Photo by David Rand, used with permission.

Do Not Read This Report About Cybertruck Issues In The Snow

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Social media is a sinkhole, a vast wasteland of misinformation, disinformation, and assorted dreck that will rot your mind if you let it. People see something on a screen and automatically assume it is true. Then they share it with their friends who share it with their friends until every person on earth with a computer or a smartphone knows about it. In 99.72% of cases, the end result of all this sharing is a distorted picture of reality. Case in point: the now well documented case of a Tesla Cybertruck that was unable to claw its way up a driveway with a slight incline covered by 4 to 6 inches of snow. If you are one of the three people who haven’t seen it yet, here it is.

Cybertruck And Snow

There are several things going on here. First of all, there is a healthy dollop of schadenfreud among some people. We have been hearing for years about how the Cybertruck is more powerful than a locomotive, faster than a speeding bullet, and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. Elon has made all sorts of wild pronouncements about its rampant awesomeness.

It will go faster, climb higher, and tow more weight than any pickup truck in the history of the world. Not only that, it is bulletproof and able to float much like the famous Lotus submersible car that appeared in The Spy Who Loved Me movie. Elon paid nearly $1 million for one of the cars used in that movie in 2013, part of his fixation on cult movies like Blade Runner, Total Recall, Spinal Tap, and Space Balls.

People love to see others fall flat on their face. It’s one of the less appealing traits baked into human DNA. After all of Elon’s boasts about the Cybertruck, who wouldn’t feel a little tickle of glee to see his creation humbled by a bit of snow? As for watching it on Instagram, Elon has built the Tesla empire almost exclusively on social media. Live by the sword; die by the sword.

Traction & Tires

The tire size reading on the Tesla Cybertruck release candidate spotted on an enclosed trailer in Austin, Texas. Credit: @triggertx / Instagram

Now let’s stop the guffawing and take a look at what is really going on here. The two main factors for driving successfully in low traction situations are tires and driver skill. In this instance, the Cybertruck presumably is fitted with the original tires, which we believe to be 285/65/R20. One of my intrepid colleagues reports those tires are 34.6 inches high and 11.2 inches wide. That means they have a mighty big footprint on the ground beneath them.

People who live in snowy climes know that tires with a long, narrow footprint give better traction in the snow than tires with a short, wide footprint. Way back when, I had a 1973 Honda Civic with tiny little 12 inch tires. It handled snow like a mountain goat. Later, I owned a Cadillac Eldorado that slewed all over the place if there was a flake of snow on the road. One car was light and agile with skinny tires. The other was big and heavy with wide tires. Enough said.

They also know snow tires need big, deep blocks of tread with lots of space between them to get a grip in deep snow. The Cybertruck tires we have seen in spy shots posted online look to have fairly little tread depth and not much space between the blocks. That is probably because they are supposed to perform well in a wide range of driving conditions — acceleration, stopping, rock climbing, dirt roads, sand, and high-speed operation. Any tire engineer will tell you no tire can do all of those things well. The tires Tesla chose for the Cybertruck are a compromise. It appears that superior traction in snow is not one of their strengths, even though they are mud and snow rated.

Then there is ice. Frankly, people, if there is a layer of ice under that snow in the driveway, that is a whole ‘nother kettle of fish. People who drive in wintry places know ice is treacherous no matter what you are driving. Many years ago, a well known editor for Car and Driver magazine was given an Audi Quattro to drive — one of the first all-wheel-drive sedans to go into production. He was amazed and astonished at how well the car performed while driving in snow.

Then he crested a rise and discovered black ice on the other side. He crashed heavily and his wife was seriously injured. Afterward, he wrote a thoughtful piece about how no vehicle is safe when the roads are icy. If the driver of that Cybertruck was attempting to climb an icy driveway, that would go a long way toward explaining the difficulties he encountered.

Driver Skill

I do not know the driver of that Cybertruck or anything about his skill behind the wheel, but I learned to drive in New England where the proper technique when the going gets slippery is fingertips on the steering wheel and very gentle pressure on the throttle. Any abrupt move is to be avoided. What is needed is a very keen sense of what is going on down there where the rubber meets the road by feeling what the car is doing. It takes heightened awareness that frankly can be mentally draining on a long drive in slippery conditions. Spinning wheels — which is what we are seeing in that video — are a sign the driver has lost control of the situation.

That being said, it is legitimate to ask why the Cybertruck, with all of its sophisticated computer software, is not able to simulate a skilled driver under these circumstances. The vehicle has enough torque to tow freight cars, but torque is not your friend when traction is limited. We are curious whether the Cybertruck might not need a bit of tweaking to its traction control algorithm.

The Cybertruck is a polarizing vehicle. People either love it or they hate it. Either way, one video on social media should not determine whether it is worthy. A few years ago, Consumer Reports declined to give the Tesla Model 3 a satisfactory rating because the brakes did not perform as well as expected. An over-the-air software update solved the problem. We have no doubt that Elon and his band of merry pranksters will figure out how to handle a snowy driveway. Oh, and one more thing. If we were confronted with a snow-covered driveway, we probably wouldn’t choose to go up it backwards. Just saying.

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new."

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