Rivian Automotive beat the Detroit 3 to market with an electric pickup last year, challenging traditional truck orthodoxy with a playful design for high-end buyers.
Tesla promises to break the mold entirely this year with its wildly styled Cybertruck. And Lordstown Motors faces its own challenges making an electric work truck in a segment where loyalty reigns supreme.
Each of the three offers a clean-sheet approach to what a pickup can be in the electric era. For Rivian and Tesla, that's something environmentally friendly, hip and cool, and which outperforms legacy rivals on metrics such as efficiency and range. Lords-town, meanwhile, is trying to undercut the Detroit 3 pickup makers on value.
But the tug of war between startups and legacy automakers is not a zero-sum game. Consumers who would never consider a boxy, gas-guzzling truck are expanding the market by moving from car-based electric vehicles to Rivian R1Ts. And loyal Tesla buyers can move into a new segment with the Cybertruck.
"There are people who desire the practicality of a pickup truck but aren't keen on the idea of poor fuel economy and emissions," said Robby DeGraff, industry analyst at AutoPacific. "A pickup truck that's entirely electric is a lot more enticing to consider."
For Rivian and Tesla, peeling off traditional pickup owners won't be easy. But they can make an intriguing pitch to consumers, as the R1T and Cybertruck both promise sports car performance and top-level tech.
"There are always going to be buyers looking for something different, and shoppers looking at Rivian or Tesla pickups aren't necessarily looking to buy a Chevrolet Silverado or a Ram," said Sam Fiorani, vice president of global vehicle forecasting for AutoForecast Solutions.
Where the challengers may have trouble is price. Rivian already has raised prices for the R1T and could do so again as it burns through its cash pile. Tesla appears to have abandoned its original $40,000 starting sticker for the Cybertruck. And the Lordstown Endurance is no bargain, even for its fleet-only buyers.