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Electric pickup trucks, muscle cars produced in Illinois will test demand for EVs


These products will test the limits of demand for electric vehicles. Strong sales would indicate EVs have broad appeal across market segments, while flops would suggest they’re more of a niche product.

Even as EV buzz grows louder, the breadth of consumer demand remains an unanswered question. Tesla founder Elon Musk has shown there’s a high-end niche among buyers willing to plunk down as much as $130,000 for a luxury EV. Even Tesla’s “affordable” model costs about $44,000. 

The leading EV producer, Tesla has sold 1 million of its Model 3 versions around the world since 2017. Worldwide EV sales surged to 2.6 million in the first half of 2021, according to research firm Canalys. But China accounted for 1.1 million of those sales. Demand was weaker in the U.S., where 250,000 EV sales represented just 3% of total auto purchases.

Tesla buyers have money to burn, a taste for advanced technology and concern about global warming. Yet they’re hardly typical American car buyers. Sure, they appreciate luxury and expect reliability. But they don’t ask a lot of their vehicles otherwise. As long as the car gets them to and from the gym and grocery store and provides a nice, smooth ride on the highway, they’re generally satisfied.

Pickup truck and muscle car drivers are a different breed. Power is a key factor for both groups.

Pickup owners look for torque and horsepower. They need thousands of pounds worth of payload capacity, and towing capabilities exceeding ten thousand pounds. Pickups also cover the rough ground of construction sites and dirt roads. A glitchy electric engine that shorts out during bumpy rides won’t cut it.

Muscle car fans prize horsepower, too, along with lightning-fast acceleration and top speeds in the 200 mph range. They look for supercharged V8 engines, multispeed transmissions and the unmistakable roar of a muscle car.

Teslas don’t roar, but the pricey Model S promises a top speed of 200 mph. The R1T pickup in the works at Rivian’s downstate plant also boasts impressive performance credentials: a payload capacity of 1760 pounds and 11,000 pounds of towing power. We’ll see if real-world experience matches those promises.

Winning over these buyers is an important hurdle for EV manufacturers. With 20% of total sales, pickups are the No. 2 light-vehicle market segment behind SUVs, according to Motor Intelligence data. Muscle car buyers are a smaller segment, but their performance expectations will test EV makers’ versatility.

So will their price expectations. Pickups and muscle cars aren’t cheap, but they can be purchased for far less than the cost of a fully loaded Tesla. Rivian’s R1T starts at nearly $70,000, about twice the price of similar gas-powered pickups.

If automakers can produce EVs that work for pickup truck and muscle car devotees, at prices they’re willing to pay, it’s a safe bet they’ll be able to meet the needs of midmarket SUV, minivan and sedan buyers.

The auto industry’s investment in electrifying pickups and muscle cars is another sign of its commitment to an all-electric future. When Ford invests billions in electric pickups and Dodge owner Stellantis invests billions in electric muscle cars, they’re clearly all in.

Illinois stands to benefit from that commitment. Along with Amazon, Ford was an early investor in Rivian. Stellantis, meanwhile, is expected to produce electric versions of the Dodge Charger and Challenger muscle cars in Belvidere.

Rivian disclosed orders for about 50,000 pickups and SUVs when it went public last month. Production volumes of electric pickups are expected to start rolling off the line at Rivian’s plant next year. The timeline for muscle-car production at Belvidere isn’t clear yet, but Stellantis has promised to deliver one by 2024.

Successful launches in these niches would likely spur more hiring and investment at the Illinois plants, and help secure the state’s place in the growing EV industry. More broadly, strong demand for electric pickup trucks and muscle cars would bolster the case that EVs are for everybody. 

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