Truck wars electrified: Many GM Silverado EV, Ford Lightning buyers just want to be first
Ty Damon is one of the first 140,000 people to reserve a 2024 Chevrolet Silverado electric pickup.
Damon's $100 deposit to get on the reservation list at Bowman Chevrolet in Clarkston, Michigan, is refundable should he grow impatient and buy the Ford F-150 Lightning electric pickup – which will be out first – instead. But Damon says he can wait.
“I’m not a Ford person. I used to work for one of GM’s ad agencies and they paid my salary for 30 years, so I am a Chevy person," said Damon, noting his family has owned six Chevy pickups and three Chevy Volts over the years. "And, I’m not impatient.”
'In line' for all the electric trucks
But others, such as Deven Ross of West Bloomfield, want to be the first to experience electric trucks. So Ross is on the reservation list for a Lightning and a Silverado EV – and would even consider a 2024 Cadillac Lyriq electric SUV (he was too late to place an order for the 2023 model year Lyriq).
“I’m in line for everything," Ross said. "What I end up with, I honestly don’t know.”
As if regular truck wars weren't brutal enough, the EV version takes it to a new level as eager adopters disregard brand loyalty just to have a chance to be the first to drive a piece of history.
The thing is, Ford's EV pickup is in production and rolling out now.
GM has the 2022 GMC Hummer EV pickup coming out, but its six-figure price tag at more than $100,000, and off-road capabilities, make it appealing mostly to niche consumers.
Waiting for a $40,000 electric pickup
For the masses who want an accessible work truck, there's the Lightning, which starts at $39,974 and GM's Silverado EV, expected to hit the market at a similar price.
The Silverado EV won't come to market until some time next year, but GM has promised its pickup will beat the Lightning on several key performance metrics, including driving range on a single charge, towing capacity, power and passenger space.
But some industry experts say GM risks losing sales as early adopters turn to Ford. Still, others say GM has the advantage: As a fast follower, GM has just enough time to work out any kinks and bring a better product to market.
Ross' only requirements are that his truck is American-made and electric.
"My plan is the F-150 Lightning comes in, I take it and drive it for a while and maybe I like it or maybe I don’t and then I sell it," Ross said. "I would not cancel my Silverado EV reservation. I would assess it when my number comes up.”
EV truck buyers are a different type
GM CEO Mary Barra unveiled the 2024 Silverado EV in January during her keynote address to the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. It will roll out in the second quarter of next year.
Ford definitely has, "an advantage being out there first," said Michelle Krebs, executive analyst at Cox Automotive. "GM will tell you it has an advantage by being built on a dedicated platform. But I don’t know if consumers care about that."
Cox's data shows the buyer for an electric pickup truck is a different buyer than that of a current gasoline-powered pickup, Krebs said.
"They tend to be younger, not in a truck right now, but rather driving SUVs and sedans," Krebs said. "They are interested in an electric vehicle because it’s a truck and they’re interested in a truck because it’s electrified."
Chris Yamamoto, of suburban Chicago, fits most of that buyer profile. He is 31 and the Lightning will be his first EV.
He ordered a Lightning in early July 2021. Yamamoto, an engineer for a defense company who once worked at GM, said he expects to get the carbonized gray Lightning he ordered this summer. He currently drives a 2013 Chevrolet Silverado and a 2015 Honda Accord sedan.
“It was mostly availability," he said of his decision to buy a Ford. "I think it’s a good time to switch over to an EV,” adding that he would prefer to not wait a year or longer.
“When I placed the order, it was for the cool technology aspect,” Yamamoto said of the Lightning. “But with gas prices, that’s a key driver at the moment.”
As far as the Silverado being on the Ultium battery cell platform, which GM developed to underpin and propel all its new EVs, Yamamoto agreed with Krebs: He doesn't care.
"General Motors is going after a pure EV platform and Ford is going to a retro-fit. They build their platform around a truck to get everything out fast. From a consumer level, not thinking technically, I don’t see the difference," Yamamoto said.
Also appealing to Yamamoto is that the Lightning "looks like a normal truck."
Yamamoto said he does not want to stick out and the Lightning is "not like the Tesla Cybertruck or the Rivian, or even the Silverado EV to some degree. I don’t like that futuristic look.”
Ford's order bank
Krebs said it's on the automakers to find a way to nab that new customer first.
"Will they go with Tesla or with a traditional automaker? We don’t know that," Krebs said. "Ford has said it’s limiting its production to 200,000, so will there be any for anyone to go out and see? They got a lot of the early buzz on the trucks. But Ford has to deliver."
Late last year, Ford stopped taking reservations for the Lightning because of the huge demand. It capped the reservation bank at 200,000. CEO Jim Farley said Ford would initially build 70,000 to 80,000 Lightnings and "try to double that."
Ford took official orders in January and delivery is expected to start in mid-2022.
Don't stand out – Teslas get vandalized
One driver waiting on his Lightning is Robb Merritt, 43, who chose the Lightning over the Silverado due to timing and looks.
“My main issue with waiting for the Silverado, it’s the same reason I didn’t like the Cybertruck,” said Merritt, who currently owns a 2014 F-150 pickup and prefers the look of the Lightning over other EV trucks. “On paper, their range, speed and numbers look great, but my biggest issue with them is, here in the Midwest, people are still reluctant to adopt EVs.”
Merritt lives in Illinois, just northeast of the St. Louis border, and said he has seen people in his area vandalize Tesla EVs, because they stand out, making them easier targets.
“The Ford looks like a regular truck,” Merritt said.
Merritt said he has wanted to switch to an EV to help the environment and, now with rising gasoline prices, to save money. In February 2021, he put down $2,500 for a Tesla Model 3 sedan but he withdrew the deposit after he saw the Lightning in June – and got on Ford’s list.
GM: Not just retrofitting
Barra told reporters during GM's first-quarter earnings release in April that the company has 140,000 reservations and growing for the Silverado EV, which goes into production next year at Orion Assembly plant in Orion Township and Factory Zero, which straddles Detroit and Hamtramck.
GM is not releasing any updated reservation totals. But Barra has said she will not stop taking orders.
"We’re going to take as many orders as we can," Barra said. "We’re adding a second plant (Orion) so we have a lot of opportunities to meet demand.”
GM's Silverado EV will sit on its Ultium platform. GM is also making the battery cells and battery packs for its EVs.
"Our goal is to drive toward mass adoption of EVs – not simply to retrofit an existing truck with a battery," said Chevrolet spokeswoman Megan Soule. "We’ve been disciplined in our rollout of EVs on the Ultium platform, and this timing for Silverado has been a part of our plan for some time."
But sometimes timing can set a certain image in the market, said Erik Gordon, a business professor at the University of Michigan.
"With the occasional exception of the Corvette, I don’t hear anybody talking about anything coming out of GM," Gordon said. "In the group, I play cards with, I don’t hear anybody talking about getting their hands on an electric Silverado, but I do hear that about the electric F-150.”
There are those who say ultimately it won't matter which came out first as EV adoption continues to escalate. These are different kinds of truck wars than those of internal combustion vehicles.
"Long term, Ford launching a battery-electric pickup before GM doesn’t matter," said David Whiston, Morningstar auto analyst. "Technically, GM was first with the Hummer, though Hummer and Lightning are targeting very different price points. Ford will get some good publicity now but there seems to be enough demand for both firms’ trucks to do well."
First Silverados will be fleet trucks
Chevy will first build Silverado EV as work trucks for fleet-only customers, due to market in spring 2023, Soule said. GM has not released pricing for those initial work trucks, but it will eventually offer a $39,900 base model.
After those, the lavishly equipped $105,000 RST First Edition Silverado EV will come in fall 2023, Soule said. It was spoken for in 12 minutes when Chevrolet began taking reservations at $100 apiece. Customers can reserve other models at Chevy’s website.
Damon lives in Harrisville, Michigan, on the shores of Lake Huron. He is on the reservation list for a Silverado EV and will use it to carry his canoe or do other odd jobs with it in the rural area.
“I don’t want the $100,000 one, I want the $40,000 one," said Damon, who will wait for the retail work truck to come out, which promises to have 400 miles of range on a full charge, perfect for the rural area he lives in.