With latest entrant, pickup trucks are going electric

Workhorse W-15 Electric Pickup Truck.
Source: Workhorse
Workhorse W-15 Electric Pickup Truck.

A new electric pickup is coming from a Ohio-based manufacturer even as Tesla gears up to make its own.

The advent of the Workhorse W-15 shows that while most people haven't exactly embraced electric-powered vehicles — they make up less than 1% of overall vehicle sales — there remains a potentially strong market among service companies that operate fleets of pickups.

Workhorse Group, a Loveland, Ohio, company that has been making medium-duty electric vans, says that with a range of 80 miles per charge, the W-15 will meet the needs of a wide range of companies, from electric utilities to plumbing contractors. And, in a likely key difference from the Tesla pickup on the horizon, the W-15 will have a backup, 3-cylinder gas motor to let it drive longer distances in a pinch.

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The W-15 will be built in Union City, Ind., with a pricetag of $52,500. The pitch to prospective buyers will that they can then save dramatically on maintenance and gas, effectively cutting the price of the trucks.

"We sell it on economy. This is a less expensive truck," said Workhorse CEO Steve Burns.

But it is likely to run headlong into competition from Tesla, which plans not only pickup trucks, but heavy-duty haulers as well. Tesla, the Palo Alto-based electric car maker that has become a Wall Street darling, will have a pickup within two years, CEO Elon Musk tweeted last month.

Workhorse W-15 Electric Pickup Truck.
Source: Workhorse
Workhorse W-15 Electric Pickup Truck.

Detroit's Big 3, which dominate the pickup truck market, have offered hybrid pickups in the past, but shied away from full electrics. One company, Via Motors based in Orem, Utah, has been converting new pickup trucks to become plug-in extended range vehicles. Workhorse, however, plans an entirely new design.

Companies operating fleets have an advantage over individual truck owners when it comes to electric vehicles because they generally know the maximum number of miles that workers travel in a day, so they can ensure that any electric vehicles they buy have adequate range. Also, the electrics can be centrally charged overnight.

Workhorse Group said in March that it had received 2,150 "letters of intent" to buy the W-15 truck from major utilities and energy producers like Duke Energy, Portland General Electric, the Southern California Public Power Authority, Clean Fuels Ohio. It says it also has one from the city of Orlando, Fla.

On Tuesday, Workhorse said it was entering into a 10-year "strategic partnership" with corporate vehicle provider Ryder System to become the distributor and service source for the truck.

The trucks are likely to become part of Ryder's rental fleet, says Scott Perry, chief technology and procurement officer for Ryder.

"I think electric vehicles in general are gaining more and more recognition," Perry said."There is a lot more interest by fleets."

Workhorse Group reported it lost $19.5 million last year and had sales of $6.4 million. On Tuesday, its stock closed at $2.15, up 7.% on the NASDAQ.

Watch: Musk says all transports will go fully electric, except rockets