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Electric-Hybrid Pickup Truck Targets Contractors' Needs

May 23, 2017

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Talk to Don Wires, director of engineering for the Workhorse Group, and he makes the W-15—his company’s new half-ton, battery-electric pickup—sound like an exotic sports car with a really big trunk.

“The lightweight carbon-fiber construction and instantaneous torque from the two electric motors gives this truck the same kind of acceleration I get from my freaking Corvette Grand Sport,” he explains. “It also looks so different from every other pickup on the road that it attracts attention everywhere I go.”

But neither hot-rod performance nor head-turning appearance will be enough to endear the electric-powered W-15 model to commercial buyers. The real appeal for construction contractors is admittedly less sexy but far more important: its practicality and low cost of ownership.

To understand those claims, you have to start with the W-15’s unique power­train that combines a Panasonic lithium-ion battery pack between the frame rails with front and rear electric motors to give the Honda Ridgeline-sized truck a robust 460-horsepower output and what should be a very livable all-electric range of 80 miles. Run the battery down, and a small three-cylinder gasoline engine comes online solely to power an onboard generator that recharges the battery, extending the truck’s total range to just a hair over 300 miles on a full tank of fuel.

Recharging the battery pack from a 240V Level 2 charger takes about eight hours. Wires says they designed the performance of the heated and air-conditioned battery pack very conservatively. He expects it to have a 20-year lifespan.

The unique powertrain design also offers contractors the ability to select the drive mode best suited for a particular application. “The fact that it’s software-driven gives the user the option of choosing front-wheel-drive, rear-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive right from the center touchscreen,” says Wires.

To save weight, the prototype’s body panels are all carbon-fiber. Wires says production models will likely use other composite materials for their combination of light weight and toughness.

The truck is filled with extra touches, including bright LED work lights and hazard flashers built into the rear roofline. But the W-15’s most in-demand feature may be the side-mounted panel hiding both 110V and 220V power outlets that will run power tools at a jobsite (if that use depletes the battery, the on-board generator kicks on to recharge it).

The five-passenger interior has a flat floor with legroom for three adults in back. Rear seats fold down to provide protected cargo space. Out back, the six-foot bed is wider, if not longer, than those of many traditional competitors. Capacity­wise, the W-15 can handle a payload of up to 2,200 lb, considerably more than most half-ton pickups. Towing capacity is adequate at 5,000 lb, but most half-tons can pull bigger loads.

While all these innovations might turn heads, the most impressive thing about the whole project may be how fast it came together, Wires says. “From the time we started having conversations about what the W-15 might look like, to the point where we actually had something that was drivable, was about six months.”

Production is scheduled to begin in the fourth quarter of 2018, with the trucks being distributed and serviced through Ryder operations nationwide. And with the 5,000 pre-orders the Loveland, Ohio-based company already has on hand, you may be seeing one of these exotic sports cars of the pickup world on a jobsite near you sooner than you think.

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