Published on May 18th, 2017 | by Steve Hanley
Workhorse W-15 Plug-in Hybrid Electric Pickup Truck Interview With CEO Steve Burns
When the Workhorse W-15 plug-in hybrid electric truck was unveiled to the public at the ACT Expo in Long Beach, the folks from InsideEVs (like our own Kyle Field) had an opportunity to sit down with Workhorse CEO Steve Burns for an extended interview. The specs for the W-15 are now known — 60 kWh battery, 80 mile range, 0–60 in 5.5 seconds, stainless steel chassis, onboard range extender engine supplied by BMW. What isn’t so well know is how Workhorse began and how it got to where it is today.
Conversions Don’t Work
Burns started out with a company called AMP that converted conventional vehicles like the Chevy Equinox to electric power. Burns explains the challenge succinctly: “It’s very expensive to be an OEM. So people say, ‘I’ll take something that’s close and I’ll convert it.’ But what happens when the frame cracks in 10 years and you converted a Ford, let’s say, and Ford’s going to say, ‘Well it cracked because you put this heavy battery pack on it. That’s not our fault,’ right?”
Workhorse is concentrating on fleet sales for one simple reason. Individual buyers don’t look at the total cost of ownership. Fleet managers look at nothing else. “What we discovered with our UPS trucks is that you can prove to a fleet manager that your vehicle is less expensive than a gasoline or diesel counterpart. We could save UPS or a company like UPS about $160,000 per truck over a lifetime. Without any government vouchers, it still makes economic sense.”
Concentrating On Fleets Generates Pre-Orders
Workhorse says it has 1,000 pre-orders from various utility and delivery fleet operators like UPS and Duke Energy. That resonates with lenders when a manufacturer with good ideas but no track record goes looking for financing. “Investors or strategic partners or the government — all those sources of capital want to know the same thing: ‘Do you have a customer base that will buy these if you build them?’ That’s the hardest thing to prove and that’s what pre-orders do.
Working With Detroit Is Part Of The Plan
“One thing that might be a little different with us than Silicon Valley folks is that we’re in the Midwest and as opposed to saying, ‘Hey, we’re a new kind of car company, we don’t want to involve any rust belt thinking or old school thinking from Detroit,’ we’re embracing Detroit. There’s a lot of Detroit vendors that are helping us here, especially with the carbon fiber stuff. What we had is, from the get go, is A, we had to design this so it can be built in our existing factory, and B, even the UPS trucks are basically a body on rails. … We designed it from the get go so that it could be built at our existing factory, which dramatically reduced costs.
“It’s really quite remarkable, our body parts will come from a Detroit company, all painted. If you look under the roll cage that the passenger sits in, that’s all carbon fiber and composite. It comes to us in one piece. You don’t have to dip it in anti corrosion material. It’s quite remarkable what we’ve saved by going composite and carbon. As far as traditional upfront costs, we’ll have a stainless steel chassis and a carbon fiber everything else. Well, there’s a little steel in there, like in the door; even though the door is carbon fiber it has a steel band in there. We didn’t want to reinvent everything. The size of the bed, the size of the cab, we didn’t want to mess with that. We kept the outside parameters.”
You may recall that another electric truck “startup,” Deutsche Post, is building all electric delivery vans using mostly parts that are readily available from mainstream, established automotive suppliers. It seems to be a logical approach.
The W-15 Will Meet All Certification Parameters
“No exceptions, we’re not going to apply for any exceptions. Because the numbers we’re at, our orders have already exceeded the limit, so we’re going for full certification. Again, that’s why I talk about Detroit. Folks from Detroit are really knowledgeable about these things. For example, crash testing. You hope to model it in software and really refine it in software, and only have to crush a few to make sure that they line up with the software algorithms. There are decades of that experience in Detroit. It’s remarkable how close they get.”
Why Does The W-15 Use A Range Extender Engine?
Burns says, “Our goal is to be known as the electric truck company that caters to fleets. That’s why we arrived at a hybrid, or a range extender. What we did was, same thing we do with UPS trucks. We put a battery in there that should cover them for 360 days a year, but once in a while something weird happens, like it will be minus 20 in Chicago or there’s a hurricane in Charlotte and all the Duke trucks have to head for Charlotte from other cities. By putting a range extender in there, we’re able to tell a fleet that they will always complete their mission. Most days you run all electric and you get 75 miles per gallon equivalent, but you know the truck will do anything you ask of it. What people expect of a modern-day pickup truck is essentially it can do anything.
“Anyway, if we crunch the numbers with a battery pack big enough to tow, haul, and have over more than just 200 miles range, it would just be too big and expensive and heavy. We put electric motors in that are big enough to tow and haul. We put a pack in there that gives you 80 miles on a normal day, but let’s say now you’ve got 2,000 pounds in the bed and you’re towing a 5,000 pound generator. You’re not going to get 80 miles on all electric, but on that rare day they are more than happy if the gas engine has to turn on. It’s against the [EV] religion to put gas onboard. But our only religion is making fleets happy and if we have to have an insurance policy in there so they feel comfortable, then that’s what we do.”
Beating The Market
Burns knows that Tesla is working right now on an electric pickup truck of its own. But it will be battery electric only, which means it may not have the same appeal to fleet buyers who want a truck that can go anywhere, anytime, with no excuses. “The reason we want to beat the market is we think we have a two-to-four-year lead here and we want to establish the brand and get enough miles on the road and enough customers and really kind of establish us as, ‘If you want an electric truck, you know this is the company that specializes in that,'” Burns says.
It’s Not All About No Frills Transportation
Fleet managers are pretty frugal people. No leather interiors or chrome wheels for them. UPS even refuses to equip its vehicles with air conditioning. But performance — that shove in the back you feel when you mash the throttle — is still important. “One spec that seems to get everybody excited, and when we had the ride and drives at the LA show, everybody wanted to feel a pickup truck do zero-to-60 in 5.5 seconds. It handles like no other pickup truck just because you’ve got that battery low like that. We’ve got a huge crumple zone up front.”
Safety, performance, no corrosion, reliability, and low ownership costs — those are all factors that gladden the hearts of fleet managers. The company now has a prototype on the road. Next comes field testing and building pre-production trucks for certification purposes and to show off to prospective customers. Workhorse expects to put the W-15 into production before the end of 2018.
Source: Inside EVs