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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WILLIAM BRANHAM

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

vincee

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

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.

Jim G.

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

Scott R. Ellis

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

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.

Don Baker

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.

rick louderbough

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

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

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

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

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.

Richard Jones

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

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

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.

Alvin

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.

Sumner Schachter
Jeff

AMERICA is not ready for Electric Vehicles! Until the US, TESLA and others start investing in the US infrastructure to support Electric Vehicles, as the writer says it’s just a concept.

You definitely don’t want an electric truck towing a trailer out into the boondocks and have NO way to charge the thing, unless you carry a generator!

I’ll stick with my FOSSILE FUEL burning truck!

Donald N Wright

If using a fifth wheel trailer, I would suggest a “goose neck” attachment. I see this truck for around town or around the area, not cross country. Might be best for light weight popup trailer.

Randy Shrimplin

Electric vehicles are not zero emissions. Drive by a power plant. Drive by a battery manufacture plant. Drive by a landfill.
I do agree with your conclusion.
Electric vehicles are great, batteries, not quite there yet.
I will say that for the masses that commute 50 plus miles to work 50 weeks a year and fly 2 weeks on vacation, electric cars would be not only fine, but perfect

But Jonathan’s comments are spectacular!