Ford’s mighty F-150 pickup truck happens to be America’s number-one vehicle in terms of sales. What’s more, it has occupied the number one slot for years, beating off competition from everything from family hatchbacks to SUVs. And with good reason: America loves the pickup truck.
Which brings us to the question that we’ve often asked: why is the automotive industry focusing so hard on making electric hatchbacks when the pickup market is so large?
We’re not the only ones. Tesla has already admitted that it wants to build an F-150 pickup competitor some time in the distant future, while ex-vice chairman of GM Bob Lutz is currently Chairman of the Board at VIA Motors, a company which converts various GM-built vans and pickup trucks to rugged, heavy-duty range-extended electric vehicles.
Now a new company in the U.S. is seeking to nab a piece of the action with a commercial vehicle known as the Condor Electric Truck. But will the recently-unveiled Condor Electric Truck be a viable pickup of the future, or yet another niche-market plug-in company doomed by more capable mainstream brands?
Enter EV Fleet, a North Carolina company with high hopes for its custom-made commercial vehicle. Working with two other North Carolina firms, EV Fleet has designed and built a lightweight alloy chassis and cab combination which it says weighs just 2770 pounds, complete with 32 kilowatt-hour or 50 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack. Customers can then add their own custom bed, van body, or refrigerated body as required.
Interestingly, the Condor features a five-speed manual transmission gearbox, which presumably allows it to be more efficient in its motor use over a wider speed range, something demonstrated by a claimed range of 140 miles at 45 mph from the larger 50kWh battery pack, or 100 miles at 60 mph. Top speed, says the North Carolina firm, can be set to over 80 mph.
Charging can be done from a 120-volt domestic outlet in 14 hours, while charging from a 30-amp J1772 charging station cuts the charging time to 4.5 hours. There’s also DC quick charging capabilities too, although it seems from a proprietary 90-amp charging circuit rather than a CHAdeMO DC quick charging station. EV Fleet even says the vehicle can be built with optional solar panels to add up to 20 miles of range per day while parked in direct sunlight.
Each vehicle also features vehicle-to-grid capabilities, allowing the truck to feed back power to the electricity grid as required, or provide in-field power for tools or on-board electronics as required.
Like the Tesla Model S, the Condor features a frunk up front where cargo can be stored. In the case of the Condor, that frunk is hidden under a large, curved hood which reminds us more of the classic VW beetle than it does a hard-working pickup truck. Add in low-down, long headlights and a body-colored fender, and the Condor has some rather unique looks.
We’d like to say we like the Condor’s design aesthetic, but the large nose and proportionally small wheels give it an awkward, gangly appearance that we’re not sure everyone will love. And while we’ve yet to see detailed photographs from the interior of the cab, the images we’ve seen betray a very spartan, functional interior.
On its website under a photograph of a Condor parked next to a BMW i3, EV Fleet boasts that it will be possible to buy two Condor pickup trucks for the price of one BMW, although we note that it doesn’t specify which BMW it refers to. Nor are there any prices listed on its website, which makes us wonder just what the finished price will be.
And that brings us very sharply to the competition. While we’ve no personal experience of the Condor, it looks and feels from a distance to be another small-production volume electric vehicle, built with high hopes of monopolising a particular plug-in vehicle market segment. We have no first-hand experience of how the vehicle handles or drives, and only a few videos from YouTube show it moving under its own power.
In an ideal world, we’d love to see it succeed and become the Tesla of plug-in commercial vehicles, provided of course its technical expertise matches its enthusiasm and drive.
Yet the plug-in vehicle world is already strewn with the bodies of world-be plug-in vehicle manufacturers who tried to revolutionise their own market segments but failed. Companies that either struggled on a price point to be competitive, or simply found the competition too great. Many of those companies tried to bring a plug-in pickup to market, building commercial vehicles that were supposed to make everyday work-related tasks cleaner and greener.
Building a vehicle — any vehicle — from scratch is hard work, even for mainstream automakers. For niche and startup companies, the challenge is an order of magnitude harder, since they do not have the same deep pockets as giants like GM, Nissan, Ford and Toyota.
In order to survive against mainstream brands, startups and niche companies have to offer something that the competition cannot: either on a technical level, a price point, or a marketplace not yet monopolised by the competition.
Yet with a payload of just 1,000 pounds, the Condor isn’t versatile enough on paper to tackle life as a true competitor to the Ford F150 pickup truck. And should Nissan choose to bring the e-NV200 commercial van to the U.S. — a vehicle which has a payload capability of 1650 pounds — we suspect the Condor would have a tough time competing against the better-known brand.
What do you think of the Condor Pickup? Do you think it is a brand to watch out for, or another small-scale vehicle that will end up in the footnote of electric vehicle history? Or would you be more tempted by something like the Nissan LEAF pickup (below), which was built on a whim by a team of Nissan engineers wanting something to tote cargo around the workshop?
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