Workhorse hybrid pick-up truck in high demand with fleets due to reliability and cost

By Steve Hanley, Originally published on Gas2, June 2017

With all the hype and hysteria about Tesla in the news lately, it’s easy to lose sight of some of the other companies that are making progress building more sustainable vehicles that will help lower carbon emissions from the transportation sector. Cars are important, but trucks spew out more carbon emissions each year. Workhorse, based in Ohio with a factory in Indiana, is elbowing its way to the front in a crowded field of competitors.

In a recent conversation with Charged EVs, Workhorse CEO Steve Burns shared some of the reasons why his company’s W-15 plug-in hybrid pickup truck is getting so much attention from fleet owners. Just as the Tesla Model 3 has a long list of reservation holders, Workhorse also has received hundreds of pre-orders for the W-15 from Duke Energy, Southern California Public Power Authority, and Ryder Systems. In addition, municipalities like Columbus, Ohio and Orlando, Florida, have orders pending for this plug-in hybrid pickup.

Workhorse W-15 Built For Fleets

What makes a plug-in hybrid pickup truck so appealing to fleets? Two factors, says Burns. First is total cost of ownership.

“Green is good. Everybody wants to be green. It’s a nice by-product. But we realized that if electric is going to take off, it has to be less expensive than gas. It really comes down to that, at least in the fleet world. A meat-and-potatoes fleet guy says, ‘What is the most economical way I can operate my fleet?’ We come in and tell him we are less expensive than a gas vehicle.”

The second big factor is reliability. Fleet operators want to know the trucks are dependable and will last a long time. Workhorse has developed a close working relationship with UPS and that relationship is growing. “UPS is not a bakery that uses trucks. They are a truck company,” Burns says. “So, they are the hardest to satisfy. There’s no Consumer Reports .. in this space. So, if a fleet wants to know if something works, they look to the leaders.

“UPS is the largest commercial truck fleet in the United States. So, it took many, many years, and a lot of miles, to build something rugged enough for them, and at a price point they can justify. A fleet has to believe the vehicle is going to last. They have to believe it’s going to last for 20 years. UPS keeps their trucks for 20 years.”

Why A Range Extender Engine?

The W-15 will have a plug-in hybrid powertrain using an internal combustion range extender engine sourced from BMW. Tesla has already announced it plans to bring an all electric pickup to market. Why does Burns feel that he needs the gas engine, too?

“We really don’t think an all electric pickup truck will work, because of what people put pickup trucks through. Occasionally they have to do something very hard. Tow a lot, haul a lot, climb the side of a mountain, go far.

“Duke Energy, if there’s a hurricane in Charlotte, all the Duke trucks from all the neighboring states pack up and head for Charlotte. Although they normally go 50 miles a day, once in a while they’ve got to go 400. Once in a while, they put three big transformers in the back. We built this so that it covers our average day, and then we’ve got a little insurance policy up there. [Even] if it’s a weird day, you’re always going to complete your rounds.

“We found that out with UPS. If you tell a major fleet that this vehicle is really good but doesn’t do all things, you’ve got to be careful where you put it, they don’t want to hear that. They just want it to be ubiquitous. We just say this can do anything a gas pickup can do. 360 days a year, you’re going to get 75 miles per gallon because you’re running it all electric, and the other 5 days, you’ll burn a little gasoline, but the show will always go on.”

The W-15 Is Ready To Work

The W-15 is job site ready. It comes with a built in light bar with yellow flashing hazard lights, a sprayed-in bed liner and a 7.2 kW power export module. A central touchscreen controls most functions and is designed so it can be operated while wearing work gloves. The company has a proprietary fleet management system called Metron that keeps fleet managers constantly updated on each vehicles location and condition at all times. Workhorse can update software wirelessly over the air.

Safety is a high priority for the W-15. In addition to a full complement of air bags, it is equipped with emergency braking and collision warning systems, lane keeping assistance, and adaptive cruise control. Workhorse expects the W-15 to achieve the highest ever safety ratings for a pickup truck.

Private Sales Possible

Burns keeps getting asked if the W-15 will be available to private customers and he has left the door open on that possibility — at least a little. “Well, I would’ve said no to that a little while ago, but a couple of things are happening. It’s really good looking. We built it to be modern and professional looking. We have some aerodynamics to it because we’re worried about energy. Some of our customers wanted a lower hood so they could see pedestrians easier. All that combined into a very unique looking pickup truck, good looking enough that every consumer that sees it says they want one.”