Image courtesy of GM

Tesla Cybertruck Doesn’t Solve EV Towing, But The Silverado EV Is Headed In That Direction

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Before anybody tries to roast me, let me be clear right up front: the Cybertruck can tow. It obviously can tow pretty well, too. It has not only been tested to see what its limits are, but it has been tested in ways that most owners wanting to tow would never test it. If you buy one and plan your trips properly, it will do the job. You just have to know what its limitations are.

But, we have to keep in mind that we’re EV fanatics here, as are most readers. I’m the kind of nutcase that tows trailers with a Chevy Bolt EUV, so the Cybertruck’s capabilities are impressive from that perspective. I’m personally concerned about the regenerative braking it won’t do on steep descents, but it seems OK otherwise.

But, what if someone like my dad was to test tow with one? He’s a guy who really uses his 3500 dually pickup truck for work. And, by work, I don’t mean trips to Home Depot. I mean things like hauling a backhoe or hauling an experimental EV truck hundreds of miles to go test it in Moab. When you’re used to diesel torque, diesel range, and diesel refueling speed, putting up with short range and slow charging speeds isn’t being picky.

In other words, it’s a real shortcoming, and a real problem for serious truck users, not the mall ninjas driving ultra clean diesel pickup trucks to the cubicle every day.

Given that I can understand both of these backgrounds, I’m pretty impressed with the even deeper analysis Jason at Engineering Explained did for this. And I’d like to add to what he said in this video afterward. Not only do I agree, but it meshes well with other electric truck testing we’ve seen.

He starts with some testing that Car and Driver does with electric trucks. It’s pretty simple: a 6,100 pound trailer pulled along at 70 MPH (something people outside of California do in the real world). The F-150 and the Rivian both drop almost 2/3 of range doing that. The Hummer drops a little more than half. This probably confuses a lot of people, because the percentage drop should be similar, right?

But another test that Mercedes-Benz did sheds some more light on this. The range you get while towing isn’t just about batteries. At highway speeds, aerodynamics is a big factor. Aerodynamics is about the shapes of both the tow vehicle and the trailer it’s towing, and how those shapes interact with each other. When a very aero efficient vehicle pulls a boxy trailer, it loses a lot more range in the end because the more boxy vehicle ends up losing a lot less in the transaction.

The fact is that you need to put the trailer in the wake of the vehicle. An efficient non-towing design doesn’t have a big wake zone behind it to put the trailer into, so the trailer can’t draft the tow vehicle. So, the combo takes a bigger hit. A blocky tow vehicle ends up counterintuitively doing better at towing than the more slippery one.

Sadly, the Cybertruck is too efficient not towing to be a better tow vehicle. This is good for most owners, as they won’t be towing most of the time, and will get better non-towing range. It’s all about tradeoffs.

But, there is a way around that: putting in a metric buttload of batteries. We don’t know exactly what the useable capacity of the Silverado EV is, but it’s likely somewhere around 215–223 kWh. The Silverado is still a fairly efficient design not towing, but has a lot more to lose when you hook a trailer up to it. More on this in a minute.

Jason concludes, much as I do before the video, that a long towing range, good charging infrastructure, and affordability are all key. The Silverado EV isn’t quite there, but it’s better than the other options right now. Infrastructure is improving. However, the truck is $80,000 for work truck trims and over $100,000 in fancier specs. OUCH. That said, battery prices are coming down, and as volume production of batteries takes off, we will get something like the Silverado EV at prices most people can afford.

Out of Spec Proved This Out

A few days after Jason’s video came out, Out of Spec Reviews came out with a video that provided some hard confirmation. I summarized and shared it here.

Screenshot from Out of Spec Reviews.

The Silverado EV managed to vastly outperform all of the other trucks. Instead of having to make multiple stops going from Denver to Grand Junction and back to Denver, the Silverado EV managed to do it all with just one charging session in Grand Junction. Keep in mind that a little thing called the Rocky Mountains is between Denver and Grand Junction!

This was about more than just the big battery pack. As we’ve seen in other testing videos we’ve shared here, the Cybertruck and the Rivian struggle with regenerative braking while descending steep hills. The Silverado kept most of its regen capability and was able to recover a lot more energy going down to Grand Junction. It also has access to 350 kW charging, which was available and working well in Grand Junction at an Electrify America station.

Between all of these things, the experience of towing wasn’t nearly as painful as it was with all three of the other trucks. In fact, that’s the very conclusion that Kyle came to in the video. He felt like this was the first electric truck that gave a towing experience that was anything even close to what you’d get with an ICE pickup truck, and this is probably what it would take to make most people towing happy.

The problem is that the Silverado is probably a little bit ahead of its time. Battery supplies, especially from friendly countries that aren’t trying to use them against us, need to improve. Getting mining, refining, and battery cell production all going takes years, not months. So, it will be years before prices come down and trucks like the Silverado will be affordable.

Even then, though, it’s not a good truck for people who don’t tow. The environmental impact of that kind of battery production isn’t great if you’re comparing it to an ICE pickup that isn’t used for towing. But, compared to an ICE tow vehicle, the Silverado still comes out ahead. So, like today’s larger pickup trucks, it’s not an environmentally sound choice unless you’re going to use it for real-world things. If you’re planning on mall crawling it, save the money for those weird city slicker rims.

Featured image by GM.


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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 1955 posts and counting. See all posts by Jennifer Sensiba