One of the topics that enthusiasts and skeptics are hung up on is the towing capacity of EV pickup trucks. Can EV trucks do Real Truck Things™, or are they forever destined to be lifestyle vehicles?
Let’s break it down.
When it comes to towing, the benchmark for a capable truck often hovers around 10,000 pounds. To provide context, the heftiest Airstream, the Classic Travel Trailer, tips the scales at 8,000 pounds when fully loaded. In comparison, the much-loved Airstream model, the Flying Cloud, clocks in at 6,000 pounds when fully loaded. Even the average ski boat and its trailer come in at under 6,000 pounds.
Based on the specifications of various EV trucks, these weights comfortably fall within their towing capacities. Thanks to the robust torque delivered by electric motors, there's no longer an absolute necessity for a ¾ ton pickup equipped with a massive engine to manage a 10,000-pound tow. The Ford F-150 Lightning with the extended-range battery is up to the task, as should be the Silverado. Meanwhile, the Rivian R1T can confidently handle 11,000 pounds of towing weight across all trim levels. The Cybertruck is still in rumor territory, but the highest trim should be able to pull 14,000 lbs.
As a side note, for lighter loads, you can even tow with a humble yet versatile EV like the Chevy Bolt. This couple has chronicled their experiences in a video series, offering insights into the process. Expect around a 35% reduction in range, akin to what's encountered in cold weather conditions.
Notably, crucial accessories such as towing mirrors might be required add-on purchases for many models.
Among all the activities one might undertake with an EV, towing has the most significant impact on achievable range. The only other factor that comes close to this effect is driving in extremely cold weather. Naturally, towing with a gasoline-powered truck also comes with considerable fuel inefficiencies. Ford has been quick to point out that the range loss with an electric tow truck is comparable to that of a gas truck.
First, it's worth noting that the range of EVs - without any towing - hinges on numerous factors such as trim level, battery size, weather conditions, and terrain.
Manufacturers of electric pickup trucks generally rate towing range at approximately 50% of the non-towing range, considering a load of up to 80% of the maximum towing capacity. Real-world tests by bloggers, car magazines, and YouTubers alike all tend to agree, although Consumer Reports found that even the 50% range is an overestimate. In their study, the Rivian and the F-150 Lightning achieves "real world" ranges closer to one third of their EPA ratings when towing 10,000 pounds. At highway speeds, Car and Driver finds that the Rivian, Lightning, and Hummer EV all achieve less than half of their EPA range.
On the other hand, Edmunds testing finds that towing only adds on 27% additional energy use - translating to approximately 27% less range. However, they compare apples to apples, not apples to EPA range.
Although we don't yet have a ton of data, the Silverado is advertised (and validated by preliminary testing) to lose half of it's 450 miles range when towing 5,000 pounds. As soon as the tow mode or hitch is engaged, the range automatically adjusts, regardless of the actual weight being pulled.
So, what's the takeaway? If your truck is rated for a 250-mile range on a full battery, anticipate roughly 125 miles of range while towing an 8,500-pound trailer. If you're towing on a highway at speeds exceeding 60 miles per hour or navigating through mountainous terrain, the range will be even less. Finally, as Edmunds points out, the additional aerodynamic drag added by hooking up a trailer can deplete you of even more range. If you have regular towing plans, it's wise to opt for the largest available battery, plan to ample charging breaks, and don't hope to go too far.
PS: the Chevy Silverado, still not in general release, boasts an estimated range of at least 450 miles. Even a third of that is still a pretty respectable 150 miles.
Since towing with an EV will inevitably curtail your range, charging becomes a particularly pivotal aspect. Both the speed and accessibility of charging stations gain heightened significance when towing a trailer on any kind of road trip.
First off, the charging speed obviously influences the duration of your pit stops. As towing consumes roughly twice the energy of regular driving, you might need to allocate double the charging time for longer journeys. For instance, the Ford F-150 Lightning with the 98kWh battery can charge from 15% to 80% in approximately 44 minutes, according to Ford. The Lightning's DC Fast Charging (DCFC) station rate caps at 150kW.
On the other hand, the Rivian R1T can accept around 220kW of power at a DCFC station. While this might appear as a noteworthy disparity, actual charging speeds will be heavily reliant on the station's quality and the charging curve unique to each vehicle.
And what about that lightning-fast 350 kW max charging speed for the Silverado? While the speed is industry-leading (along with the likes of newer model-year Kias and Hyundais), the Chevy truck also has a massive battery pack to recharge. An impressive 200 kW charge speed, it will take an hour to fill up the 200 kWh battery. Can't find a charger that can give you 200+ kW? It will take even longer.
Lastly, charger placement plays a significant role in determining the feasibility of an electric pickup truck for your needs. Does your route predominantly follow major highways, or does it traverse through extensive stretches of remote backroads? In the latter scenario, consulting charging apps like Plugshare to explore your charging options becomes imperative. It's a smart move to plan this out before fully committing to an electric truck or a specific route.
Can You Charge While Towing?
Another facet of accessibility involves the availability of pull-through charging stations. The norm still largely revolves around standard pull-in parking spaces for charging, which necessitate unhitching trailers for the truck to charge. Pull-through stations are gradually becoming more prevalent among charging providers, but expect this to remain a limited option for at least a few years.
As with so many things, it ultimately hinges on what towing needs you have and where you'll be traveling. Some pickup truck owners might require a vehicle capable of hauling a utility trailer a modest 40 miles daily, with the convenience of charging at home afterward. This could indeed be the optimal usage scenario for those keen on towing with an EV. The next best scenario involves individuals who camp relatively close to major highways, readily finding pull-through charging stations. With the release of the next round of of electric trucks hitting the roads, we can anticipate swift developments and improvements, and we're eager to hear about your experiences.