Lordstown Motors, the plucky electric pickup startup that aims to turn an abandoned General Motors plant into a hub of manufacturing and technological leadership, faces a long road and uncertain prospects, but it’s the only prospective EV pickup giving demo rides to independent journalists, and they claim to have sold out the first year of production for their Endurance pickup.
That makes them worth a look, and I got one during a demo ride and briefing at Lordstown’s engineering center in suburbanDetroit.
Lordstown went from a privately held company with limited means to a publicly traded one Monday, when it got $675 million from a partner and listed stock as RIDE on the NASDAQ.
That investment — $675 mill — is a lot of money to me, presumably you, and definitely to Lordstown Motors, but it’s change in the seat cushions to Ford and GM, both preparing to roll out multibillion-dollar electric vehicle programs of their own. Not to mention GM mini-me Nikola and EV startup Rivian, backed by the might of Amazon’s desire to fill neighborhoods across America with electric delivery vehicles.
A dream in an abandoned GM plant
Still, Lordstown’s prospects have improved markedly from when it was little more than a dream occupying an abandoned GMassembly plant in northeast Ohio. That plant will begin production of electric pickups next September, CEO Steve Burns told me as we examined a professional-looking rolling chassis incorporating a conventional pickup frame and 6,048 battery cells in the company’s suburban Detroit engineering center. That timing would put it in the running to be the first modern EV pickup with meaningful sales.
Endurance, an F-150-sized pickup, will be the first production car or truck with an electric motor in each wheel hub, Burns said.
Hub motors allow for precise control of power and traction, and reduce the number of parts in a vehicle. The other upcoming EV pickups have motors mounted on the chassis — similar to the engine or differential of a conventional car.
Electric hub motors have been around since the late 19th century. In 1897, Ferdinand Porsche — yes, that Ferdinand Porsche — raced a car with them in Austria.
The Endurance’s wheel, tire, brake and motor assemblies each weigh about 70 pounds and are the result of seven years of development. The tech center is tuning the truck’s suspension to account for that large amount of unspring mass, which can affect steering and handling. “We’ve got thousands fewer parts than a conventional pickup,” chief engineer Darren Post said.
Why reinvent what already works?
The Endurance’s frame — the structure to which the pickup wheels, suspension, cab and bed are attached — was engineered and will be supplied by one of the major suppliers that makes frames for large automakers, Burns said. Visually, it appeared as robust as production pickups. The suspension and steering gear are similarly familiar.
“Why reinvent things that work fine?” Post asked.
Lordstown has 40,000 pre-sold orders from companies including ServPro and Duke Energy.
Endurance prices will start at $52,500. Slicing off $7,500 with tax rebates drops the price into the same territory as internal combustion pickups, before you consider EV’s lower cost for maintenance and fuel.
The Endurance is the size of light-duty pickups like the Ford F-150, Chevy Silverado and Ram 1500. It’s a five-passenger crew cab with a 5-foot, 7-inch bed and power outlet near the tailgate for tools.
On the road in Endurance
Lordstown has about 240 employees now, mostly product and manufacturing engineers. It aims to grow to 500 by the end of this year and 1,500 at the end of 2021, when production should be in full swing.
Post took me for a spin in the first Endurance Alpha, hand built in the Farmington Hills engineering center, but nearly identical to the pre-production pickups the plant should start building in the second quarter of 2021.
The most obvious differences are:
— Sealed plastic nose — no need for air intake and aerodynamic drag when the front is a storage compartment, not a fiery hot internal combustion engine.
— Copper-colored wheel covers that look like wires wrapped for an electric motor. They’re purely decorative, and good at that.
The Endurance has traditional friction brakes as an emergency backup, but the great majority of stopping will be done regeneratively, routing power back through the hub motors to the battery to increase range.
Hand-built prototypes are quirky by definition. The first Endurance had its share of creaks, but it ran like an electric watch in our jaunt through a couple of engineering parks.
Acceleration was strong and immediate and steering response appeared quick. The truck’s very low center of gravity contributed to excellent grip in fast turns. The suspension absorbed bumps well, despite an estimate 5,000-pound curb weight.
“Our goal is the same ride quality and better noise, vibration and harshness than a gasoline pickup,” Post said.
High safety standards
That curb weight means the Endurance will have to meet the same safety regulations as an F-150 or Silverado 1500. Some EV pickups will weigh so much they’re treated like UPS vans, exempt from passenger vehicle crash standards.
The Endurance will have a 250-mile range. Its hub motors are optimized for top efficiency at 20-65 mph, the range where most fleet vehicles live. Charging time will be about 10 hours at 220v, around 45 minutes with a Level 3 400v charger.
“The typical fleet driver doesn’t cover more than 65 miles in a day,” Burns said. “We want to get a few billion miles of experience with them before we begin selling to retail customers.”