Towing With A BEV Truck — Analysis

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Battery electric trucks should, in theory, be superior to gas & diesel trucks due to their powerful, higher torque electric motors. Also, since the center of gravity is so low in a BEV, they are much more stable on the road vs. internal combustion trucks. There is just one problem. Range.

Towing takes a lot of power. This should not be surprising when you consider the weight and aerodynamics of many trailers. Bigger RVs can have a gross vehicle weight of 6,500 lb or more, and they typically have the aerodynamics of a brick wall. If you double the weight and aerodynamics of a vehicle, it makes perfect sense that you would go through twice the fuel when hauling these loads. Clearly, electric vehicles have no problem on the power side, but batteries are another story. The problem of course is that batteries are heavy and expensive, and the BEV trucks currently on the market get very expensive if you want a range much over about 340 miles!

I recently wrote a review assessing whether Cybertruck was competitive vs. the other BEV trucks on the market. I did this analysis because I personally wanted to buy a BEV truck and I wanted to understand which trucks, if any, could meet my needs. Since buyers are often interested in different things, my analysis focused on what I personally wanted, needed, and valued in a truck. Here is the link in case you missed it.

I knew going into my BEV truck comparison that I really didn’t want to spend much more than about $80,000 on a truck, and I was also pretty sure I needed 450–500 miles of range to meet my towing needs. I’ve owned a Model S since 2015 and after putting 210,000 miles on it, I knew that, for me, 250 miles of range was the minimum I needed for the trips that I was doing. Given how towing can drop range in half or more, this suggested to me that I’d need a truck with closer to 500 miles of EPA range to achieve that 250-mile target I had in my head.

Now, instead of immediately writing off the current crop of BEV trucks in my price range for not having enough range (typically about 340 miles), I decided to do the math and work out what I really needed based on my actual truck use over the past 5 years.

The analysis proved enlightening to me since what I actually needed proved to be quite different from what I thought I needed. Unless you test your assumptions, it is super easy to fool yourself, I guess. This article discusses the process I used to identify my actual towing needs. I hope you find it useful.

I’ll start by mentioning that I have owned many trucks over the past 40 years, including two Fords, a Chevy, a Toyota, and two Dodges — including my current RAM 2500 4X4 diesel. I’ll also note that I am a trained mechanic. Lastly, I should mention that I have a farm, I hav a solar installation business, and I am a management consultant (thus the OCD analysis stuff I do).

As a long-term BEV owner, I have direct experience of what affects mileage and how to get more out of a BEV. When it comes to towing, I have 3 trailers that I typically use, including a 16-foot flat-deck, a small 8-foot enclosed utility trailer, plus I use my truck to haul a 6,000 lb RV for up to 4 camping holidays a year. My other uses include getting supplies for my farm and business, general farm/truck things, and plowing snow. I may also start to use my future BEV truck as a daily driver since I have solar, and since BEVs are so cheap to operate. This would allow me to get rid of my second vehicle.

Process

Step 1 — I started by creating a list of every route I took with my truck over the past 5 years.

Step 2 — I then identified the key factors that would impact truck range for each route, including trip distance, hilly vs. flat roads, speed, the ambient temperature for the drive (time of year), availability of chargers (L3 & destination), plus the characteristics of the load (i.e., weight/air resistance).

Step 3 — I then kicked out most of the easiest trips and grouped others to make the data table a reasonable size (ensuring I captured all of my difficult routes).

Step 4 — I realized step 2 wasn’t detailed enough for my more difficult routes with my RV or flat deck, so I used a separate spreadsheet to calculate and detail each leg of these journeys. This ensured I fully understood which chargers along each route I’d need to stop at, plus how much charge I’d need at each charger and at my destination. This step also ensured I was allowing for sufficient reserve range.

Step 5 — I then calculated the range of a 340-mile EPA truck under these different load/trailer/route conditions. See Range Calculations below.

Step 6 — I then analysed the data to assess if each trip could be done at all, and if so, how difficult it would be given the details of the route and considering the need to remove the trailer when L3 charging.

Table Guide 

Trips — The trips listed represent the most common ones I take and include all my difficult routes.

Distance — This is the full one-way distance to the destination.

Trailer — As mentioned, I have 3 trailers, including a small utility trailer, a flat deck, and an RV.

Weight — This is the maximum weight I would haul for the route. The first number is trailer-weight and the second is cargo-weight in the bed of the truck. Flat deck and utility trailer trips are the average trailer weight since I’m only running loaded in one direction.

Speed/Temperature — The average speed (MPH) for the route varies based on speed limit and the trailer/cargo I am hauling. I never go over 60 MPH with my RV, and I limit my flat deck to 75 MPH max empty and less when loaded. I currently limit my speed to save fuel and because it is simply too hard & dangerous on trailers/loads to go fast. Light green represents spring/summer temperatures and dark blue represents the potentially coldest conditions (max -35°F) driving the route.

Charging/Charges — This is the charging strategy and number of charges for the round trip. L3 charging assumed 250 kW and L1 was modeled at 1.44 kW (12 amps/120 V). Any L1 charging includes the rough number of days needed to charge for the return trip. A full charge is rarely needed but proved easy enough to do, as these were all camping trips where we stay for a minimum of 3 days.

Range — This is my best estimate of a BEV truck’s actual range on a 90% charge after calculating range losses due to trailer weight, cargo weight, terrain (hills vs flat), speed, and temperature. Color denotes if the trip is relatively easy (green) vs. difficult (yellow) to do in a 340-mile BEV truck.

Range Calculations

I have great data on the effects of speed, temperature, and terrain from driving my Model S for close to 9 years and 210,000 miles. To understand the impact of towing, I think I read and watched about a hundred different articles and videos, so I tried to develop the loss calculations below to be consistent with my experiences and with what others have reported.

The math behind the losses I calculated is listed below for each factor affecting range. My bet is they will be out a bit here and there, but are probably close enough, and since they scale, the calculations will at least be internally consistent for this analysis. Please note the losses in each category are cumulative. This is why hauling an RV can cut range in half or more!

  • RV trailer weight losses — 1.818% per 100 lb (hauling a 5,500 lb RV would cut range in half). Note: I used this same loss-rate for my flat-deck, so it may prove to do a bit better depending on what I’m hauling.
  • Cargo weight losses — 1.428% per 100 lb (hauling 2,000 lb would cost 30% range).
  • Terrain — 5% loss for hilly terrain (this is what I experience on roundtrips on the hilly routes I drive). As BEV drivers know, range loss going up a hill is largely captured when going back down.
  • Temperature — 6% loss at 20°F and 12% at -35°F (this is what I experience when I precondition in a garage and/or use a charger to warm the battery). Cold-soaked BEVs can experience much higher losses at cold temperatures.
  • Speed — I get EPA at 55 MPH on flat terrain, and I lose 25% range at 80 MPH. RVs lose 12% going from 60 to 70 MPH based on the research I’ve found, so the figure seems about right.
  • Cumulative example — hauling a 5,500 lb trailer with 500 lb of cargo at 70 MPH in hilly terrain will result in between 1/3 and 1/2 EPA range! Brutal.

Your mileage may vary. Please note that the range calculations in the table below are based on how I personally drive and the routes I take. Your experience may be different.

Data Table

Holiday 1 example. The distance to my destination is 219 miles, and I’m towing a loaded RV weighing 6,000 lb while hauling 500 lb in the box of the truck. I’m cruising on a flat road at 60 MPH in the summer. Due to the spacing of L3 chargers along the route, I calculate that I needed to charge twice at L3 chargers on the way to my destination and twice on the way back. I also need to make use of L1 charging for one full day while at my destination. I calculate the maximum range for the truck at 90% charge under these conditions is 138 miles. I rated this trip as “difficult” because I’d need to remove the trailer and charge twice in each direction to do the trip.

Will a 340-mile range BEV truck work for me personally?

Non-towing use — General (non-towing) represents 83% of my driving. This includes general use hauling stuff for my solar business, farm use, plowing snow, and personal use. A BEV truck would very easily meet these general needs.

Towing — In short, yes. As a contractor, my jobs are all typically within 60 miles of where I live, and I strongly suspect most contractors are like me. It just costs too much time and money to take on jobs much further away than this.

Looking at all trips, it was clear from the data that 100% of my towing trips were theoretically possible. However, I rated about 28% of my current towing miles as “difficult” (yellow). The difficult trips in my situation were my longer-distance camping trips towing my RV plus one of my regular supplier trips. While these trips were all technically possible, the reality is, I would much prefer not to remove my trailer to charge more than once on any one round trip. I just do not want to do that, and my bet is few people would.

Now, to be fair, my towing issues are clearly at least as much an infrastructure issue as a BEV truck range issue since, if I had pull-through charging options, I would probably rate only one of my long-distance RV trips as “difficult.” Fortunately, in my case, I found super easy solutions that I can implement to make a BEV truck work for me. Before we explore solutions, though, let’s look at how other truck owners use their trucks.

How truck owners use their trucks

After figuring out my own needs, I was curious about how average owners use their trucks, as I wanted to understand the potential market for these 340-mile vehicles. There is not a ton of information on this question, but the information I did find was largely consistent at least. Based on what various RV associations are reporting, plus research from groups like Axios & Edwards, this is how people use their trucks.

  • Hauling Trailers — 75% of truck owners never haul trailers at all, while 25% do. 
  • Hauling Cargo — 35% of truck owners do not haul meaningful cargo, while 65% do. 
  • Off-Road Use — 70% of truck owners never go off-road, while 30% do. 
  • RVs — RV association sites suggest people use their RVs about 20 days per year. Fully 24% of RVers never travel more than 50 miles and 18% limit their travel to under 100 miles. Another 30% always stay under 200 miles, and the remaining 27% regularly travel over 200 miles. 

This suggests the potential addressable market for 340-mile range BEV trucks is arguably up to 85% (maybe more) based on how people actually use their trucks. This 85% figure includes the 75% of owners who use their trucks more like SUVs, plus 42% of owners who tow shorter distances (42% of the 25% who tow = about 10%). That said, buyer perception (wants) vs. needs are different things. When it comes to BEV range, most buyers report they want more range than they really need. Time will tell how this plays out in the marketplace.

Towing Solutions 

This section lists some ideas for people wanting to haul RVs & trailers with a 340-mile range BEV truck. 

  1. Slow down — I think everyone knows that how fast you drive a car impacts its range significantly due to air resistance. Increasing speed affects air resistance exponentially, so going 10 mph faster has a much bigger effect going from 70–80 mph than it does from 50-60 mph. As mentioned, the range penalty for driving 70 mph vs. 60 mph in an RV is 12% based on an RV study I found.
  2. Lighten up! — I was personally very surprised at the impact of weight on both towing and cargo.
  3. Camp closer to home — This is clearly a strategy many RVers already use, given how 42% drive fewer than 100 miles whenever they go camping. I’ll be doing more of this myself in the future!
  4. Store your RV close to where you camp — This is clearly also a strategy many RVers already use given the number of long-term storage options near camping areas. If you pay to store your RV anyway, it sure makes sense to store it at or near where you go camping.
  5. Rent a cabin — This is yet another strategy that people already use, presumably due to the high cost of fuel and RVs. I would not be surprised if today’s higher fuel and RV prices start to drive more people to this option, as it is already quite popular — especially in other countries.
  6. Tenting/Pop-ups — For difficult routes, tenting may be a viable option for some. Personally, my limit is about 4 hours driving time towing my RV with my current diesel truck anyway. When I go camping, I go to hike and bike, not to drive. My wife and I are planning a 4-week cross-country trip next year, and never once did we even consider using our RV. Our plan is to tent when weather is nice and to use hotels/cabins when it isn’t. This will be one of our go-to strategies for any long-distance camping we do in the future. Alternatively, pop-up tent-trailers may appeal to some buyers. I’ve owned two of them in my younger days and loved them!
  7. Destination Charging — Don’t count out destination charging even if it is just L1! A basic 120V × 15-amp plug at a campsite can be enough if you are going to be there for days anyway. Before Superchargers were common, I would often travel to 3-day conferences where all I had was a basic L1 plug. It worked great! An L1 plug should give you about 75 miles of EPA range/day in a BEV truck in the summer.
  8. Off-grid camping — Some people want to camp at remote campgrounds without power. Depending how far these campgrounds are from the grid, there are two potential solutions. If the campsite is not too far from an L3 charger, you can simply charge up before you go to the campsite. If the campsite is too far, you will need a decent-size generator. For example, a 10kW generator can easily deliver 7.7 kW continuous power (same as a Tesla mobile connector) and would give you about 17 mph charging. A full charge from zero (which would never happen) would take 19 hours and you would go through 1.3 gallons of fuel/hour (25 gallons). This may be OK for a top-up, but for anyone needing a full charge, this option would likely be a tough pill to swallow! Some campgrounds also limit how many hours you are allowed to run a generator. Having solar panels may help, but you would be gambling on having sunny weather and/or staying longer than planned.
  9. Buy a PHEV truck or rent — RAM is coming out with a plug-in-hybrid in 2025. If you often haul long distances and don’t mind burning gas, this truck may be for you. Alternatively, if you only haul long distances occasionally, you could just rent a gas truck for those outlier trips. The lack of pull-through chargers is the biggest issue really, and that will go away as the charging network is built out to include pull-through stalls over the next few years.
  10. Power-Assist RVs — Some next generation “electrified” RVs hitting the market now are lighter and are much more aerodynamic. Some even incorporate large battery packs with powered axles to increase range substantially. These powered-axle RVs would be very attractive for the group of RV owners who tow the longest distances and/or who go deep off-grid.

Observations & Conclusions

  1. Pull-through chargers — At this point in time, towing heavy trailers longer distances is technically possible for some owners. That said, the current L3 charging infrastructure is clearly inadequate since only the earliest adopters will tolerate having to remove their trailers to charge even once on a trip, let alone multiple times! Pull-through L3 chargers will be needed before towing any distance with BEV trucks becomes mainstream. That said, this only appears to be an issue for the roughly 15% of truck buyers who actually tow longer distances.
  2. Destination charging — As society moves to more BEVs and electrified campers, we will need better charging infrastructure at campgrounds and/or near camping areas. This can be accomplished in many ways, including with L3 chargers near camping areas and/or with more 240V/30 amp plugs at campsites. This is a clear opportunity since renting campsites with access to power has always been a popular “product” for campgrounds, and now these campgrounds can make money “fueling up” their customers. Cost/kWh won’t even matter much since this is convenience charging.
  3. The OEMs did their homework — It looks to me like the car manufacturers did the math and knew perfectly well that 340 miles of range should be enough for many of their customers based on how people actually use their trucks. The fact is most owners do not need massive range since they use their trucks more like SUVs. Even for those who do tow, a significant number of these buyers do not tow far, making BEVs a viable choice.

My plan: Based on how I use my current truck, this analysis demonstrated that I only have a few routes that would be difficult in a BEV truck. My solutions proved simple. Since I don’t like towing my RV long distances anyway, my wife and I are just going to rent a cabin or pitch a tent if we do any longer camping trips in the future. My bet, however, is we just start to camp closer to home instead. My wife loves this idea, btw. For the one “difficult” supplier trip I have for my solar business, I’ll either accept having to stop to charge for those trips or, more likely, I will just shift to a closer supplier. These two minor changes would eliminate all my difficult routes and would completely solve any towing concerns I have.

I’m getting one! After owning a BEV for the past 8 years and 210,000 miles, I can’t imagine buying an ICE truck. BEVs are just too much fun to pass up, plus they are powerful, quiet, save a ton of money on fuel, last a long time, and are better for the planet to boot. With so many good BEV trucks coming onto the market now, the only question is which one!

So, do I still want more range? Absolutely! Having more range would be super nice and would make a BEV truck much easier to live with on longer hauls. That said, I also like the idea of spending less. At least now I know what my actual real-world needs are and what I can do to make a BEV truck work for me. What do you think? Can a BEV truck meet your needs as a truck buyer?

By Luvhrtz


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