Forget the Hummer EV: GMC Made an Electric Truck in 1913 Called the Model 3
GMC did it before and, now, it's doing it again. Kinda.
Between now and when the GMC Hummer EV hits the market in late 2021, it will face endless comparisons to that other big, brash electric pickup—the Tesla Cybertruck. Both promise cutting-edge driver assists, amusing novelties like crab-walking and, of course, outrageous performance for a pickup truck. But make no mistake, the GMC will be the first to hit the market (if the Cybertruck ever does at all), and amusingly, the Hummer won't mark the first time Detroit blazed a trail for Fremont. Tesla's bestselling EV, the Model 3, uses a nameplate GMC itself abandoned over a century back, having used the moniker on its original series of electric trucks.
Back in its infancy in the 1910s, GMC offered a range of commercial electric trucks whose model names were equal to twice their payload ratings. Per the GM Heritage Center archive, GMC called its half-ton electric truck the Model 1; its largest, a six-tonner, the Model 12; and the middling 1.5-ton truck, naturally, the Model 3.
Like the rest of GMC's 1913 electric truck range, the Model 3 was in actuality a holdover product from the Rapid Motor Vehicle Company, one of the automaker's foundational pillars. These rebadged Rapids were fairly pricey, starting at the modern equivalent of $32,200, and that was without their nickel-iron batteries from Edison Storage Battery Company. Nevertheless, it seems the prospects of quiet operation and low maintenance—especially as compared to early internal combustion engines—made GMC's "electrics" attractive to truckers, and helped them account for 39.8 percent of GMC's sales in 1913.
But as automakers began to refine the internal combustion engine, the tables quickly turned on early electric vehicles. As EV batteries do today, those early nickel-iron cells degraded and proved prohibitively expensive to replace. By the end of 1916, electric trucks made up just 3.2 percent of GMC's sales, forcing the nascent truck maker to pull the plug after building just 509. To the executives that did the deed, it would be almost unimaginable that GMC would return to electric drive 104 years later with the GMC Hummer EV, and that it'd face the opposite conundrum: It can hardly keep up with demand. There are worse problems to have in the auto industry, namely backing down from building trucks you've already taken deposits for.
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h/t Larry Printz