Workhorse Group has collected about 5,000 nonbinding orders from large businesses and government agencies for its W-15 extended-range electric pickup truck, enough to begin commercially manufacturing the vehicle.

The Loveland, Ohio, trucks company announced its biggest order to date — 2,500 trucks from Ryder System Inc., the fleet management giant.

Ryder said Tuesday it would distribute Workhorse delivery trucks and an electric pickup truck in North America, as well as provide warranty and maintenance work.

The W-15, which is debuting as a drivable concept vehicle Tuesday at the Advanced Clean Transportation Expo in Long Beach, Calif., has already attracted pre-orders or letters of interest from Duke Energy, the cities of Portland, Ore., and Orlando and more.

The orders would represent about $250-million worth of initial sales for the company. The trucks are priced at about $52,000 and are expected to be eligible for state and federal green vehicle incentives such as the $7,500 federal income tax rebate.

“We have enough pre-orders now to justify pulling the trigger and making a march toward production,” Stephen Burns, chief executive of Workhorse, told Trucks.com. “We wanted to make sure there’s an appetite, and it’s really encouraging to see the appetite that’s there.”

Now, the company is ready to build 30 preproduction vehicles for crash testing and to start lining up vendors for the manufacturing process. Production and delivery will start in the fourth quarter of 2018.

“We think that in the commercial segment there is nothing that compares to this truck,” said Scott Perry, Ryder’s chief technology and procurement officer.

Perry said he believes the W-15 could become a popular service truck for food and beverage companies and other industries.  These are businesses that could install their own electric charging infrastructure and have the trucks run regular routes, serving clients.

“Contractors will like the trucks because they have an exportable power system that will allow them to run tools at a worksite,” Perry said.

All of the plug-in pickups — Burns declined to say how many he expects to be sold each year — will be constructed in Workhorse’s Union City, Ind., factory. The facility could potentially make up to 60,000 vehicles annually, he said.

The W-15 is designed for fleet use but could someday also be positioned as a consumer vehicle, he said.

The Ryder deal will give Workhouse national reach and assure customers that they will have easy access to service and warranty work, Burns said. Last year, Ryder also signed on to be the nationwide distributor and maintenance provider for the hydrogen fuel cell electric semi-trucks being developed by Salt Lake City start-up Nikola Motor Co.

“You don’t get to move the needle in life very much. The pickup truck has gone through a hundred years of refinement, so how do you come in as a newcomer?” Burns said. “It took a complete rethink.”

The “radically different” vehicle is designed to reach the equivalent of 75 mpg, with a range of 80 miles, when it’s in full electric operation, Burns said. A gasoline engine will serve as a range extender by acting as a generator for the electric drivetrain when the batteries are depleted, giving the pickup a conventional vehicle range.

“With that insurance policy, suddenly everything opens up, the price falls into line and we have a truck that’s more cost-effective for its proper duty cycle than any truck ever made,” he said. “If you’re going to climb a mountain every day, this might not be the truck for you. But looking at the total cost of ownership, it’s much less expensive over its life cycle for a fleet operator.”

The 460-horsepower truck can accelerate from zero to 60 mph in 5.5 seconds and also features all-wheel drive, collision avoidance technology, a lane-departure warning system and automatic braking.

The body includes carbon fiber to keep the truck light, but otherwise, “it looks like a pickup truck — four wheels and a cab bed,” Burns said. “But underneath, it’s like no truck in the world,” he said.

Developing and building the prototype took two years. The W-15’s powertrain was built in-house in the company’s headquarters near Cincinnati, with Detroit vendors providing the carbon-fiber work.

“We wanted to take advantage of being so close to the heartland of trucks,” Burns said.

Despite a trend toward massive grilles, the W-15’s grille is small, which makes the vehicle more aerodynamic and showcases its environmental pedigree.

“We don’t need the big radiator — our grille could have tapered down to a point like a Porsche, but it looked funny on a pickup truck,” Burns said. “It still had to be strong-looking — it’s built for strength and efficiency, and that had to come through in the design.”

Pickup trucks are the most popular vehicles in America. They accounted for nearly 2.7 million of the 17.5 million U.S. auto sales last year.

The traditional U.S. automakers — Ford Motor Co., General Motors and Fiat Chrysler —dominate the market, making the segment extremely difficult to penetrate. But others are looking to break in. Tesla Inc., the Palo Alto, Calif., electric car builder, says it also is working on an electric pickup, but it has not revealed any plans or shown a working prototype.

“It’s probably the most competitive automotive landscape there is — we couldn’t just come in with a conventional pickup truck and say that ours is a little bit better,” Burns said.

Burns expects that demand for fuel-efficient and cost-effective vehicles will stay strong.

“We’re really comfortable cutting our teeth with fleets, but everyone who sees this as a consumer wants it,” Burns said. “We’re starting to think that, as we mature, this could migrate to also being a consumer vehicle.”

Related: First Drive: Workhorse W-15 Electric Pickup Truck Offers Speed and Utility

About The Author

Tiffany Hsu

Tiffany Hsu is a Manhattan-based journalist and former Trucks.com contributing editor. Hsu now works for the New York Times. She can be found on Twitter: @tiffkhsu.

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