Tesla truck: Useful to RVers? Or a waste of money?

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By Russ and Tiña De Maris

There’s a whole lot of hoopla surrounding Tesla’s electric “truck.” With thousands of folks already plunking down a deposit for the futuristic-looking unit, we have to ask the question: Just how practical is a Tesla Truck for the RVer?

In principle, it sounds like a great idea. Who among us wouldn’t like to have the seemingly lower operating costs of an electric vehicle? Too, most folks want to do their bit to help earth, and a truly zero emissions vehicle goes a long way in that direction. And it seems, for some, the thing just looks cool.

But will it do the job that we as RVers need? Principally, will it really tow a trailer? Will it literally go the distance to the campground and back? Sad to say, early details that help us zero-in on those questions are in a bit of a short supply, but there are plenty of inferences that can be made with what we do know.

Fifth-wheeler’s delight?
In your basic conventional pickup, a fifth-wheel hitch is bolted down through the pickup bed and attached to connections welded to the truck’s ladder-like frame. But Tesla’s unit is unibody construction – no frame. And if the battery pack is directly under the bed, the idea of bolting anything down through the bed looks pretty impractical. Some have argued that industry will come up with some sort of alternative adapter plate on which a fifth-wheel hitch could be mounted.

All well and good, if that’s truly the case. But next, there’s the small matter of swing room. Having bumped across the U.S. in all directions, we can assure you the average RVer is going to get into some tight spots. We did – and after a few thousand miles of towing and tight spots, our low-profile truck tool box (the kind that sits right on top of the bed side-rails, behind the cab) took plenty of hits when we were forced to make extremely tight turns to get out of trouble with our fifth-wheel. Why is this important?

Compare Tesla Truck to Ford F-150. “Wings” behind cab stick up–just waiting to impact a tightly-turned fifth wheel. Photo: extremetech.com

Well, you won’t need to worry about hitting a truck bed box in a Tesla: Simply put, that six-and-a-half foot “spacious” bed won’t allow for a fifth-wheel hitch and a tool box. The surely-required slider hitch will take up plenty of bed space. But here’s the rub: The aerodynamic “sail pillars” that are designed into Tesla’s body – those little hang-downs behind the cab area – will be high enough to get clobbered by the fifth-wheel trailer any time a tight turn is made. Yes, the sail pillars are surely stronger than the truck’s windows (thank heavens!), but even if the pillars weren’t damaged, the front end of any fifth wheel will take a serious beating.

/insideevs.com

To avoid that problem, one website promotes the idea of a “Cyber Fifth-Wheel.” There’s a photo here showing their vision. The rig would be designed so it would clear the truck’s sail pillars, and would be equipped with additional batteries to help give power to the towing unit. In their vision, the fiver roof would be studded with solar panels, thinking that some of that power could get shoved forward to the truck motors for propulsion. “Sure, it will be expensive, but it’s so impressive that we’re certain it would be a hit,” says the piece on insideevs.com.

Maybe this design would overcome the physical impact equation that would plague “normal” fifth wheels. “Expensive”? Wow! That goes without saying. RV manufacturers already charge and arm and a leg for fivers, and haven’t changed their design format in forever. It would take a specialized manufacturer to stick their neck out and go for this. But that still leaves a problem – and it’s the same one that would have to be dealt with for those who’d want to tow a conventional travel trailer.

Got range?
While Tesla’s specs call out a 250-mile range on a full charge, that doesn’t take into account the increased load of a trailer. And not just weight, but aerodynamic drag. Looking closely at the Tesla promo material, you’ll see a cover rolls down over the truck bed. It’s all part of that aerodynamic design required to keep the mileage up. Leave the cover open, watch your driving range decline.

Yes, Tesla says the single-motor unit, the one that’s first out of the production box, will pull 7,500 pounds. That’s probably true, but the question is this: Just how FAR will it pull the weight? A piece on roadandtrack.com tried to tackle that question. Using Tesla’s Model-X electric sedan, the website points out that the Model-X, using a 100-kWh battery, claims an EPA mile range of 328 miles on a full charge. But, using hypothetical examples, tacking a towed vehicle on the back of the X (which has a 5,000-pound tow capacity), things start to get a bit ugly. Put a family in the car, hitch up a trailer, drive 100 miles up a 1-percent grade at 75 miles per hour. Add 500 pounds of payload and the wind drag of the trailer, and making the trip would require 100.4 kWh. That’s more than the battery pack that would NORMALLY run the car 328 miles by itself.

Keep in mind, adds the information from roadandtrack, that’s not taking into account the use of other accessories that draw on the battery pack. No air conditioning or heat, for example. Take off the trailer, repeat the trip, and the trip would take about half the energy required for trailer towing.

We haven’t found specs from Tesla on how big the battery pack for the truck model would be, but other industry sources are suggesting 200 kWh – twice that of the Model-X. But the specs Tesla provides show less range for the truck – 250 miles – even with twice the battery pack. If the same trailer towing draw-down on economy applied to the truck, you’d need to stop after 72 miles to charge up.

Surely, these calculations are hypothetical, but in a real-world test, which is still down the road many months, if even half-off, what’s the result? Fire up the Tesla Truck, hitch up the bumper pull trailer and head out down the dusty trail. Are you willing to stop in two hours to wait for as long as it takes to recharge before getting on with the road trip?

An electric truck is a great concept. But at this point, from a practical matter, until the electrical density of vehicle batteries gets a serious upward adjustment, they are, in our minds, just a concept.

##rvt-925b

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Edstep
1 month ago

The answer may be found in the medium duty truck instead of the light duty. The Wrightspeed Company is producing Electric truck modules with Diesel powered Turbine generator. This is being effectively tested with FedX and UPS vehicles. I have read some of their material and the market is promising. RVs would be a short step upward. Costly, Yes but the efficiency of the unit may overweigh some of the cost. You can check it out at wrightspeed.com

Bob p
1 month ago

FAST CAR LANE on YouTube did an actual test of Tesla’s model X towing capacity. They hitched a camping trailer (less than 5000 lbs) to the car and started from their location in Colorado going to Oregon. After a couple of hours they had to call for a backup vehicle to come and pick up the trailer so they could get the car to the next charging station. Then they had to kill several hours while it was recharging. Personally I’m going to keep driving my fossil fueled vehicle where I can refuel at any mom and pop gas station along my route in less than 10 minutes and resume my trip. EVs are great commuter cars where you never drive more than 25 miles a day and can plug it in at night. For any kind of road trip to anywhere besides a major metropolitan area where most recharging stations are, they’re useless. Here where I live in south central TN we have two separate charging stations, one behind the Dollar General store and the other behind Dunkin Donuts. I have yet to see a vehicle there.

Bob Packer
1 month ago

The vehicle itself may have zero emissions, but what about the big equipment that digs out the ore for the batteries, transporation and refining of said ore, emissions from the manufacturing plant and last, but not least, emissions from the fossil fuel generating plants to make the electricty to charge the batteries?

WILLIAM BRANHAM
8 months ago

Any fossil fuel used in the production of this truck? What percentage of the Tesla type batteries are recyclable?

vincee
9 months ago

I don’t bother reading about these “pie in the ski” concept vehicles. If, and that’s a big IF one of these things would ever come to market, especially from Elon Musk, mos,t if not all of us reading this newsletter will be dead.

Musk uses outrageous vehicles of this nature to stoke the investment world for more cash to feed most of his current projects like the former Solar City which are bleeding more cash than they can produce in record levels.

I remember some of the auto show concept designs from the ’60s and very very few have made it to market fifty-some years later.

Marcus Jackson
9 months ago

This is exciting times we live in! I see this truck and the technology as way to get to a fossil fuel free and grid independent future. If the electric truck is my daily driver (my current truck is) I can charge it overnight from the solar panels on my house roof. If I tow a trailer for camping (which I currently do), I can use my roof top solar panels to re-charge the batteries while boondocking. With the size of the batteries on the truck, I can use it as power source for my RV. True; panel don’t produce energy in an acceptable amount of time today but solar panels just like batteries are getting more efficient everyday.

I’m fully aware of all the challenges today; charging infrastructure, long charge time, limited range. higher cost,

However, just like fossil fuel, there can be a charger on every corner. Just like your cell phone, batteries will get smaller, lighter, more efficient and cheaper.

Renewable energy is endless, fossil fuel is not.

Alvin
9 months ago
Reply to  Marcus Jackson

Marcus I truly do hope you dig around and get the balanced story before becoming to umbilical to the EV. Nothing currently (pardon the pun) is going to beat fossil for dependability, reliability, and many other things we in the first world have taken for granted for a very very long time.

I’d ask you start by considering the deplorable conditions under which third world kids exist in getting you the raw material for the batteries and electronics for your dream truck.
Then continue from there examining the actual carbon footprint of EV. It is not pretty even when you’re looking for pretty, if you go in eyes and mind wide open.

Grant Edgar
8 months ago
Reply to  Marcus Jackson

Where can I get some of those solar panels which charge overnight? Mine only charge during the day.

WILLIAM BRANHAM
8 months ago
Reply to  Grant Edgar

That was going to be my comment. Kudos to you. Mine won’t charge in the northern climes of North America day or night. We obviously need moon panels.

Jim G.
9 months ago

First off, this is not a truly zero emissions vehicle! The energy must come from somewhere so that means the emissions happen elsewhere.

Marcus Jackson
9 months ago
Reply to  Jim G.

If I charge it at home with my solar panels, it is zero emission. If I install solar panels on the roof of the RV, it’ll be charging zero emission. There is more and more renew energy coming on the grid everyday and State’s are adding dates to be 100% renewable.

Billy Bob Thorton
9 months ago
Reply to  Marcus Jackson

Marcus, I want some of what you got. Respectfully, solar is a joke. If you did some electrical calculations, you will understand that solar is a waste of taxpayers money. Fact; Australia eliminate the tax subsidy on purchasing electric vehicle, and sales (wait for it) went to ZERO.

Oh honey, can you run to the store and get some milk and bread. Well no dear, I can’t. It is nighttime and the wind is calm, we both agreed not to be the cause of global warming. Ill get it about noon tomorrow, after the sun comes up.

Alvin
9 months ago
Reply to  Marcus Jackson

OK, Marcus, maybe solar works where you live if you have time or take time to fiddle around with finicky solar, or can wait for the sun to shine. Here in southern Alberta, the sun hasn’t been seen in three days and isn’t supposed to for the next three days. There’s three inches of snow on everything, So much for solar here, and on the coast where they won’t see enough sun to charge a cordless drill all winter long and……

Scott R. Ellis
9 months ago

How long’s it been since anybody has sold a single fifth-wheel trailer that doesn’t have standing headroom in the bedroom? Apparently that’s become a necessity. The concept drawing barely has crawling headroom. Also, renewables aside, until we have some better way to generate electricity, no electric vehicle is really “zero emissions.”

GeorgeB
9 months ago

Oh Boy, something new … gotta have it …. says the progressive crowd. They will sell ‘hundreds’ of these taxpayer subsidized EV’s on the west coast and upper east coast. The rest of the country will happily continue driving down the road for decades in their full-size pick-ups and gas guzzling SUV’s.
PS: I’d bet a cup of doughnut shop coffee, that this thing will never make production.

Steve
9 months ago
Reply to  GeorgeB

I agree to a point, but it will make production – maybe not in the next 5 years, but it will be built. However, other than the yuppie west / east coasters, until the development of fuel cells for a continuous supply of power it will never become viable for 95% of truck drivers. Batteries are not the answer because of the weight involved if you want decent range or power (or both).

Yup, a cool looking “star wars” truck, just not ready for prime time!

Billy Bob Thorton
9 months ago
Reply to  Steve

Fuel cells, as in Hydrogen is a dead end. There would have to be another complete delivery system, outside of gasoline/diesel filling stations. That will not happen due to pure economics. Same thing with compressed Nat Gas, not economically feasable. But, that never stopped DC from waisting money. Take ethanol, it has much less energy per gallon than gasoline, resulting in poorer fuel economy, but because of the entrenched lobby, farmers are now a viable force to be reckoned with. Unless they can export corn to the starving masses, it will remain status quo.

This whole thing is a cluster F…like most anything the govt gets it mitts into. Not going to end in the present readers lifetimes either.

Alvin
9 months ago
Reply to  GeorgeB

Steve – It’s crazy but I’m betting it will be built -AND SOLD. Someone once painted a face on a rock and sold tens of millions of them as PETS.
With seven decades plus under me, I’d never say never – EVER.

Billy Bob Thorton
9 months ago
Reply to  Alvin

Alvin, never ever will the party of Lincoln, succumb to the devious tactics of those who do not truely love this country. Check back in a year, you will see that never, ever does happen, because when the people’s back is against the wall, we always prevail.

Don Baker
9 months ago

The other thing that no one has put into the equation is: Where does the electricity for charging the battery for the zero emissions electrical vehicle come from? Mike S could probably confirm that every time electricity changes voltage or state there are losses. What is the total energy burn to produce the electricity to charge the batteries? I will bet that as of now it takes more total energy to run an electric vehicle than a comparable efficient gas or diesel vehicle. Most electricity in the US is produced in either coal or natural gas fired generation facilities.
I think we have a long way to go before the efficiencies match up.

GeorgeB
9 months ago
Reply to  Don Baker

Not to mention the materials in the batteries and will they last a few hundred thousand miles like a ICE?

rick louderbough
9 months ago

Besides the previously stated, you can’t roll the wndows down, in cold the batt charge cuts in half, when its snowing it can’t find the white lines. Just a nightmare actually

Jeff Johnston
9 months ago

It’s important to remember there is no such thing as a “zero emissions electric vehicle” regardless of any marketing hype you hear. True, it may not produce any tailpipe emissions while you’re driving. But unless you own a large solar panel array or personal wind turbine, somewhere there’s a large industrial facility producing that electricity you used to charge the vehicle and that facility has some type of environmental impact. It may be wildlife impacted by a hydroelectric dam or exhaust emissions from a coal or natural-gas powered plant (wind turbines have their own claimed drawbacks but there aren’t enough of them to have a significant impact yet) but someone, somewhere has to live with those power generation side effects. As the old saying goes, “For every man who eats the bacon, another man has to smell the pigs.”

Billy Bob Thorton
9 months ago

Elon Musk is nothing but a huckster. His company is broke and he is currently buying up real estate in CA to the tune of 100 million. Really, cut him off of our taxpayers’ money.

Don Kostyal
9 months ago

It amazes me how the climate change debate cherry picks facts and makes assumptions and then make claims that make you say “huh?” For example, we only have 8 – 10 years left to change or we will face doom. The nay sayers say science and most scientists support this. Well, science also agrees the earth is about 4 BILLION years old, and has gone through several severe climate changes that have changed the earth and everything on it. One theory (with supporting evidence) is that changes in the earth’s orbit is responsible for much of this. Interesting article on this: (https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn18949-the-history-of-ice-on-earth/)
Everything has consequences. I believe we should conserve and recycle, but one good thing can have harmful effects as well. Take recycling. I believe all garbage needs to be destroyed or reused. Banning plastic bags and styrofoam containers makes sense, but having to burn garbage creates greenhouse gases. Nuc [power has its pluses and minuses–clean energy but disposal of nuclear waste is…”forever.”
The government can not solve this–at least not efficiently and on its own. Free enterprise is the key–people will continue to see this problem, come up with bright ideas to solve or manage the problem, and people will support and buy those ideas. It has always been this way. Societies that follow free market/enterprise flourish and succeed and those that follow government mandated ways expends and waste their talent and resources.
Government has its role in collaboration with free enterprise–it has to weigh regulation with common sense. You can’t mandate something that will drive the economy into a downward spiral or cause mass unemployment etc.

Tsippi
9 months ago

Most people who want to tow a travel trailer with a CyberTruck are going to wait for the two motor, 500 mile version. Even with that version, though, trips across the middle of the country are going to take an awful lot of planning until Tesla gets more super chargers installed. That said, once double motor trucks are available, there will be a nice opportunity for a start up to make advanced TTs with state-of-the-art battery capabilities. With such a set up, many people would no longer need generators — and would be able to stop at a rest stop and step into a trailer that wasn’t 120 degrees.

Alvin
9 months ago
Reply to  Tsippi

Reading this I thought of the old Everly Bros song, Dreammmm Dream dream dream Dreammmmm.

Marcus Jackson
9 months ago
Reply to  Tsippi

Good point on getting away from generators. Add solar to the roof of the RV and we’ll be able to re-charge while camping.

Richard Jones
9 months ago

The 250 mile range is on the lowest spec Cybertruck. If you want to tow that’s definitely not the one to get. The tri-motor version will have 500 miles (+) of range, which probably translates to between 200 and 250 miles of range when towing (depending on how good the aero is on the trailer).

Mark B
9 months ago

It really chafes me when people say “truly zero emissions” vehicle. Unless you have a solar array, wind turbine or hydro generator at your home, and you only charge at stations powered by renewal energy, those batteries are getting charged by plugging into the electric utility company’s grid.

Today, 64% of that electric grid is powered by fossil fuel and 17% is powered by nuclear. Some will argue that nuclear power plants don’t produce carbon emissions. However, the mining for minerals used in nuclear power generation is very energy intensive, so nuclear power causes additional carbon output. And you actually need more power generated to charge the batteries, because about 15% is lost through the transmission wires.

So but what measure is an electric vehicle “truly zero emissions”?

Our knowledge and efforts have been misguided by marketing statements like this. (In reality, they are lies, just as much as “clean coal” is a lie.) We need to use less, and less and less fossil fuel. We need to use less and less and less energy in our way of life. You can’t go to the all-you-can-eat buffet, stuff yourself and expect to lose weight.

I drove the most efficient diesel and camped in tents for many decades. I marveled as diesel emissions plummeted below gassers (sulphur removal from fuel and cleaner technology). I also focused on driving less and less, but a road trip was an energy luxury. I bought a fuel guzzling RV when I turned 65. My bones and bladder just got old. I needed the creature comforts, especially as the trip turned from 2 weeks to a winter stay of 2-4 months. I am appalled at how low fuel prices dipped this weekend. We should be taxing fossil fuel use heavily, and using that money to build renewable sources.

Bottom line: until we use less AND renewable production rises from less than 20% to more than 90%, we are killing the planet and our childrens’ future.

Wolfe
9 months ago

I believe Tesla claimed 500mi on a 100KWh battery pack for the Cybertruck, unloaded. 250mi towering 12Klb bumper drag TT, and nothing 5th wheel, ever, citing battery danger and body impact just as this article repeated.

I did some quick envelope calculations, and figured the range cost of the trailer is about 12KW/hr – not to run forever, but to tow 500 miles to a still-dead battery. So in theory you could go down the road running your generator full-out, assuming you could deliver that power efficiently to the motors. I’m skeptical but would love to see it tried once vaporware hits the streets.

Wolfe
9 months ago
Reply to  Wolfe

Lead batteries are about 10W/lb. So for 100KW you just need to drag an extra 10,000lbs of batteries which doubles your range in power and halves it in load…. oops.

Alvin
9 months ago

Electric anything for the foreseeable future will continue to be the domain of the wealthy – those who can afford to add another toy to the fleet.

Personally I cannot wait for the day all the subsidizes from manufacturer, all down the line to those FREE charging stations, come off, and the government springs that looming tax on EV’s the way they now ding ICE vehicles at the pump…….O-boy is that going to be the day those “seemingly lower operating cost” EV early adopters get a rude awakening – when they realized they failed to calculate the REAL cost of the vehicle.

And they are not saving the environment or the earth. Check YouTube vids surrounding the travesties ongoing in the mines of Africa and beyond, providing the material for those wonderful batteries and so forth, what a travesty.

Gotta hand it to sales obfuscators though – they have done a great job selling sparky – and they’re reeling more in everyday. The future is going to be interesting, as world governments seek new ways to own you lock stock and barrel, with the owned loving every moment of it.

Diane Mc
9 months ago
Reply to  Alvin

My son bought a used 2015 Tesla to commute to work in Silicon Valley. He gets to use the commuter lane which saves him 20 minutes both ways. He also bought that year as it still had free charging at Tesla stations. FYI, Tesla pays for the free charge, not our tax dollars. Tesla no longer offers free charging, although I read something about possibly bringing it back in the future. Agree there should be no subsidies. Let the free market work. If electric vehicles are such a great concept then there should be plenty of investors and buyers. Also agree with the saving the environment comments. Also, electric power is generated by those “bad” coal plants. Unless we use nuclear energy, electric cars are definitely not “clean” cars, from the manufacturing process thru to charging. With our current infrastructure, we would be having black outs when everyone plugged in at night to charge up. Last comment….my son’s car is really cool. It is an amazing piece of technology. Cost aside, it would be great not to have to stop at a gas station to fill up anymore and just come home and plug in!

Alvin
9 months ago
Reply to  Diane Mc

Diane, I do not dispute the technology of a Tesla. The car is simply a technological wonder – well proven. What I take issue with and others weigh in similarly is that this technology is so far from being mainstream, the issues surrounding why are near incalculable. You make a point about Tesla chargers I did not know. I had been of the belief that Tesla paid for all the the owner consumed in their charging stations. Only Tesla’s can use them, as far as I’m aware. I live in southern Alberta and believe it or not there’s a six spot charger with Tesla’s name on it in the little town of Fort MacLeod, which I see regularly ever gets used. I’m pretty sure this charger is paid for by Tesla, as that little place can barely afford to maintain the streets let alone pay for a Tesla charging station.
“Cost aside” your son may find a great deal of satisfaction by-passing the petro station, that is until two things occur in his life.
He has desires to pass his Tesla on to someone else, AND, when the battery or another critical component of function fails. That’s when the chickens come home to roost.

I met a fellow in Great Falls Montana years a go with this dilemma. He had to extend his line of credit to buy a battery for his Tesla.

Sumner Schachter
9 months ago
Admin
RV Staff (@rvstaff)
9 months ago

This is a 15-minute video, “Tesla Pickup Truck vs Rivian vs EV Ford F-150 – Here’s Everything You Need to Know!” from The Fast Lane Truck. —Diane at RVtravel.com