Out of Bounds

EVs and the Outdoors

Outdoors folks with our unusual travel patterns — long distances in remote places — will require further development in battery technology before an EV will make sense

By Rob Breeding

The gloss is off the mad rush to electrify the motor fleet of America. Two years ago it seemed the death of the ICE — internal combustion engine — seemed imminent. Ford had released an electrified F-150, the Lightning, and orders for the latest thing were piled up for nearly two years.

And then it all came crashing to a halt, sort of.

Year-over-year sales of EVs are up again in 2023, so it’s not as if buyers have lost all interest. But the rate of adoption has slowed and EVs are starting to stack up on dealer lots. There’s an average 80-day supply of new vehicles across the country, or 2.61 million vehicles. That’s up 50% from a year ago, according to an article from Cox Automotive.

I’m an EV fan, in concept at least as I still drive an ICE pickup. I like the technology and I think it offers a lot of promise, but Ford and GM responded as if EVs were ready for prime time. They’re not.

EVs are still a second vehicle choice for most of us, especially in rural areas where the distance between gas stations is enough to induce range anxiety even for drivers of  ICE vehicles. 

Sparse charging stations and the limited range of most electric vehicles mean it’s still a tough choice to drive an EV. That Lightning is a nice ride, with power ICE vehicles can’t match. But even with the extended-range battery you only get 320 miles under ideal conditions. That’s probably enough if you’re headed from Kalispell to Washington-Grizzly Stadium for a Saturday afternoon kickoff, but if Columbia Falls is your team and the Wildcats are traveling to Hamilton for a playoff game, you’re going to need a charge. There are many stations in Missoula, but you will need to plan around your charging session.

This is why EV trucks remain impractical for a lot of outdoor folks. 

More than once I rose early and drove from Kalispell to the Sweet Grass Hills for a day’s shirttail hunting, all while making it back for supper. 

OK, a late supper. 

Same for Duck Lake. You’ll need something that runs on gasoline for those trips. And don’t bother if you do a lot of towing. Unless you’re in Kalispell and limit your towing to the Somers boat ramp, you’re going to need dead-dinosaur power.

Weirdly, though maybe not so much considering the weird times we live in, a tribal mentality has developed around EVs. We’ve become a nation of Bernie-Bro, Tesla fanatics, or rolling-coal, dually drivers. Heaven forbid we find ourselves sitting across the Easter dinner table from one another. 

For now, EVs are a great option if you have a commute of 50 miles or less and a home charger. You’ll be rewarded with superior drivability, reduced long-term carbon impact and will earn back your higher purchase price with lower fuel costs and cheaper maintenance in five or six years.

Outdoors folks with our unusual travel patterns — long distances in remote places — will require further development in battery technology before an EV will make sense as a first-choice hunting rig. That’s the case even for the most advanced and newest EV truck on the market, the Tesla Cybertruck. There’s plenty of innovation in Elon Musk’s four-wheeled flagship; technology that may hasten a conversion to electric vehicles. But for now, it offers no significant benefit over conventionally styled trucks such as the Lightning or Rivian.

The Cybertruck’s experimental tech — stainless bodywork that serves a structural role or its 48-volt electric architecture — may be the future. Where I think Musk misfired was the Cybertruck’s goofy looks.

Four-door pickups are the family sedan of the new millennium. There’s a reason Ford F-Series has been America’s favorite vehicle for the last 42 years.

Tesla may have reinvented the part of the pickup truck we like best — its practical layout and design.