Electric trucks will force automakers to change the way they one-up each other in the cutthroat pickup market
Companies are going to have to reexamine the pickup truck playbook in an EV world.
One-upping each other will look different in an electric truck market.
Some companies will have to balance loyal customers with a new set of buyers for electric trucks.
Car companies will need to reexamine their pickup truck playbook as more of these models go electric.
The industry's cutthroat truck wars are bleeding over into the electric-vehicle market, with press releases touting an extra few miles of range here or some added towing capacity there.
These old tactics of one-upping each other have been a tried-and-true way to market trucks for years. But in the nascent segment of electric trucks, companies aren't trying to win a driver from another brand — it's all about creating entirely new customers for what is essentially a new segment of vehicles.
"It's very common in the truck world to be touting specific numbers that you claim are better than all the competition in that segment," Karl Brauer, executive analyst at iSeeCars.com, told Insider. "I think there's actually a kind of alignment between the traditional truck market and what they've been doing for decades and the electric car market, in that both of them tend to be fixated on numbers and who's faster? Who's got better range?"
In fact, with electric trucks, one could argue the stakes behind those numbers are even more crucial than with a gas-guzzling one.
The additional 50 or 100 miles of range in the Chevrolet Silverado over the Ford Lightning, for example, might make all the difference to an on-the-fence consumer worried about charging — especially when using these vehicles as intended (towing and hauling) impacts factors like range.
"I think the truck market's one-upmanship will actually play into the EV world pretty well," Brauer said.
How the electric truck changes things
That might be true for the consumers new to the segment, but it's important to remember that traditional truck buyers are largely a loyal fanbase.
"At some point, you're going to have trouble selling electric trucks to people who are traditional truck buyers and use them as real trucks," Brauer said.
Loyalty is a bedrock of the pickup truck market, sustaining more repeat customers than any other segment. It will be hard for these brands to make a pivot as big as electrification while satisfying their most loyal customers.
Ford was the first legacy automaker to release an electric version of its top-selling F-Series pickup truck with the Lightning last year. Initial interest in the truck has been high, but around half of them are new to the brand, Ford has said. That raises questions about whether loyal buyers are buying into the new electric approach.
"How many of those people, again, will be willing to go electric if they know that there's a compromise in functionality as a true truck user?" Brauer said. "There are some natural barriers built into the EV truck market between brand loyalty and functionality."
Still, the industry's tried and true tactics might ultimately play out differently for first-time consumers in the electric truck market.
The new way to one-up
Instead of fighting over towing capacity and worksite enhancements, car companies will be looking to one-up each other on technology and gee-whiz add-ons like slide-out camping stoves or bluetooth speakers in the truck bed.
Changing the definition of what a truck can be opens the game of one upping each other to new features and customer bases.
Cybertruck, especially, with its out-of-this-world design creates "a brand new segment," said Ivan Drury, an automotive analyst for Edmunds. "You're letting people live out these bizarre dreams of what their vehicle could be."
Most conventional wisdom on vehicle marketing has already been thrown out the window as people clamor for these vehicles in short supply. Already there is a whole cohort of EV customers who place bets on multiple orders and take whatever comes in first, regardless of other factors.
"People have multiple reservations going on," Drury said. "Whoever can deliver to them first, that's the winner. A lot of winning buyers right now is: being there at the right time."
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