Electric SUVs and trucks: The next big thing?

Electric cars have made impressive progress over the last five years. They still represent a tiny drop of the new-car market, but sales have steadily increased as models and charging infrastructure have proliferated. But electrification is still largely absent from some very important market segments.

Pickup trucks are the bestselling individual models in the U.S., and last year Americans bought more SUVs than cars. Trucks and SUVs are traditionally viewed as the opposite of electric cars, as gas guzzling indulgences. But for electrification to truly take it hold, major carmakers will probably have to field plug-in trucks. Some are already laying the groundwork, notes a recent Quartz report.

Automakers will eventually have to improve the efficiency of their trucks and SUVs to meet Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards, the report argues. The rules require companies to achieve a fleet average of 54.5 mpg by 2025, which is equivalent to about 40 mpg in the real world. They also weigh the fuel economy of trucks less heavily than that of cars, so the gains trucks need to make are actually smaller. Not so small as to be insignificant, though, the report argues.

It’s true that carmakers are already trying to improve the efficiency of trucks and SUVs. Ford switched its bestselling F-150 pickup to an aluminum body, and is pushing downsized turbocharged V6 EcoBoost engines as an alternative to traditional, naturally-aspirated V8s. Ford is also expected to launch a hybrid F-150 in the near future. Meanwhile, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles has been selling its Ram 1500 EcoDiesel for about two years.

On the SUV side, there are a slew of luxury plug-in hybrids either in showrooms now, or on the way, including the Volvo XC90 T8 “Twin Engine,” BMW X5 xDrive40e, Mercedes-Benz GLE550e, Porsche Cayenne S E-Hybrid, and Audi Q7 e-tron. Mitsubishi will also bring the lower-priced Outlander Plug-In Hybrid to the U.S. this year after several years of delays.

Fuel-economy standards are one reason for all of the new models, but the caché of green technology may also be influencing carmakers. In 2018, Audi will launch an all-electric SUV that seems to have the Tesla Model X in its crosshairs. Tesla’s success has convinced many luxury carmakers that green models can be image makers. Incidentally, Tesla CEO Elon Musk has discussed an electric pickup truck, although this seems more intended to bait naysayers in Texas, where Tesla is fighting to sell its cars.

One of the reasons why cars are so indispensable is that they come in all shapes and sizes. From the Smart Fortwo to the Chevy Suburban, they fit a variety of wants and needs. If electric cars are ever going to replace internal combustion, they’ll have to take on all of those forms too.