As the electric pickup wars charge up, here's what we want to see
The Tesla “Cybertruck” may be the automaker’s boldest play yet, one that any truck enthusiast should have paid attention to when Elon Musk pulled the covers off on November 21. But the much-hyped vehicle already has to hit ludicrous speed to catch up to the Rivian R1T, which has enjoyed a year-long headstart to capture the world’s attention. Soon, Tesla’s outspoken CEO can end his Twitter teaser campaign and share all the real-deal details of his company’s ambitious segment-buster. How will they compare to the specs of Rivian’s equally ambitious foray? Here are the features we hope to see from the Tesla truck that could give it an edge in the nascent EV-pickup game.
1. Ultra Long Range
Similar to Tesla vehicles, the R1T uses a “skateboard” chassis with its batteries mounted low and flat in the floor. It’s likely the Tesla truck will use a similar layout, but the company’s battery engineers are going to have to go big to match Rivian: The R1T is designed to carry a 180-kilowatt-hour “MegaPack” battery that is said to provide more than 400 miles (644 km) of range.
Truck drivers who do long-haul towing need to know their vehicle has excellent endurance. Rivian’s claimed range exceeds that of any current Tesla car, but it’s also physically a much larger vehicle. The Tesla truck will likely be longer and wider than the Model S or Model X, providing more space for batteries. It’s unclear how big the Tesla truck will be or what it will look like, and teasers like the one above seem to pose more questions than answers. But if it can crack 500 unladen miles (805 km) on a charge, it’ll help put dedicated road warriors’ range anxiety to rest—no matter how it ends up looking.
2. Off-Road Excellence
Rivian wants R1T customers to have the freedom to get down and dirty. It’s engineered the truck to impress off-road, with better approach, departure, and breakover angles than a Toyota Tacoma, and adjustable air suspension that can provide more ground clearance than a Jeep Gladiator Rubicon. Each of the R1T’s transmission outputs are located centrally under the vehicle, allowing long halfshafts to be fitted for more wheel articulation. Furthermore, precision torque vectoring is provided by each wheel’s dedicated motor, making it easier for the truck to crawl over loose and technical terrain.
There’s little to stop Cytbertruck designers from building in competitive angles and ride height. Like the Rivian, it should get substantial underbody protection to shield the batteries from terrain impacts. And air suspension isn’t new to Tesla; the Model S and X ride on height-adjustable air springs. But so far, Teslas have been offered with up to two motors, one for each axle. With Track Mode, the Model 3 can vector torque, albeit using the brakes. Going for a quad-motor setup would be a new approach for Tesla, but would have awesome benefits for its truck’s capability off pavement or in inclement weather. Whatever the case, we hope Team Tesla is working to make their truck as rugged as any other. Maybe they’ll go so far as to start installing Superchargers at trailheads.
3. Towing-Tuned Autopilot
There’s a certain art to towing with a truck, one that only comes from practice and real-world experience. Can machines do a better job? Rivian claims the R1T will be able to tow 11,000 pounds (4,989 kg), and that it’ll have a full suite of autonomous driving features based on cameras, lidar, radar, and ultrasonic sensors. But the brand’s made no mention of how that technology might improve towing capabilities.
Here’s where Tesla can find an edge. Its Autopilot self-driving system is guaranteed to be part of the Tesla truck, and it would be wise to deploy new truck-specific autonomous features to make towing even easier. We’d love to see automatic trailer hitching enabled by Autopilot’s many cameras and sensors. Trailer sway control while the driver has their hands off the wheel would make highway cruising a breeze. And as Autopilot updates bring full self-driving closer to reality, the Tesla truck should be able to detect a trailer’s length and adjust navigation trajectories accordingly. Any Autopilot feature that could take the stress out of towing would be a boon for truck newbies and veterans alike.
4. Heavy-Duty Capability
The R1T packs some clever ways to carry cargo, namely the pass-through “Gear Tunnel” between the cab and bed, and the roomy frunk afforded by the absence of an engine. However, its more traditional capacities leave something to be desired. The only bed shown so far is just 4.6 feet long and 4.5 feet wide, making it smaller than most midsize trucks. An 11,000-pound (4,989-kg) tow and 1,760-pound (798-kg) payload rating are solid, but far from leading—some of today’s heavy-duty trucks can easily triple those figures.
Trucks are all about big numbers, and Tesla should do everything it can to eke out extra digits. A five-foot bed is the minimum to be taken seriously; even longer bed options would be a wise addition further down the line. Towing-wise, perhaps Tesla will borrow learnings from its semi truck to improve the Tesla truck’s rating. We doubt it’ll come anything close to the 300,000-pound (136,078-kg) capacity Elon Musk once proclaimed on Twitter, but just a tenth of that would still result in a tremendously capable vehicle. Getting the Tesla truck’s numbers close to the biggest, baddest HDs on the market would improve electricity’s feasibility as a truck power source—and blow Rivian out of the water.
5. Pricing for the Everyman
In today’s market there’s a truck for every budget, from stripped-down work trucks to leather-lined luxury duallies. The R1T’s pricing is slated to start in the high-$60,000 USD range for the smallest 105-kW-hr battery pack, and will only go up from there. That’s not exorbitant for a cool, capable, and high-tech truck, but still on the upper end of the spectrum.
Tesla has worked hard to bring electric mobility to the masses, an ethos that shouldn’t change for the so-called Cybertruck. There will be high-end, long-range, luxury versions to be sure, but Tesla should realize there’s a market for basic, no-frills work trucks for around-town deliveries or quick trips between the hardware store and jobsite. It won’t be hard for Tesla to ride its reputation and earn customers in the same demographics as it does for the Model S, X, and 3. To conquest buyers from the most entrenched segment in the industry, it’s going to have to price down and offer trim levels that meet those buyers’ needs for affordable capability.
6. Roll Coal Mode
Some diesel die-hards gain subversive satisfaction by kitting their trucks out to spew dense black clouds out of the exhaust, in a tradition known as rolling coal. So as not to alienate these terrible human beings—um, customers—Tesla will have to adapt. Already notorious for sneaking Easter eggs into its software updates, there’s a piece of hardware Tesla should consider to appeal to more mischievous truck drivers.
Obviously, electric cars have no tailpipes and zero operating emissions, so it’d be impossible for the Tesla truck to roll coal in the typical sense. Instead, we suggest that Tesla install some type of fog machine or vaporizer contraption in the rear bumper area. Once activated from within the cabin, its effusions will discharge through a faux tailpipe, perhaps mounted on a swivel so it can be pointed directly at pedestrians or smaller, lesser vehicles. Unlike diesel burnt into noxious fumes, this device should only emit environmentally friendly, water-based vapors, potentially even scented to bring a pleasant aroma to the surrounding area. Whaddya say, Elon?