As Tesla’s success with the Model S demonstrates, they can build a sophisticated and complex vehicle with almost no experience. So, Tesla could certainly build an electric pickup truck, and the demand for a quality electric truck would likely prove substantial.
However, analysts say that Tesla has a serious cash flow problem that will make it all but impossible to build a pickup anytime before the end of the decade. And, of course, building trucks isn’t as easy as one might think. Honda and Toyota both tried to enter the pickup market (Ridgeline and T-100, respectively) and suffered thru lackluster sales, so Tesla would be wise to tread carefully. Truck buyers are a fickle bunch.
But, pickups aren’t cheap to operate, so any technology that reduces these costs will be interesting to truck buyers. This is why Via Motors is currently building electrified pickups and SUVs. Also, electric powertrains offer essentially infinite torque, and torque is what truck owners love most. An electric truck’s ability to tow and haul will be enticing.
While there are reasons to doubt that Tesla could offer a truck that has sufficient driving range (once you start towing an 8k lbs trailer, electric truck range falls like a rock), it’s possible that they could mount a huge battery in a Tesla truck and come up with something that offered excellent range for daily commuting, with shorter ranges for towing or hauling. It wouldn’t replace gasoline-powered trucks, but for some people the compromised range would be sufficient.
Still, Tesla is sitting on about $800 million in cash as of Q3 2013, which is actually a very paltry sum for the auto industry. For comparison’s sake, Toyota had about $145 billion in cash at the beginning of the year and Ford and most automakers sit in the $60 billion in cash range.
Why so much cash? Because vehicle design is frighteningly expensive. A “simple” vehicle like a new sedan can often cost $250 million+ to design. Testing, tooling, engineering, design, plus the entire overhead involved (lots and lots of people) – it all adds up. Engine families and transmission families can frequently cost more than $1billion, and it’s not at all unheard of for important vehicles (like the Ford F-150 that Tesla hopes to compete against) to have $1 billion dollar price tag when it’s all said and done.
In this light, Tesla’s $800 million in cash is small … especially when you consider that Tesla plans to build a new battery plant, expand their existing product line, and keep on spending money on their super charger network, opening new Tesla stores, etc. What’s more, Tesla doesn’t project increased cash flow. They’re projecting they’ll be “cash flow neutral” for a while.