Power Players

Elon Musk: Tesla's pickup will be 'a better truck than Ford F-150'

Tesla CEO Elon Musk speaks during the unveiling of the new Tesla Model Y in Hawthorne, California on March 14, 2019.
Frederic J. Brown | AFP | Getty Images

Tesla's planned electric pickup truck "will be a better truck than an F-150 in terms of truck-like functionality, and be a better sports car than a standard [Porsche] 911. That's the aspiration."

This according to Tesla CEO Elon Musk on the most recent episode of the podcast "Ride the Lightning."

Musk also promised to sell the Tesla pickup, which does not currently have a release date despite Musk's previous claims it might be unveiled this summer, for less than a $50,000 starting price.

"It just can't be unaffordable," Musk says on the podcast.

So Musk is essentially saying the Tesla pickup will be a cross between the country's top-rated truck (Ford's F-150 truck models have been the best-selling pickups in the US for decades and won Motor Trend's 2018 "Truck of the Year" award) and a high-performance sports car. And all that at a starting price that's nearly half that of the cheapest 911 and around mid-range for F-150 models, which range in starting price from roughly $28,000 to over $67,000. At Musk's price, the Tesla pickup would also be significantly cheaper than the $69,000 base price for the pickup truck set to be released by rival electric automaker Rivian in 2020.

Not surprisingly, there has already been some pushback to Musk's claims from skeptics who believe his vision is "extremely improbable." 

That doesn't mean Musk's pickup aspirations are impossible to achieve, though Brett Smith, the director of propulsion technologies and energy infrastructure at the Center for Automotive Research, admits to CNBC Make It that Musk's goal "will be very challenging."

While "you're never going to get a vehicle that can do everything well," says Smith, "I have no doubt that they can build a pickup truck that has much better handling than the current F-150."

But it will likely prove too difficult to build the typical features of a pickup truck, including the ability to haul heavy cargo and handle off-road driving, into "a light-weight, high-performance sports car" that could match the Porsche 911, he says.

"The physics don't work there," says Smith, who adds that the electric battery alone needed for a Tesla pickup could end up weighing as much as an entire Porsche 911. An electric battery large enough to offer a truck sufficient towing power over long distances, along with Musk's other ambitious goals for the pickup, would also cost more money for both Tesla and consumers — making it more difficult to keep the truck's starting price under $50,000.

"But can it be a really great-performing, road-driving vehicle? Sure," says Smith.

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Tesla has "proven time and time again that they can do some really great things with products, and they've proven again that it can be hard to deliver on some things. So, I think what he said was a good benchmark to shoot for, [but] the reality is probably going to be much different," says Smith. 

Tesla did not immediately respond to CNBC Make It's request for comment.

In January, Musk took to Twitter to tease some of the planned features for Tesla's pickup truck — including dual-motor, all-wheel drive with "crazy torque" and a driving range of 400 to 500 miles — and, he also responded to some of his followers' suggestions, including promising one follower that the truck will have an adjustable suspension height.

Meanwhile, Tesla is also sure to face some competition in the market for electric pickup trucks. That competition will not only include Rivian — which has received a $500 million investment from Ford, following a $700 million funding round led by Amazon earlier this year — but, Ford also said in January that the giant automaker plans to develop its own electric version of the F-150.

Of course, Musk is no stranger to setting ambitious goals, like his plan to transport humans to Mars by 2024 with his other company, SpaceX.

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