LAS VEGAS — CES is not an official auto show.
Still, the annual technology showcase "has become such an important show for the automotive industry" that it makes sense for startups such as electric truck manufacturer Lordstown Motors to pitch their products here, said Edward Hightower, the company's CEO.
Lordstown brought its debut truck, the fleet-focused Endurance pickup, to CES this week.
Harbinger Motors, another commercial electric vehicle startup, came to CES with a vehicle prototype based on an electric chassis that underpins medium-duty vehicles such as delivery vans and RVs.
Commercial fleet vehicles provide a significant opportunity to convert internal combustion miles to electric miles because they spend so much time on the road compared with passenger cars, Hightower said.
Commercial vehicles also typically drive repeatable routes that can be tailored to an electric vehicle's range, and they often return to a central depot where they can be easily charged.
"It's an important demonstration of our mission, this drive towards electrification," Hightower said.
Lordstown recently started deliveries of the Endurance and was named a finalist in the truck category for the 2023 North American Car, Truck and Utility Vehicle of the Year awards. The company has said its initial production batch includes 500 trucks, though it did not disclose the number of its first deliveries or name its first customers.
Electrification has been a key theme this week at CES. A joint venture by Sony and Honda unveiled its Afeela EV prototype. Ram will unveil its first electric pickup. Elsewhere, companies are displaying new EV charging technology.
Lordstown and Harbinger are "two disrupters, and the commercial electric space is kind of ripe with disrupters right now, but their approaches are a little bit different than others — especially Lordstown," said James Martin, associate director, consulting services, S&P Global Mobility.
Martin said Lordstown's strategy of offering only a commercial pickup is "a completely different approach." Competitors are targeting both the consumer and commercial markets.
"We have to say that they do have some edge of success there because they've got a vehicle on the road," he said. "CES probably is a really good place for them to tell their story."
Martin said it will be interesting to see how the electric commercial vehicle segment evolves over the next three to four years.
John Harris, CEO of Harbinger Motors, said CES is a chance to connect with customers and suppliers and allow them to drive its vehicle. This is the first drive event for Harbinger, Harris said.
"Getting something like that in a place that's convenient for a lot of people is why CES is important for us," he said.
Harbinger has focused initially on its stripped chassis, which could start production in 2024. It plans to follow with a cab chassis, possibly in late 2025, Harris said. The company will focus its efforts on its electric chassis platform, while specialized upfitters build the vehicle body.
Harris said Harbinger has a "couple dozen" commercial customers, including upfitters, fleets and distributors. The company counts customers as those that have put down a nonrefundable deposit.
Harbinger has focused on medium-duty vehicles because they log a lot of miles, but the segment has been slower to transition to EVs, Harris said.
"These are vehicles that are just getting run to death with the amount of constant usage that they have, so this is really just the worst segment to have left behind on electrification," he said.
Laura Harris contributed to this report.