Lordstown Motors sure did capture the imagination, for a while. Before Ford, GM, or Ram had that gleam in their eyes for an electric pickup, there was Lordstown and its all-electric Endurance. The Endurance started as Workhorse Group’s W-15 plug-in hybrid concept pickup, with our first glimpse of it back in 2017 at the ACT Expo in Long Beach.
Sure, Rivian was incubating in parallel and made a big splash at the 2018 L.A. Auto Show, but Rivian was a lifestyle play. Lordstown was taking Endurance straight to the commercial market — fleets!
Production for the W-15 was slated for late 2018. "We have enough pre-orders to justify production," said Workhorse’s CEO Steve Burns at the time. Burns would subsequently leave Workhorse to start Lordstown and pay Workhorse for the rights to the truck’s design.
By 2020, the W-15 had evolved into the all-electric Endurance with a 250-mile range target and four in-wheel hub motors, which promised efficient offroad traction and an unheard-of turning radius. The crew-cab Endurance would pull up to 8,000 lbs. and run $50k+.
In the product vacuum of the time, the specs seemed reasonable and marketable, though electric pickups were essentially still just a theory.
Rooting for a Theory, Not Reality
We followed Lordstown, the “savior” of a Midwestern factory town, through the heady days of preproduction, when you could touch — but not yet drive — the Alpha Endurance, and when those 100,000 orders (non-binding, BTW) were flowing in.
At the launch event in 2020, Endurance rolled up on stage and Mike Pence exited to deliver a campaign speech on the return of American manufacturing. The later photo op with President Trump in front of the White House didn’t hurt either.
We witnessed with trepidation when Lordstown went public through a SPAC merger, understanding the spotlight those blank-check deals bring. Indeed, short-selling research firm Hindenburg Research went after Lordstown, and an SEC investigation followed. Burns resigned as a result.
We railed at the short-seller report and Hindenburg’s ulterior motives. But we were heartened to see Lordstown set about righting the ship when it inked the production deal with Foxconn and reorganized its C-suite with industry veterans.
We were rooting for Endurance to perform well in the 2021 San Felipe 250 in Baja California, but the team called it quits after the first 40-mile leg in that unforgiving desert terrain. “The lessons learned in the desert will become part of the Endurance’s DNA and help us to meet the rigorous performance expectations and requirements of our customers,” the company wrote.
The realities of a pandemic and supply-chain woes notwithstanding, production was always tantalizingly 18 months away, like the carrot that always hangs two feet from that poor donkey. Then the competition ramped up, with electric pickup specs and performance that belittled Endurance.
We applauded when Endurance actually got to production — two units, actually — though it came with a caveat: “subject to raising sufficient capital,” Lordstown wrote in a statement. Subsequent capital raises never came to pass.
And so we were dismayed (but not surprised) when Lordstown declared bankruptcy in June.
To be fair, Lordstown is looking for a buyer as it is navigating bankruptcy and a lawsuit against Foxconn. Is it too early to prep Lordstown’s postmortem? The EPA finally rated Endurance’s range at 167 miles. Isn’t that a de-facto postmortem for fleets?
At some point, “rooting for” doesn’t cut it. That time is now.
7 Lessons Learned
The lessons learned are more in the context of the larger independent electric OEM market, with more than 30 new players vying for commercial buyers:
- It’s easy to rally behind an Alpha vehicle in front of you while ignoring an upstart automaker’s cash burn and production problems behind the scenes.
- Capital raises are trumpeted in a vacuum of the real costs to produce vehicles at scale.
- Because EVs have fewer moving parts, we allowed ourselves to believe that scaling production is easier than the days of the traditional internal combustion engine. This is not proving to be true.
- Silicon Valley’s “fake it ‘til you make it” attitude seeped into the staid conscience of automotive. There’s been a retrenchment of traditional values, but that attitude still exists.
- We’ve seen plenty of partnership announcements with new OEMs and the universe of upfitters, fleet management companies, and service providers. They convey the imprimatur of production readiness, but those contracts, opaque to us, can be unraveled with little consequence to either party.
- Upstart automakers will spend money on trade shows and events and obfuscate the truth mere days before some really bad news will drop, or even right before the company’s demise.
- Lordstown’s bankruptcy makes life harder on the upstarts still standing — but this hot glare of reality is exactly what the market needs.
12 Questions for Independent OEMs
Does Lordstown’s eminent demise mean fleets should avoid doing business with any of the new OEMs and their EVs? This blog will only answer with the need to engage in serious due diligence that was not required of mainstream manufacturers.
Many questions need answers, and they go beyond the vehicles themselves. Some will be answered by the OEMs and others through independent research. Here are 12 to start:
- Which market segments are the OEM going after, and who are its competitors?
- Is the size and demand of the overall market big enough to serve present players?
- Who has funded the company to date? Does the company intend to go public?
- How much money is still needed to begin production, and will those funds carry inevitable delays and years of negligible sales?
- Who populates the C-suite, and what does personnel turnover look like?
- Has the OEM contracted with a production partner yet?
- Does the stated timeline for production align with a reasonable manufacturing ramp-up?
- Is the OEM producing other products such as chassis or battery packs?
- Is battery production in-house or outsourced? What percentage of vehicle parts are in-house vs. outsourced?
- Has the OEM set up a sales and service network?
- What is the OEM’s software strategy?
- How does the vehicle drive? (Can you drive it?) Does the exterior and interior measure up to the traditional competition?
Greater product choice is a benefit to any market, but fleet buyers have their work cut out for them when choosing horses in this new world.
This expanding competition is pushing new innovations faster than ever before. Yet further consolidation and attrition are inevitable — buyer beware.