One significant barrier holding many people back from making the switch to electric vehicles has been their (real or perceived) lack of muscle. As if nothing that quiet could ever be as strong as a gas-powered vehicle. So a significant breakthrough over the past couple of years has been the emergence of EV trucks that have helped boost both confidence and expectations for plug-ins over combustion.
Rivian Automotive, with its signature truck models, boasts the biggest IPO of 2021, which propelled its valuation to more than $100 billion. Ford also enjoyed a major hype over its F-150 Lightning, electrifying America’s most popular pickup. Also next year, GM is coming out with its gas-guzzler reboot, Hummer EV. One common trait that ties all of these together is how familiar they feel. It’s a truck like the truck you love, it just so happens to be electric.
It’s there that Colin Jeffery and Mike Geiger see an opportunity. The two are cofounders (with Seema Miller) of creative advertising agency Wolfgang LA, and have worked on major campaigns over the course of their careers for just about every major auto brand. While the agency’s day-to-day is creating work for brands like Adidas and Panda Express, over the past two years Jeffery and Geiger have spent time on a side project: working with a large group of automotive designers and engineers, they’ve created a prototype design for a different path for the future of the electric trucks. They call it . . . Thundertruck.
It’s not the first more radical rethinking of what an electric vehicle can be: Tesla’s CyberTruck is a sharp, angular block of stainless steel that looks unlike any car on the road. The Thundertruck, on the other hand, looks like it takes its inspiration from the Tumbler Batmobile from Christopher Nolan’s trilogy. The truck has a collapsible roof-mounted awning—that looks remarkably like batwings—with flexible solar fabric that can provide stationary battery recharging. It features an optional extension that makes it a six-wheeled vehicle, and could detach into a Segway-like companion vehicle. There’s also a military spec drone that can fly over the car, offering a 3D data scan of forward terrain on dashboard display. It can go from 0 to 60 mph in 3.5 seconds.
If you want to buy one, though, you may have to wait awhile. Right now, Thundertruck only exists as specs and as a comprehensive 3D model. But Wolfgang LA is hoping to change that.
“With an EV drive train, a truck doesn’t have to look like a truck, we just have this preconceived idea of what a truck should look like,” says Jeffery. “But it’s really not a great use of space, from a design standpoint. So we said, ok hang on, let’s throw out all the baggage our industry has from a design perspective, and start from the ground up. We put it together to be a modern, purposefully designed EV multi-purpose vehicle, versus a regular truck that happens to be an EV.”
The armored, military-like vibe aims to help emphasize that fact that Thundertruck was designed to be a serious off-road EV with high-end capabilities and performance. Large, exposed tires, pushed out to each corner, assist in climbing obstacles, while the big featureless slabs and angular surfaces add strength to the brutalist aesthetic. “Similar to a Transformer, we wanted the vehicle to expand and contract, adapting to the environment it’s in,” says Jeffery. “Sci-fi-inspired headlights and bold proportions make our vehicle look out of this world. In contrast, the interior is designed to be comfortable for long trips, with heaps of tech to play with along the way.”
Because of its genesis at a creative ad agency, the Thundertruck could seem like a glorified art project. However, Geiger and Jeffery call Thundertruck “pre-engineered” for a reason. It was designed by a team of automotive veterans, including engineers, designers, sculptors, UX specialists, trim specialists, and more that both Geiger and Jeffery have met and collaborated with over the years through their work with various auto brands. Australian-based auto designer Dean Block was their point person in gathering the group. “The cool thing is they are car designers, sculptors, engineers,” says Geiger. “Typically, you talk about an ad agency trying to design a car, I mean, you could make something that looks cool but having those guys, who have done this their entire career, combined with our marketing background, I feel like it’s a perfect combination.” Depending on production volume, Jeffery says the ballpark cost for a finished Thundertruck would start around $70,000.
Wolfgang LA has already built a marketing campaign and strategy for Thundertruck, an exercise in merging product and promotion from the start. The target audience is what Geiger and Jeffery call “outsiders.” The ads have wink-wink taglines like, “It’s not for everyone. We couldn’t possibly make that many.” and “Sticks out like a green thumb.”
“It looks at the duality of the audience, literal outsiders or people who like to be outside, and also those who are a little out there, not normal,” says Jeffery. “The truck also has this duality, where it’s called Thundertruck but it’s very quiet, it looks bad-ass but it’s environmentally friendly as an EV.”
Geiger and Jeffery say they’ve talked to global technology companies, potential production partners, and investors. But right now, Thundertruck remains a dream expressed in engineering specs, concept photos, as well as a brand positioning, complete creative and communications strategy.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen, but the point here is this is real, it’s ready to go, you could build a prototype very soon,” says Geiger.