Electric utes pt. III: train-pulling torque

It wasn’t long ago that electric utes seemed like a pipe-dream. Tradies laughed at the idea, the coalition government taunted that EVs will “end the weekend”, and towing was nowhere to be seen. Those days are over. Today on the JET Charge blog we’re looking at the latest e-utes promised for our shores and asking what the future holds for an Aussie icon.

Ford F-150 electric pickup

We first looked at electric utes back in April, a long-distant past where it was unclear how many manufacturers would be attempting to translate electric vehicle technology to the utility/pickup platform. By the end of that month some more details had started to emerge. EV startup Rivian had announced their flagship ute and SUV, Tesla’s pickup teaser was generating buzz, and the benefits of EV technology were becoming clearer for working vehicles.

That attention has only continued to grow, and today it’s looking inevitable that Australia will be seeing our first electric utes within the next few years. Established manufacturers and startups alike have shown interest in bringing EVs’ natural strengths to a market that really stands to benefit from them. 

The greatest of these, at least for raw spectacle, is torque. Electric vehicles exert their maximum strength from the first touch of the accelerator. Low-range gearboxes and giant engines are frequently put to shame by the pulling power of electric motors. Just look at Ford’s latest publicity stunt pulling over 1 million pounds (~450 tonnes) in their electric F-150 prototype. 

The F-150 is Ford’s best-selling American “pickup” and a close cousin of the Ranger, so the aggressive marketing in the US is a positive sign for an Aussie e-ute in the near future. Ford have also invested heavily in Rivian, the EV startup making waves for their luxury SUV and utility models slated for production in 2020, which have been confirmed for an Australian release.

Rivian are making bold claims to build hype for the R1T: over 400 miles (~644 km) range, 5000 kg towing capacity, and a 3 second 0-60 mph. US pricing is set to start at $69,000 USD, meaning Aussies are unlikely to see the model available for any less than $100,000 AUD, probably more thanks to the much-maligned luxury car tax.

But e-utes don’t have to break the bank, and Chinese manufacturer Dongfeng has set out to prove it with the Rich 6 EV. The electric ute, developed in partnership with Nissan, has been slated for a Chinese release next month according to CarNewsChina.com.

At a predicted post-subsidy cost of 130,000 yuan (~$27,000 AUD), the Rich 6 EV is significantly cheaper than any EV on the Aussie market and a strong contender against many combustion utes. Neither Nissan nor Dongfeng have publicly responded to the reports, so the truth of these claims remains to be seen.

The waiting and uncertainty surrounding e-utes’ arrival has been too much for some. Mining companies are already benefiting from the tech thanks to businesses offering conversions for existing combustion models. Electric Land Cruiser utes are already being used at mine sites across the country.

Electric vehicles are particularly useful for mining companies who frequently tear through fragile combustion vehicles in a matter of months. EVs’ significantly reduced running and maintenance costs make them ideal for use in mining operations, and their lack of harmful emissions is a significant benefit for poorly ventilated underground applications. The low 80km range of a converter Land Cruiser is a minor drawback for a vehicle confined to one location.

Even non-ute automakers recognise Australia’s desire for practicality in our vehicles. While news of Tesla’s upcoming utility remains thin on the ground, we can expect to see tow balls appearing on domestic Model 3s soon rated for up to 910 kgs. They’ve already turned up as an option on the European Tesla store.

Electric SUVs have also started appearing in much greater numbers. Australia is now home to the critically acclaimed Hyundai Kona and Jaguar I-PACE, as well as a number of plug-in hybrids including the Mitsubishi Outlander and the Audi e-tron. With utes topping the list as Australia’s best-selling vehicle type, it’s looking increasingly inevitable that they’ll be following the passenger car market into EV territory soon.

The momentum is clearly building for Australia’s first electric utes. Are you excited for the future of a national icon? Let us know and stay tuned to the JET Charge blog for more EV news and updates.