Electric trucks are coming. But truck drivers have questions. One of the biggest is about towing. Manufacturers publish range figures for the trucks, but the math behind those estimates doesn’t include a trailer. Several recent tests have set out to establish what pulling a load does to the range of an electric truck.
Let’s take an in-depth look.
The electric trucks are here
Trucks aren’t the best-selling type of vehicle in America. Americans bought more SUVs than cars and trucks combined last year. But the top three best-selling vehicles are all full-size trucks, and two more pickups snuck into the top 20.
But most automakers are pledging to sell heavily electrified lineups in the coming years.
To meet their goals, they’ll need to build electric pickups that American truck buyers trust.
The first few are already on the road. GM GM, -3.77% has launched its GMC Hummer EV, an off-road-oriented luxury truck. Startup Rivian, meanwhile, began shipping its R1T pickup to buyers late last year.
More are on the way. The Ford F-150 Lightning will likely be the first electric truck many Americans encounter – Ford F, -4.16% sold 200,000 reservations for the truck before the factory launched production. A Chevy Silverado EV will follow. Ram plans its own electric truck. Tesla TSLA, -4.14% says it has more than 1 million reservations for its Cybertruck, though the vehicle has been delayed.
But can they tow?
Most manufacturers list respectable tow ratings for their EV trucks. Rivian, RIVN, -6.00% for instance, says the R1T can pull 11,000 pounds. Properly equipped, Ford says, an F-150 Lighting can tow 10,000.
But they don’t say how far the trucks can tow such loads.
Test No. 1
The Fast Lane Truck decided to find out. The website and video channel pitted a Rivian R1T against a 2022 Toyota Tundra, both towing a 2,000-pound camping trailer. The crew tested how far each truck could get on the energy they could store – a full battery for the Rivian and a full gas tank for the Tundra.
The R1T, as tested, has a stated range of 280 miles (it’s available with up to 314). TFLT got 153 miles out of it while pulling a camping trailer. They could have gotten a bit more – they stopped when the truck’s battery was at 9%.
The Tundra had used just 32.5% of its fuel at the same point. That means it could likely triple the Rivian’s range.
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Test No. 2
Motor Trend ran its own test with the Rivian late last year. They used a model with the full 314-mile range and came near its maximum towing weight, pulling 9,000 pounds. “Closed-course testing revealed the R1T to be very stable while towing the trailer,” MT wrote. The truck accelerated to 60 mph in just 7.5 seconds, even pulling a load.
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But range? The truck’s computer estimated that it could pull the load for 123 miles. But, in real-world testing, MT had 47 miles of range left when they hit that 123-mile limit. They didn’t push any further.
It’s worth noting that MT’s testers found that the truck, while it can tow for a fairly short distance, tows extremely well. “instant torque. Whether leaving a stop, passing a slower truck or going up a hill, the R1T always has way more power than it needs to quickly and safely get the job done,” they wrote. Altitude seemed to have no effect on towing performance.
What it means
So, can the first generation of electric trucks replace gasoline-powered trucks for those who tow regularly? Probably not. The range penalty you pay for hitching up a trailer is extreme, often cutting distance in half. Not to mention that truck owners often tow their loads to places where you can’t easily recharge an EV – if you pulled that camping trailer to a campsite, you wouldn’t likely find a charging point waiting for you there.
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Electric trucks can tow short distances exceptionally well and meet the needs of drivers who don’t tow often. But battery technology will need to improve before electric tow vehicles become a common sight. For the time being, if you’re buying a truck for general purposes, an electric truck might save you money on gasoline and cut your personal emissions. But if you’re buying a tow vehicle, odds are good that EV technology is not ready to meet your needs yet.
This story originally ran on KBB.com.