Nissan Motor Co is looking to breathe new life into its full-size pickup electric trucks by supplying it with electricity with the help of a Detroit startup, according to people familiar with the matter.
The Japanese automaker is considering purchasing a battery-powered powertrain from Hercules Electric Vehicles for its Titan pickup and sharing parts of the startup’s truck in a potential strategic partnership, people who declined to be named said.
People said talks are ongoing and could collapse before the deal is signed. The two planned cars will join a crowded field of new electric trucks chasing an untested market for battery-powered pickups.
In addition to pickups from rival startups like the Amazon.com backed Rivian Automotive Inc., the most popular automakers are also rolling out all-electric trucks, including GMC Hummer from General Motors and another unnamed pick-up, as well as an electric version of Ford Motor Company F-150. Tesla Inc, the market leader in electric vehicles, plans to launch the Cybertruck late next year.
Nissan has struggled to hold ground since its former boss Carlos Ghosn was arrested in November 2018, and already slow sales in the United States have been hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic. The brand did not succeed in the competitive full-size truck market in the United States, and demand for the Titan fell 38% last year. Pickup truck sales are down another 24% to 19,403 this year through September, compared to 589,034 deliveries from the industry-leading Ford F-Series, which is down 11% in the period.
The switch to electrification could provide Nissan with a way to reposition the Titan as a greener truck that can go from bumper to bumper using small battery-powered e-trucks from competitors.
The partnership between Nissan and Hercules will reflect similar deals Ford and GM have struck with EV startups. Ford spent $ 500 million in Rivian last year to gain access to an electric “skateboard” the size of a truck. GM has an initial deal for a $ 2 billion stake in Nikola Corp., although this partnership may be ineffective after founder Nikola steps down amid regulation. In that deal, GM will offset its development costs by providing electric propulsion technology to Badger Pickup by Nikola.
Hercules was founded in Detroit in 2018 by James Breyer, an automotive engineer who worked for General Motors, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV, Magna International Inc. LG Chem Ltd, and Julie Tolle, a former engineer at Eaton Corp. The company plans to produce its first car, a luxury electric truck called the Hercules Alpha with inadequate sizes starting in mid-2022.
Not all carmakers are convinced that there is enough demand to jump into the emerging electric truck market. Fiat Chrysler CEO Mike Manley hinted that his company might make a small, battery-powered Ram truck, but said earlier this year that he’s watching the market first to see if it sells.