(Reuters) — Tesla on Thursday unveiled its first pickup truck, delivering on a promise by CEO Elon Musk to build an electric version of America’s favorite vehicle and one that threatens the heart of Detroit automakers’ profits.
At a launch event in Los Angeles, Musk said the truck, which looked like a futuristic armored vehicle, will have a starting price of $39,900 and a maximum range of 500 plus miles.
“We need sustainable energy now. If we don’t have a pickup truck we can’t solve it. The top 3 selling vehicles in America are pickup trucks. To solve sustainable energy, we have to have a pickup truck,” he said.
Production is expected to begin in late 2021.
Musk earlier tweeted the design was partly influenced by the Lotus Esprit sportscar that doubled as a submarine in the 1970s 007 film The Spy Who Loved Me.
The truck marks the first foray by Tesla, whose Model 3 sedan is the world’s top-selling battery electric car, into pickup trucks, a market dominated by Ford, along with models by General Motors and Fiat Chrysler.
The pickup shifts Tesla more toward trucks and SUVs. The automaker has so far sold mostly Model S and Model 3 sedans but also offers the Model X SUV and, starting next year, the Model Y compact SUV.
A focus on the high-performance end of the market is only natural, given the success of Ford’s 450-horsepower F-150 Raptor truck, which launched in 2009 and whose sales have since risen annually, according to Ford spokesperson Mike Levine.
While Ford does not disclose Raptor sales, Levine said annual demand is well above 19,000 vehicles, and the No. 2 U.S. automaker has never had to offer incentives on the model, which is priced in the high $60,000 range. Ford also offers the more expensive F-150 Limited, its most powerful and luxurious pickup.
Ford and GM are also gearing up to challenge Tesla more directly with new offerings, like the Ford Mustang Mach E electric SUV, as well as electric pickups.
Electric pickups and SUVs could help Ford and GM generate the significant EV sales they will need to meet tougher emission standards and EV mandates in California and other states.
The Trump administration is moving to roll back those standards, but electric trucks are a hedge if California prevails.
Demand for full-size electric pickup trucks in the near term may not be huge, however.
Industry tracking firm IHS Markit estimates the electric truck segment — both full- and mid-sized models — will account for about 75,000 sales in 2026, compared with an expected 3 million light trucks overall. The Tesla truck is not part of that estimate.
(Reporting by Naomi Tajitsu in Tokyo and Peter Henderson in San Francisco, editing by Edwina Gibbs.)