With a Luxury Car Under Its Belt, Tesla Looks at Trucks

Tesla Model S

Tesla Motors , maker of fine electric luxury sedans, revealed through its CEO, Elon Musk, that it would be basing its electric pickup truck on the immensely popular Ford F-150, which has routinely sold more than 60,000 units each month, making it the best-selling vehicle in the United States for — well, a long time.

Hang on, what? Tesla is making a truck?

Musk, who was speaking at Business Insider’s IGNITION conference, had made it through his talk on Tuesday and was fielding the standard Q&A when he was asked if Tesla should make fleet trucks for companies like FedEx or UPS. “He said that, yes, Tesla was planning to make a truck, but not a commercial one, because the market opportunity for commercial trucks is much smaller,” Business Insider reported.

He added that the Tesla truck would be modeled on Ford’s F-Series partially because of that truck’s huge popularity.

Possibly the biggest surprise with Musk’s statement is the discrepancy between Tesla’s current offerings and a pickup truck. Several companies manage both luxury vehicles and pickups simultaneously, though generally split over two brands. Tesla has managed to position itself as a high-quality, luxury purveyor of vehicles, an image with which a rough-and-tumble work truck wouldn’t fit. So the first hurdle might be a few branding issues.

Once those are sorted out, Tesla will have the the obvious EV problems to get out of the way. How does one make an electric truck practical? Fortunately for the company, electric motors are well-suited for towing and hauling, since they boast a significant amount of torque density for the size of the motor — in the Model S, the motor produces 443 pound-feet in its top spec, though the motor itself is about the size of a large watermelon.

In trucks, torque is arguably more important than horsepower, though Tesla is no slouch there, either. An electric powertrain would be an ideal option for hauling, then, if it weren’t for three things: the battery packs, range, and charging time. The two latter factors have always been the largest obstacles for EVs, but the battery pack problem could send Tesla back to the drawing board.

Provided Tesla can account for these three variables and EV technology continues to evolve, Tesla could in fact yield a fully capable pickup, which would then lead the company to its next challenge — the truck market itself, which has a strong bond with diesel and gasoline, and tends to push even smaller-displacement, low-cylinder count engines to the side.