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.