2021 showed us that trucks and SUVs don't need gas engines

Turns out America's best selling vehicle style is just as popular when electrified.


The modern electric vehicle renaissance has been hampered from day one by the physical limitations imposed by the current state of battery technology. Inefficiencies in the form of heavy battery packs and low power densities have long limited not just the range and performance of EVs but the very forms they can take — there’s a reason Tesla started with a Roadster and not a Cybertruck. But steady advancements in power systems over the past few years — alongside skyrocketing demand for larger, electrified vehicles which cater to the US market — has led to a watershed moment in 2021: the emergence of EV pickups and SUVs.

Yes, we all know the Model X exists and Tesla “did it first” — spare me your tweets — however, the sheer number and variety of new, pure EV pickup and SUV models either ready to hit the showroom floor or in active development is staggering compared to just a few years ago. Let’s take a look at some of this year’s standouts.

GM is betting big on its proprietary Ultium battery technology, investing $35 billion in self-driving and EV technologies through 2025. The company has also announced that it intends to sell 30 EV models by the end of 2025 and EVs exclusively after 2035 with the 1,000 horsepower GMC Hummer EV serving as its vanguard offering.

U.S. President Joe Biden drives a Hummer EV as he tours the General Motors 'Factory ZERO' electric vehicle assembly plant in Detroit, Michigan, U.S. November 17, 2021. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Jonathan Ernst / reuters

The Hummer EV has been a surefire hit since its debut last October. More than 10,000 potential buyers had placed down payments on the $112,000 Hummer Edition 1 by last December. Similarly, the Hummer’s EV SUV variant revealed in April had its pre-orders sell out in minutes — not bad for a vehicle that won’t actually hit the streets until Fall 2023. Deliveries for the Hummer EV pickup are slated to begin this month. There have even been rumblings about adapting the Hummer EV frame and power system to military applications, though no firm decisions on that proposal have yet been made.

Hummers are only the start. In April, GM confirmed that its second EV model will be an electrified Silverado. We still don’t know a whole lot about the Silverado beyond that it will leverage GM’s Ultium battery tech, that the company is aiming for a 400-plus mile range, and that the EV pickup will offer four-wheel steering, which shortens turn radius’ at low speeds and increases cornering stability at high speeds — especially when towing loads.

We’ll have a full accounting of the Silverado’s capabilities once it makes its official debut during GM’s CES 2022 keynote address. What’s more, GM teased its third upcoming EV in July — a full-size GMC pickup, according to CNBC. Virtually nothing else is known about it at this time, not even if it will use the existing GMC Sierra branding. Hopefully, we’ll get some more hints in the new year.

Not to be outdone, the Stellantis Group (formerly FCA and umbrella company to Chrysler, Jeep Dodge, Fiat, Alfa Romeo, Maserati and a host of others) announced in July that it, too, will be investing $35 billion towards its electrification efforts through 2025 and will have 55 electrified vehicles (40 BEVs, 15 PHEVs) available in the US and European markets by the end of that year. What’s more, Stellantis is working on an all-electric Ram EV to compete with the Silverado and Ford F-150 Lightning, though the Ram isn’t expected to be released until 2024. For its part in 2021, Jeep showed off a slick-looking Wrangler BEV concept in March, released its “light hybrid” Wrangler Sahara 4XE in May and debuted its PHEV Cherokee 4XE in September ahead of the vehicle’s 2022 release.

Ford also had a year worthy of honking its own horn about, starting with the February release of the Mustang Mach-E. The EV was met with a bit of trepidation to start but cemented its position with the release of the performance-focused GT edition. In all, Ford had sold more 21,000 Mach-E units through this past October, despite a handful of recalls for loose bolts and “deep sleeping” software bugs. That’s not bad for a first-year crossover SUV working to get past deeply ingrained customer nostalgia, but the Mach-E’s numbers are nothing compared to the hype Ford’s upcoming F-150 Lightning EV has garnered.

The company’s F-150 electrification efforts have hardly been an industry secret but when Ford debuted the Lightning on May 19th (or May 18th if you were watching President Biden’s speech), America’s car-buying public just about lost its mind with nearly 45,000 people signing up to preorder the EV pickup within the first 48 hours.

Interest in Ford’s upcoming light hybrid Maverick pickup has been no less rampant. The Detroit News reported in August that more than 100,000 people had allegedly signed up to preorder the mini-truck, a large portion of which were California residents. Granted, those folks weren’t obligated to place a down payment so whether all those pre-orders translate into actual sales — or folks just decide to restomod their existing ICE Fords with the eluminator system instead — remains to be seen.

Some of the biggest headlines in the 2021 EV truck space came from stellar startup, Rivian. While competitors like Lordstown Motors found themselves critically low on cash and the subject of Justice Department fraud investigations, Rivian has already hit its first production milestone: actually producing vehicles (despite having to push its initial delivery window from July to September). But that’s not the half of it.

This year, the company also announced plans to install 10,000 charging stations across North America by 2023, unveiled a membership plan for owners offering both Roadside and off-Roadside Assistance as well as exclusive OTA software updates, and outlined its Remote Care program which would offer remote diagnoses and on-site repairs for the electric trucks. The startup has big plans for the future as well. It announced plans to invest $5 billion in a second US-based production plant and is reportedly eyeing the UK as the site for its first international battery facility.

Some of those future plans will involve partnerships with other companies such as Amazon — which owns a 20 percent stake in Rivian, purchased 100,000 vehicles from the startup in 2019 and has already begun making deliveries in San Francisco and Los Angeles with them — but they won’t include Ford. Despite investing half a billion dollars in the EV startup two years ago, Ford announced in November that the two companies will no longer collaborate on an upcoming EV. Looks like that rumored electric Lincoln will likely stay dead for the time being.

The Rivian R1T arrives on stage as a 2022 Truck of the Year Finalist at the LA Auto Show in Los Angeles, California on November 17, 2021. (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP) (Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images)
FREDERIC J. BROWN via Getty Images

On the other end of the headline spectrum is, surprisingly, Tesla. Despite the company’s massively profitable year, the development of its Cybertruck has been slow going. While CEO Elon Musk announced in January that “volume production” of the EV SUV will begin in 2022, it’s increasingly looking like that will happen later in the year — after Ford’s F-150 Lightning and GMC’s Hummer EV hit the roads, both of which debuted well after the Cybertruck did.

Of course, American automakers are far from the only ones getting in on the EV game. Mercedes announced in April that its EQB compact SUV is nearly ready for production and will go on sale in the US next year. Its “Sustainer” delivery van concept, however, might take a bit longer to reach the market. Hyundai, on the other hand, unveiled its Ioniq 5 SUV in February with plans to release it this winter alongside promises that its Genesis line of vehicles will go entirely electric by the middle of this decade. Meanwhile, Kia’s Niro EV continues to be a low-key sleeper hit.

We’ve seen much hype and grandiose promises about EV pickup trucks and SUVs over the last few years but 2022 will be the year when everything comes out in the wash. Consumers will finally be able to see these vehicles on the streets, in their neighborhoods, and likely breathing down their necks while stuck in traffic, rather than just on a showroom floor or livestream presentation stage. This is a huge opportunity for automakers to further evangelize the benefits of battery electrics over their internal combustion predecessors — this time using America’s favorite type of vehicle.

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