Lordstown Motors serves as a fresh start in a couple of respects. On one hand, it gives a new life to the 53-year-old former GM plant in Lordstown, Ohio. On the other hand, it gives Steve Burns, formerly the CEO of Workhorse, a more solid footing and second wind for bringing a fleet-focused electric pickup—called the Lordstown Endurance—to market.
Burns, who is scheduled to introduce a production-bound prototype version of the Endurance on Thurday, is no newbie to the segment. He has an established track record delivering special-purpose fleet vehicles with Workhorse, which was once owned by Navistar and then AMP Electric Vehicles. UPS found that Workhorse plug-in hybrid delivery trucks cost no more to run than regular delivery vans, including higher upfront costs, and Workhorse remains a finalist in the long-delayed bidding to provide the U.S. Postal Service next-generation delivery vehicle.
In recent years Workhorse presented designs for its own electrified vehicles, the N-Gen commercial parcel-delivery vehicle—complete with a deployable drone on top—and the W-15 extended-range work-oriented fleet pickup, but a lack of funds prevented both of those vehicles from production.
Workhorse W-15 extended-range electric pickup truck
Lordstown Motors Corporation has had a remarkably short existence, with financing for the plant purchase that started to take form in July 2019 (kicking a 10% stake to Workhorse) and a sale that wasn’t completed until November 2019. With the announcement, work would end on the W-15 and around 6,000 orders might potentially be transferred to the Lordstown for the Endurance.
Vehicle development typically takes three to four years, yet Lordstown insists that it plans to deliver the Endurance pickup early in 2021—likely less than two years since the team initially started work on the truck.
Lordstown Motors CEO Steve Burns in assembly plant
How is this all possible? Green Car Reports asked Burns. (Responses were edited for clarity.)
Q: How much was actually carried over from the W-15?
A: Very little, just because from the time the W-15 was built—you know, that three or four years ago—everything has kind of changed. W-15 was a hybrid. This is a full electric. The W-15 did not use hub motors and this one uses hub motors. So with those kinds of big changes, just to create the whole chassis and suspension and brake system, the battery pack, everything will be completely different. So, unfortunately, we weren't able to carry much over.
Q: Does the Endurance share anything with any of the other Big Three trucks or any other trucks on the market that are coming soon?
A: We do have a parts agreement with an OEM, for some of the parts. Most of these are regulated parts, things like airbags, seatbelts that are really tough. They just take a long time if you’re starting from scratch.
Q: The body structure and frame are both distinct—designed internally?
Q: Was the frame even carried over from W-15? When did development work start, and at what point do you say this is ready for production?
A: Work started almost immediately after forming Lordstown Motors. We had over 100 engineers working on it across three different countries so we could run 24/7. This is the first production hub-motor vehicle ever built that we’re aware of. Plus it’s a pickup truck, so it’s got to be very rough and tough. There’s the suspension and the chassis, and a very large battery in between the rails down the floor. And that requires its own set of, you know, nuances, if you will. So we couldn't kind of borrow anything from existing vehicles, ICE vehicles, or the W-15. That's where we put the bulk of our funds or development goals.
In software we’ve achieved five-star crash-test simulations, even on the side pole impact test, which is really tough for a battery vehicle. Then we are showing a prototype this week. We’ll do betas at the end of this year, and then we’ll start crashing those betas in real life and simultaneously while we’re doing all that we are preparing the factory. To be able to build them once we get the green light from the crash test. So both those initiatives are happening in parallel—getting the factory ready, getting all the tooling ready, and then getting the vehicle certified.
Q: Will the Endurance have the feature set you might find in a personal truck—and where do you see the fleet vs. personal split over time?
A: We’re building for fleets because it really is a nice way to start off where you know you’re going to have success because you define the duty cycle of the vehicle for its fleet customer, and they know their duty cycles very well.
If the two don’t match, they don’t buy it. But if they do buy it that means you got a good match and you’re going to have a happy customer.
Consumers are a little more fickle, I guess is the word. We want to have a nationwide fleet before we do consumers, but we might have to accelerate a little bit. Just there’s a lot of consumer interest in the vehicle because it’s a good-looking kind of simplistic vehicle. But right now it is just heads-down on fleets. We have pre-sold enough for our first year of production. So you know we are very fleet-oriented.
The truck doesn’t have a leather-seat option or anything like that right now. If we moved to consumer we’d have to come out with more trim packages and everything. I’m not ruling that out down the road but initially our job is to make fleets happy.
Q: We talked about this back when you were at Workhorse, about how towing isn’t really that important for fleet trucks. You’ve teased off-road potential, but how important will towing and payload be for the Endurance?
A: There’s some stat that of all pickup trucks across the board, 90-something percent of the time they don’t have anything in it and they’re not towing anything. With that said, we wanted to make sure it can tow and haul roughly what an internal combustion engine vehicle can do. So we wanted to make sure there was no compromises. We're trying to make it obviously more economical than a gas vehicle getting 75 miles per gallon. But we also want it to be the safest pickup truck you can buy as far as crash-testing and handling and of course, zero emissions.
We wanted to do all that without a “but.” We don't want to have to: “Well it does all that but you can’t put this much in the bed," or something like that. So we’ve made it very competitive that way.
Q: Will this truck also be using cylindrical batteries?
A: Yes, it’s cylindrical—2170.
Q: No announcement for the supplier yet, right?
A: Not yet. We want to make that a standalone announcement.
Q: Everyone’s always focused on what the range rating ends up being. Roughly speaking, what are your range targets?
A: The range is 250 miles. That’s empty of course. So you know it will go down if you’re towing a great deal or something.
Q: Four or five years in the future in Lordstown Motors existence, what do you hope to be producing at that time if all goes well with ramp-up? And where can you see your market expanding, or what future vehicles would you like to be making with these underpinnings?
A: Five years is a long time in this business. I think we should have our Flux Capacitor done by then.
You know, the one thing about this hub motor design, the body on rails—a truck or some rugged SUV—we really feel that’s our strong suit. All the vehicles we make even four or five years out will be that, but we definitely want to come out with different configurations of the Endurance—you know, different cab and bed lengths.
We also want to come out with a mid-size pickup truck like the Ranger. And we want to come out with a kind of industrial-strength or fleet-use SUV.
The hub motors really lend itself to a quick format change—you know, change the rails, and pop these things on where you want, basically. We think with Endurance we’ve taken a lot of care to get it to market and there’s still a lot to be done. But the subsequent vehicle should come very quickly.