The 2021 Pickman EV Trucks Show Tiny Can Be Tough
By: Joseph Chu (Jalopnik)
It's a real truck and not a golf cart. But the Pickman truck is specifically designed to compete in the marketspace dominated by modified golf carts. And these purpose built micro-EVs will naturally offer better performance than modified vehicles not designed for utility.
Micro-EVs are presently being constrained by need to avoid regulatory requirements that add costs and limits performance. Those regulatory requirements serve as an impediment for adopting these lower cost EVs. IMO there is a need to reevaluate the regulatory landscape before we become trapped into the same problems that has plagued ICE vehicles for decades. The ICE road boat model for auto design abandoned fuel efficiency to favor competition on features that had nothing to do with transportation. It's not going to be practical to add features to EVs by installing bigger batteries. The regulatory environment needs to be shifted toward energy efficiency rather than nice-to-have features.
We need to be encouraging both the manufacture and adoption of micro-EVs. An electric Hummer seems to be a stupid way to promoted adoption and use of EVs. Just because it can be done doesn't mean it's a smart way to promote EVs.
(NOTE: The seeded article has several photos showing details and a video. Check it out.)
I'd like to think that I've established myself as someone who is willing to give unusual vehicles a fair shake. I don't want to judge any vehicle because it doesn't fit with our expected ideas of what a given kind of machine should be. Changli ownership has really driven this point home: small, weird, and cheap can still add up to useful. This is also the case with the Pickman line of all-electric pickup trucks. Sure, these EVs are tiny, cartoonish-looking things, but, given their intended jobs, I think they could prove to be really fantastic little trucks.
After seeing these online for a while, the Pickman people finally reached out to announce a press trip in Zion National Park to drive these trucks. I leapt at the chance. I do have to admit, though, it wasn't like a normal press trip.
(Full Disclosure: I'll just come out and say that it doesn't seem like Pickman really knew how to plan a journalist press trip, but I can't say I'm too upset. Pickman is really just one guy, Joseph Chu. (Well, and there's a factory in China.) Pickman paid for the flight, and I slept on a couch in the bottom floor of a cabin they rented for the video crew, which was shooting promo videos for Pickman.
Also, I ate some spaghetti one of the video guys made. That was about it. But that's fine! I got to drive around the trucks, and that's the whole point anyway. Oh, and I was the only journalist to actually show up.)
What is Pickman?
Yeah, good question, header, what is Pickman, anyway? As I mentioned, the company is run by Joseph Chu, who has an agreement with Kaiyun Motors in China to sell their EV pickup trucks in America under the Pickman name.
If you'd like to see a little overview of the trucks and meet Joseph himself, boy are you in luck, because I happen to have a video of that very thing right here:
The Pickman trucks for America have some pretty significant upgrades compared to their Chinese-market cousins, including power steering, power brake assists, three-point seat belts, an improved HVAC system with air-conditioning, improved NVH, and some custom branding.
There's three main models that Pickman sells: a single-cab workhorse pickup (called the Classic) that includes a bed where all three sides can fold down to allow loading from any angle. Also the sides and tailgate can be removed to use the truck like a flatbed.
Then there's their Passenger model, which is a four-door crew cab pickup, with a short bed that includes a midgate pass-through into the cab, which folds down the rear seat and lengthens the bed. You know, like a Chevy Avalanche or a Subaru Baja.
Then there's the XR or 4XR, which is a single-cab with a lift kit, bigger brush guards, a light bar/roof rack and the option for dual motors and a lithium battery pack. It's being targeted as the fun one, what you might get instead of a more expensive side-by-side.
Who Or What Are They For?
Since I already used the word "targeted," I guess I may as well explain who Pickman wants to buy these trucks. Pickmans aren't going to be competing with full-sized trucks like Ford F-150s, even electric ones like the Lightning; Pickmans are more low-speed utility and work vehicles. They're the sorts of things you'd find on college campuses or in industrial parks or national parks or on the grounds of any number of facilities, from waste treatment plants to lemur rescue centers to farms to power plants or communes or even the expansive grounds of a remote sex cult.
Anywhere you need to move people or stuff not on conventional roads, these work.
In most states they can be registered as low-speed neighborhood electric vehicles, and if you live in the right kind of town or city, you could drive these on any street with a limit of 35 MPH or less. That's how I use my Changli.
They're also viable in places that don't allow conventional cars, like Catalina Island or the Outer Banks of North Carolina or any number of retirement communities. These could be used there, as well.
Really, there's a huge number of applications and uses for small EV trucks, and this is the space — currently dominated by expensive, low-feature golf-cart-derived vehicles — that Pickman wants to play in.
In fact, let's look at one of the leading players in this space, the Cushman Hauler 800x, and compare it to a Pickman Classic pickup:
This right here should explain all you need to know to understand why a tiny upstart like Pickman thinks they can compete with a huge player like Cushman: the product is so much better.
Aside from the better specs across the board and the slightly cheaper price, the whole design philosophy is different in these two workhorses: one is a golf cart adapted to do work, and one is a scaled-down pickup truck.
That means one actually has a weather-proof, enclosed cabin with a real interior, a much larger bed that can be loaded from both sides and the rear, a large lockable storage compartment, and drives faster and better.
The other one is a nice shade of forest green.
There's thousands and thousands of vehicles like that Cushman out there, and it's very difficult to think of ways those are preferable to a little truck like these.
So, How's The Design?
Design-wise, what's most notable about the Pickman line is how, well, truck-like they are. Really, they're quite conventionally designed, looking exactly like you'd expect a fairly modern pickup truck to look, just somewhat scaled-down with altered proportions.
The design language feels very compatible with modern trucks like the Ford F-150 or Chevy Silverado. There are crisp lines with incised detailing and character lines in the body stampings, taillight designs that honestly would look at home on most modern trucks, and an overall clean, straightforwardness to the design.
Sure, the proportionally tall greenhouse makes these guys a bit cute, like they're full-size truck puppies, but there's really nothing embarrassing or silly about the design, something I can't honestly say about my Changli.
The packaging is quite good in the baseline Pickman design. It's all built on a pretty basic but robust ladder-frame chassis, and the batteries are located centrally, under the seats.
This setup allows for plenty of room for passengers or stuff, including a useful front trunk that's about half the volume of the front trunk of a Ford Mustang Mach-E. It's a usable volume for storing tools or laptops or whatever you want in a safe, enclosed compartment.
What about the inside?
For the interior of the Pickman trucks, if you're expecting great luxury, you might want to come to the painful realization that you're a bit of a fool, because, come on, you know that's not what these are about. Whoever led you to even think these would be luxurious should be ashamed of themselves, making fun of a poor simpleton like yourself. Jerks.
That said, they're not bad inside! The quality of the plastics and fittings isn't really up to mainstream car standards, but it's actually pretty good, levels above what I have in the Changli and light years better than the fiberglass workshed bullshit you find on most golf-cart-derived vehicles.
The dashboard feels like a real dashboard, as does the steering wheel and general controls. They've even hilariously faked carbon fiber for the center-stack screen, which is actually a pretty full-featured unit with Bluetooth and the ability to play files from SD cards or USB drives and all that sort of thing.
I especially like the main instrument cluster, because it's cheeky in its attempted deception. It looks like a little LCD matrix display, almost like a tablet, but it's actually just a color, backlit discreet-segment/shape display. It's kind of funny it's clearly designed to appear more than it is, but the result is actually extremely legible in a lot of light conditions, and the layout of the key elements like speed and battery charge is good.
There's also USB charging outlets front and rear, and there's a useful smartphone holder right on the dash.
Oh, and taking a bit of inspiration from Jeep, they also had some fun and included a little Pickman climbing up some rocks on the windshield's frit band. Yeah, have some fun with this, why not?
Interior fittings like the door cards and various grab handles and parts are basic but not flimsy. There's a headliner, but also plenty of exposed, painted metal inside, which is fine, considering the context. The floor mats are padded and insulated, and the seat upholstery is basic vinyl, but has some surprises like contrasting color stitching and pockets on the front seatbacks. Even more importantly, they're not uncomfortable.
The rear seat in the Passenger is a bit upright and pew-like, because of the need for that vertical midgate, but there's a ton of legroom. The front seats are decently padded and pretty comfortable.
Speaking of the midgate, I'm a big fan of this design in general, and it's executed well here. I wouldn't want to use it for gravel or manure, but it should be ideal for hauling long 2x4s or plywood or drywall sheets or ultra-long party subs or whatever.
If you want to use the rear for enclosed storage, the rear seatback flips down to form a flat shelf, so you could do that, too.
How do these things drive?
I got to drive the XR a bit and the Passenger version one a lot, on a combination of paved roads, unpaved roads, and rocky, sandy, trail-type barely roads, and I'm happy to say it handled everything just fine.
It's hard not to compare these to my Changli, so I'm going to give in and do just that. While similar in some basic conceptual ways to the Changli (basic but robust design and construction, relatively low-power RWD electric motor) it's a significant step up from the Changli in quality and size.
All the components are more robust and feel more like "real" car parts, though they're still scaled down a bit. The drivetrain arrangement is similar to the Changli in that it's an electric motor mated to a differential/live axle setup via a 90 degree turn, reduction gearbox. Everything in the Pickman is just bigger and more robust.
As you can see there, by those fans and finned housings, the Pickman has a much more complex thermal management system than the Changli, which has, uh, nothing.
The motor here makes about 4 kW, which comes to a bit over 5 horsepower, and there's an option for a 5 kW/6.7 HP motor.
I'll be honest, I'm not really sure which motor size I was driving most of the time, but the power — again, keeping the overall context of everything in mind — was generally fine.
It's got decent torque from the start, like all electric motors, so getting going isn't a problem. Steeper hills and grades do tale a noticeable toll on speed, but we're not talking walking pace like in the Changli. At worst, you're down to like 12 or 15 MPH.
It's about 1,600 pounds, a bit less than an old Beetle. While that's still a lot for five horses to push around, it doesn't usually feel all that slow. Part of that is a by-product of driving something this small. Your perception of speed is affected, and even low speeds can feel quick in something miniscule.
On the flat, it'll hit 28 to 30 pretty easily. I did get it up to 42 MPH on a longer, slight downhill grade, and it didn't fly apart at those unholy speeds. It felt just fine, and I'd suspect that if you upgraded this with something like a 10 HP motor you could cruise at 45 or so.
As it stands (and for legal reasons if you want to register it as a LSV) think of the top speed as around 28, but know it'll likely do more. As someone who routinely drives a 1.1 hp EV around a little town, I can say with some authority that you could use a Pickman as a general-use around town car just fine, if you wanted to.
The front suspension is a very basic double-wishbone setup, nothing fancy at all, but it works and the steering is very direct. The power assist makes it effortless as well.
Around back there's coilovers for the Passenger version and leaf springs for the single-cab pickup, which do give a bumpier ride but are needed to allow for a 1,400 to 2,000 pound payload capacity. That bed is also designed with a footprint that will fit one standard-sized pallet, which seems like a smart idea.
You can even get a towing package to allow it to pull a two-ton trailer (with brakes, I'd imagine), which is impressive and a little nervy-sounding.
The overall driving experience is extremely easy and even fun. Using one of these as a work vehicle where you're constantly driving somewhere, getting out, loading, getting back in, unloading, weaving through narrow spots, parking, and so on seems like a very natural fit for the Pickman.
They're quite nimble, and several times on the sandy trails I was able to pass a slower, larger, conventional car fumbling through the grit with a casual ease that was really enjoyable.
What's the range on the Pickman?
There's two types of battery packs available for the Pickman: the basic lead-acid-based AGM battery pack (AGM stands for Absorbent Glass Mat and are a type of lead acid battery that requires less maintenance and can be stored for longer periods with less detrimental chemical reactions than regular lead acids) or an optional lithium battery pack.
The AGM batteries should be good for about 65 miles of range, and the lithium can do up to about 110 miles, which is pretty damn good. Really, for most use cases, even the lower end is likely enough range.
Charging is limited to 110V slow charging, taking eight to 10 hours for the AGM pack. It's under four hours, I'm told, for the lithium pack. Faster charging would be nice, but once you go down that road there's more complex electrical and thermal demands. The complexity tends to grow, so I get why it's just low-voltage charging for now.
The market Pickman wants to compete in seems to be one that's grown complacent, and I think Pickman has the potential to really shake things up.
There's so many situations where people can find themselves thinking, man, it sure would be great if we just had something like a tiny truck to use for this, and here's the Pickman, a literal tiny truck.
The Pickman is a tool, like a shovel or a wheelbarrow, and is a something used to accomplish some goals, which may or may not be basic transportation. I think the design is simple and flexible enough to perform well at many things, including providing general, everyday transportation in the right environments, far more inexpensively than a conventional full-sized car.
I think the pricing, which ranges from around $14,000 to $16,000 or so, is generally fair, but still feels a bit high. A lot of this has to do with the current trans-oceanic shipping costs, and Joseph did tell me that there are plans to see about assembling Pickman trucks in America, which could go a long way to reduce costs.
I'd love to see some version of a base truck come in at around $8,999 or close. At a price like that, there would be absolutely no question that these were an ideal solution. I have no idea how possible that is, but I can dream, right?
Then again, compared to the other options in this space, those glorified golf carts, the Pickman lineup seems like an incredible bargain.
I think there's a real place in the automotive landscape for some tiny, tough, useful little trucks with minimal bullshit, and that's what Pickman has.
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