EVs Aren’t Quite Ready To Explore The Wilderness Yet

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I saw a tweet by Ford’s head of marketing, Mike Levine, recently. In it, he shows a remote campsite, a tent, and the Ford Ranger he used to get there. He’s clearly excited about having fun camping, and wanted to show off what he’s doing with the vehicle from the company he works for.

Unfortunately, I saw a ton of mean-spirited responses to this tweet criticizing him for taking a gas-powered truck into the forest, like this one:

There’s one big problem with this sentiment: he drove not only off pavement, but on a rough trail to get to the campsite like he does many weekends. It isn’t a place that any EV currently available would get to without damage.

Even Tesla’s crossover, the Model X, can’t do any semi-serious off-roading. We know this because Bjørn Nyland attempted to go on an off-road test track in his Model X a few years ago. He had some knobby tires on it and put it in “Very High” mode with the air suspension, giving it pretty close to the ground clearance you’d get in a pickup truck. Unfortunately, things didn’t go very well:

Having done a fair amount of off-roading myself, I can see that he could have picked some better lines, but there’s only so much magic you can get out of carving out a strategic track to follow. In some cases, I even get out on foot to figure out the best way for a vehicle to get through a challenging area and, if it’s bad enough, roll down the windows and have an experience off-roader help guide me through.

Sometimes, though, a vehicle can only do so much and a trail can be too much for it. We see him take a second attempt on a better line only to end up more deeply stuck in the mud, so that segment was just too much for the vehicle. He ended up tearing up the front bumper (removing it from the side completely) and losing the fender flare.

Long story short, it wasn’t a capable off-road vehicle, it got stuck, and took damage.

Obviously, Tesla didn’t build the Model X to do this kind of driving, so we shouldn’t be surprised. The takeaway here is that even the better EVs can’t do this kind of driving.

Even On Pavement, Camping Can Be Hard In An EV

I’ve actually been considering an EV to take the family on trips with, and a used Model X is one of the things I’m seriously considering. With 4 kids, a dog, and a need to maybe pull a small trailer, it would be a great option. I probably wouldn’t try to take it on the malpais (ancient lava flows that would tear it up worse than a snowy trail), but I’ve found that some of my favorite camping spots would get me stranded.

One common place I like to go would barely work with the vehicle unloaded. There would be no range for driving around the area while I’m camping, no range for sightseeing, and no range to use the vehicle for powering things. There’s no electricity where I camp, so it’s not possible to get a charge. There is one level 2 station along the route, so if I drive around, I’d probably need to spend an hour or two charging.

Add a small camper trailer (and this is a conservative estimate), and all bets are off. I can expect to get stranded or spend 3-4 hours at the level 2 charger along the way. When there, the vehicle can’t be used to power the camper trailer or be used to do any sightseeing in the area (which is 90% of the reason to even go up there).

I suppose I could bring a generator along, but by that point I’m almost better off just to take a gas-powered vehicle unless I’m going to an RV park with hookups.

But What About Cybertruck, Rivian, & Bollinger?

I saw several people give Mike this one, too.

Let’s think this one over for a few seconds. While I’m sure the Cybertruck will make a great vehicle for taking on the rough trails and going camping, the only guy who could take the Cybertruck camping today, in March 2021, is Elon Musk, and that’s because he has a prototype. They aren’t yet in production, and none have been delivered to the public. This option is a non-starter.

I’ve seen the Bollinger prototypes in person, and they look like they’d be extremely capable. They are built for this stuff. But, once again, none have been sold yet. Same for Rivian — we’ve seen prototypes driving around, but none are on the road for the public to enjoy yet.

Electric Ford F150? Same story. Even Mike can’t get one to go camp yet, because Ford is still working on them and they’re definitely not ready for wilderness duty as of today.

In other words, telling someone to take an EV out to go camping basically means, “Just wait a year or two until there’s an EV that can do it.” or “Just camp close to the pavement.” When someone clearly likes to go out camping, it’s extremely awful to expect something like that.

We should let people enjoy things and work on getting them to switch to an EV later when there’s something that can do the job.

Let’s Not Be Unrealistic Here

The point of all this wasn’t to get after Tesla fans for fighting on Twitter, because that’s a neverending thing. People are always going to be squabbling on YoTwitFace. Fact of life.

The point here is to ask people to be realistic about expecting other people to use EVs. I agree that everyone should be getting into EVs for their daily driving if they can. It’s a great way to protect the environment in terms of both pollution and climate change. I drive a fairly awful Nissan LEAF and use it for nearly all of my daily driving and even some small regional trips.

Am I going to get that thing out deep into the wilderness, though? No way! Its range is too short, and when even just the normal road kills axles, off-roading is clearly out of the question. Even if I buy a Model X (used, because I’m a peasant), that’s going to only cover some small camper and tent camping on pavement (which would still be extremely useful!). If I want to go trekking deep into the wilderness on rough trails to camp where few do, there’s not a single EV on the market today, at any price, that would give me that capability.

We should encourage EV adoption, but not demand the impossible.

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Jennifer Sensiba

Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to get off the beaten path in her "Bolt EAV" and any other EVs she can get behind the wheel or handlebars of with her wife and kids. You can find her on Twitter here, Facebook here, and YouTube here.

Jennifer Sensiba has 1886 posts and counting. See all posts by Jennifer Sensiba