Test drive: Workhorse W-15 electric pickup

Quimby Mug Bayou Florida

20170501 143630It was tough today trying to catch a glimpse inside the nation’s first OEM-produced plug-in range-extended electric pickup.

Moments after Workhorse unveiled its 460-hp W-15 truck at ACT Expo in Long Beach, onlookers flocked to take a closer look (see video below).

And who can blame them? It’s not every day that you see a new electric pickup, let alone one featuring a carbon fiber body built by auto design and engineering veterans at Michigan-based Prefix.

The W-15 is a head-turner. Just ask the people who kept on popping into the double cab to get their picture taken. It’s got a large, assertive profile that takes you miles away from the tame, soft lines of the typically demure electric compact vehicle.

You have to shake your head a little and realize that two worlds have collided: the highly favored, gas guzzling pickup has met a low maintenance electric drive-train that offers 75MPGe and will launch the all-wheel drive truck from zero to 60 in 5.5 seconds.

20170501 143707And it does it so quietly, which makes you think about its marketing potential among outdoor enthusiasts, many of whom who’d rather keep things quiet while riding in the woods on hunting, fishing, birding and camping trips.

But it’s fleets first for the W-15. Workhorse reported today at the truck’s unveiling that it’s lined up over 5,000 letters of intent for purchasing with utilities like Duke Energy, Southern California Public Power Authority and Portland General Electric. The City of Orlando has also committed to buying the pickup, which will be manufactured in Union City, Ind. That’s up from 2,150 letters of intent in March.

So let’s do the math. With a competitive sticker price at $52,500, Workhorse can expect to see an impressive influx of $262,500,000 if those 5,000 letters of intent translate into sales. The first trucks for model year 2018 are expected to roll out next year. The W-15 will be competing with Tesla’s electric pickup, but that won’t be unveiled until 18 to 24 months from now.

Driving the W-15 is exciting. Its acceleration is immediate and so quiet. I took it for a spin in a large parking lot behind the Long Beach Convention Center.

After turning the truck on, a user-friendly display indicates speed, compass heading, miles (the odometer read only 96 miles when I was driving), battery charge level, range and fuel level.

20170501 143755Keep in mind that the W-15 is designed to run on all-electric power first, around 80 miles on average, before switching to its three-cylinder BMW I3 engine. Expect to drive roughly 300 miles on a tankful of gas. In electric mode, anticipate 75 MPGe. The engine is rated at 28 MPG highway and 32 city.

The engine bay is unique. A large, removable storage compartment is housed near the grill. The engine sits below a cover emblazoned with the Workhorse logo. Workhorse President Duane Hughes explained that the smaller engine allows for an extra large front crumple zone which is in step with the company’s goal of making the W-15 the safest pickup on the road. Panasonic lithium-ion batteries have been strategically placed for optimum weight distribution. The truck’s low center of gravity makes for improved safety and handling.

The engine never came on while I was driving and I didn’t expect it to since the battery gauge was showing a 75 percent charge.

On the last leg of our short route there was room for a quick acceleration test. I hit the accelerator from a dead standstill and the truck took off. Speed in a vehicle is so often associated with the roar of an engine. In this case, the W-15 speaks so softly but moves so fast and smooth. Again, a head-scratcher, but an intriguing one that you can quickly get accustomed to.

20170501 150415Though the W-15 is designed for fleets, the interior still has a high-tech, comfortable feel punctuated by bucket seats. Though it’s built to accommodate five people, seating in the back doesn’t allow for much leg room.

Payload capacity of the W-15 is rated at 2,200 pounds and towing at 5,000 pounds. For now, the bed is available only in a standard configuration. The electric lock on the tailgate is a slick feature. A little push on a button near the top of the tailgate releases it.

Other features include collision avoidance/auto-braking, lane departure warning and 7.2kW of exportable power. The truck measures 234 inches long, 80 inches wide and about 74 inches high. It’s got a foot of ground clearance.

Hughes explained that the truck’s performance characteristics can be adjusted for fleet needs.

“Based on the company and what they’re using this for, they can configure through the software settings how they want that truck to perform,” Hughes explained.

20170501 150505“Our telematics software that we have with every vehicle—again this comes off of our pedigree of working with the likes of UPS in the medium-duty world—our telematics software collects roughly 500 points of data every 10 seconds and redisplays that data back in an end-user form in an online environment—on my phone, or on my iPad or other device that I’m looking at.

“It gives us topographical data, where the driver’s foot is on the accelerator. Is he constantly going from one stop to another stop and giving 100 percent of what it’s got?”

Whether it’s a driver issue or something else impeding best possible performance, Workhorse telematics will get to the bottom of it.

Workhorse announced this morning that it entered an agreement with Ryder which will be selling, leasing and servicing the W-15.

Total cost of ownership of the W-15 is estimated to be about half that of a conventional pickup.

Of course I would have really liked to have taken the W-15 off-roading. Maybe next time.