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When does a pickup truck cease being a pickup truck?

Charles Moore, Community Voices • Oct 27, 2019 at 7:00 AM

I’ve been following as well as I can the GM/UAW conflict. In a recent article in the Johnson City Press, GM committed to building an all-electric pickup truck in Detroit. This old curmudgeon wants to look under the hood of an e-pickup truck.

There is an adage about if you replace enough parts on your present vehicle at what point do you now own a different vehicle? Define “pickup truck” and match that with an image of horsepower and hauling and match that with the delicate balance between weight and output of batteries. Americans have witnessed a 40-year arms-race to produce bigger and tougher and more masculine pickup trucks and the result, coming in full circle, might be re-entering the days of the El Camino and Ranchero. But, in the world of electric vehicles all bets are off. If you’re going to pull a camper or tow your mowing rigs or haul hay, the amount of available energy has to greatly exceed what the energy needed just to move the vehicle.

I want to see if it is really a car-battery-frame with a plastic shell that resembles a Chevy Silverado. Before that, larger e-sedans will become more available and smaller e-sedans and e-SUVs will serve as test beds for heavier vehicles.

At some point, being too heavy, you have a vehicle with two seats and a steering wheel and literally a ton of batteries that take all night to recharge. The charge-to-distance ratio in hybrids and fully electric cars should indicate that even battery-cars are not yet all that great a deal. Obviously, shifting away from wasting hydrocarbons is a good thing. But, electric demands will increase which will drive up demand for coal (and coal ash) and natural gas (and fracking). We’ll have to pick our poison.

And then, you wreck this massive boatload of batteries! The fire department now has to deal with a possible acid-explosion. And the towing company won’t want to haul an acid-leaking car to the shop. The city, rightly, would say, who and how do we deal with draining or dead batteries? We might end up trading one pollution (dirty air) for another (junkyard dead zones). Zoning laws and anti-dumping laws should be in place already to stop potential groundwater damage. East Tennessee does not need to become a third-world recycling center dump for batteries.

Instead of going to war over oil we’ll go to war over the rare-earth elements that make batteries operate efficiently. We get to pick a second poison.

And while we may argue the two sides to the strike question, we don’t argue that having transportation at our fingertips is a luxury we don’t want to give up. Public transportation in Johnson City is a long ways from replacing the 90-thousand vehicle registrations in the county. We still like, and use, and need, private rides. The nature of that ride might change but the ride is still ours. So far.

In East Tennessee, truck country, anything less than massive is not enough. The move to electric is obviously a big-city gambit by all the automotive companies. Electric seems best suited for commuting. Given how many gas-cars fill State of Franklin and Roan Street during rush-half-hour there might even be a market in the Tri-Cities. But the purchase price will have to be significantly reduced before the savings in operation becomes economical. Until then, car-lingo will still be in demand but the language of spark plugs, compression ratios, and gears will begin to change whether we like it or not. For now, the graph of auto sales in North America, of the over-eight-million units sold, shows electric vehicles hardly make a dent. But, that dent is undeniable.

Once that market is established the legislature can take another leisurely 20 years to decide (or not) what to do about road taxes.

Obviously the days of our grandfather’s pickup truck that hauled produce to the original farmer’s markets will fade from the memory replaced by the shiny, over-chromed, gaily painted, electronic-gadgety modern pickup truck fulfilling our advertised dreams. I suppose at one time it was less than manly to have cup holders in a pickup truck. Now we have a race to produce the most charging ports. Long live the pickup truck?

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