Thanks to first-drive opportunities, details about current 1/2-ton EV pickups’ capability are actually becoming more clear now. However, when it comes to their heavy-duty siblings, the space is filled with unanswered questions. The reason for this is that truck manufacturers haven’t turned their focus to heavy-duty EV-pickups yet—not earnestly enough for them to start talking about them, at least—so we’ve been paying close attention to Magna International’s efforts to electrify this segment, and the inroads its engineers have made since March 2021.
For decades, 2,500 (3/4-ton) and 3,500 (1-ton) pickups have been the go-to vehicles for those who require the chassis and drivetrain performance necessary to efficiently move heavy payloads. In recent years, diesel-powered Ford, GM, and Ram rigs have led the way in this area, thanks to powerplants producing huge torque, with 910 lb-ft from the 6.6-liter Duramax V-8, and over 1,000 from each of the the two 6.7-liter offerings—1,050 lb-ft from the Power Stroke V-8, and 1,075 lb-ft from the Cummins I-6.
With the ability to generate incredible amounts of torque being an electric motor’s greatest attribute, conventional logic leads us to believe the bigger pickups certainly can benefit from EV technology (especially trucks that are used for work more than play), provided it is integrated into the rigs in a way that doesn’t compromise their chassis and suspension configuration or function.
Magna’s eBeam axle and EtelligentForce all-wheel-drive electric powertrain are new technologies that currently lead the charge (pun intended) to take electric-motor propulsion into the truck space. With GMC’s 2020 Sierra 2500HD AT4 as the platform (independently—the research is not commissioned by nor done in association with General Motors), the company’s engineers used EtelligentForce to successfully create breakthrough 3/4-ton EV pickups that outshine their gas-powered counterparts on several performance and efficiency testing bases.
While our first-drive experience in February 2022 affirmed Magna’s brilliant execution of incorporating its hardware on the Sierra, the road test, which was performed in cold temperatures and on snow, also increased our curiosity about the drivetrain’s ability to support towing, a huge concern for most heavy-duty-truck users.
Watch: Magna’s Specially Prepped, EV-Powered GMC Sierra On Track
Magna recently invited Truck and Off-Road Group Senior Content Producer KJ Jones to drive the test Sierras on pavement, at M1 Concourse, a 1.5-mile race course in Pontiac, Michigan. Blasting around the track in the 8,000-pound pickup further showcased EtelligentForce’s ability to get the mass moving very quickly (0-60 elapsed time is listed as 4.6 seconds), and the truck’s enhanced handling and traction qualities (in all-wheel drive) when cornering at speed.
For example, in a tight hairpin turn that we’re sure would send a two-wheel-drive rig on the same LT275/70R18 Goodyear Wrangler Adventure all-terrain tires into a tailspin, the Magna-modified Sierra could be driven through the corner under significant throttle without a hint of the truck losing contact with the pavement at any time.
Watch: Magna’s Specially Prepped, EV-Powered GMC Sierra Tows 10,000 Pounds
While M1 Concourse is void of the steep grades and other variables typically present when a pickup truck’s towing chops are being evaluated, the facility served as a viable location for driving (in some instances, aggressively) Magna International’s prototype heavy-duty EV rig with a loaded trailer attached.
The trailer/skid steer combination measured 10,000 pounds, and was easily pulled around the course by the 2020 GMC Sierra 2500HD AT4—in battery-electric silence—with very little throttle input required to move along at a smooth 55 mph in areas that supported the speed.
Our test also allowed us to experience “Tow” mode, a recent regenerative-braking update highlighted by optimized settings that recoup energy back into the batteries without any friction loss. The enhancement allows drivers to safely bring the truck/trailer setup to a full stop simply by taking their foot off the throttle, never applying the Sierra’s service brakes. Magna engineers say EtelligentForce’s regenerative braking can stop a 14,500-pound towing setup in the same fashion on a 7-percent downhill grade.
As we noted earlier in this report, a heavy-duty truck’s ability to tow and/or haul significant amounts of weight is a major criterion when a rig is being evaluated. In the EV space, motor and battery life, and their impact on travel range, are top concerns, and interest is piqued even more when payload is thrown into the mix.
With eBeam and EtelligentForce, Magna engineers have proved that EV technology can be effectively applied to 3/4- and 1-ton pickups,
without compromising their performance and towing capability. Our test drive with 10,000 pounds wasn’t scientifically conducted, but the opportunity allowed us to confirm that the powertrain performs very well when it comes to moving weight, and also stopping it.
There was no blistering ambient temperature, nor any steep grades for testing sustained-speed up or down hills during the experience, and our collective three miles of driving was not enough to analyze overall range and all-important power consumption while towing. We’re sure that data is coming in due time. For now, our friend Chad Kirchner, EV Pulse Editor-in-Chief, nailed it when he said, “these [heavy-duty EVs] are years away from being mainstream, but it’s also interesting to see who is getting in early.” Being in front certainly appears to be Magna’s play. Their system works—very well—and their efforts to further refine it are nonstop.
Although the 2020 GMC Sierra 2500HD AT4 electric research rigs are not equipped with the company’s steel battery enclosure, the product was on display, along with several other new technologies, as part of Magna Tech Week at M1 Concourse. CEO Swami Kotagiri says that from a materials and production standpoint, the battery enclosures are cost-effective and feature improved tightness against leaking over competitors’ designs.
Currently, GM’s all-new 2022 Hummer EV is the only production rig equipped with the steel enclosure. Ford’s 2022 F-150 Lightnings are built with an equally new, lightweight aluminum version of the battery enclosure. The lighter material gives Magna the ability to make different enclosures for dissimilar vehicles on a production line.
Looks good! More details?