could be incoming legislation that limits pickups and commercial vehicles to 147g/km of CO2 on average, with hefty fines for breaching that limit.

It’s why Mercedes has stopped making the X-Class pickup, and why the likes of the Nissan Navara and Mitsubishi L200 probably won’t get replaced in Europe.

Electric (and/or hybrid) power could change that equation very quickly, but even at zero emissions, would European and Irish buyers ever truly go for trucks in a big way?

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