Tesla pickup truck claims defy the laws of physics by John Engle

In 2017 scientists questioned whether the Tesla Semi could meet Musk’s claims (see post “Given the laws of physics, can the Tesla Semi really go 500 miles, and what will the price be?”). I suspect this is why Tesla has delayed the release another year, to 2020.

Below is another article that questions the claims Tesla is making about the Tesla pick-up truck.

Alice Friedemann   www.energyskeptic.com  author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer and “Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers”. Podcasts: Derrick Jensen, Practical Prepping, KunstlerCast 253, KunstlerCast278, Peak Prosperity , XX2 report

* * *

Engle, J. 2019. Tesla pickup truck claims defy the laws of physics. seekingalpha.com


Tesla has been teasing its pickup truck for months, with the first glimpse offered at the March reveal of the Model Y SUV.

Elon Musk has claimed the Tesla pickup will outmatch the Ford F-150 as a truck, as well as matching the Porsche 911 in sports car performance.

Tesla plans to unveil the pickup this summer, but the technological capabilities it would need to demonstrate to meet Musk’s promises are years from reality.

Tesla is known to make outlandish promises, but the Tesla Pickup may be the wildest yet. When reality sets in, Tesla may find a rude awakening.

For months, hype has been building around Tesla’s (TSLA) long-promised pickup truck. A partial image was teased at the unveiling event for the company’s Model Y SUV in March, and CEO Elon Musk has made numerous claims about its capabilities in the months since.

Much of the excitement around the Tesla Pickup stems from the out-of-this-world specs Musk has repeatedly promised. Yet, upon closer examination, most of the promised performance specifications appear to be physically impossible to achieve.

Pickup trucks are big business, especially in the United States, so it makes sense that Tesla would want to cash in on that lucrative market. However, Tesla’s appeal to science fiction over actual science suggests the project is not as mature as Musk claims.

Investors expecting the Tesla Pickup to contribute to the company’s strained bottom line anytime soon should think again.

Performance Anxiety

Musk has commented on the question of performance multiple times. At Tesla’s annual meeting this month, he declared that the pickup would have sports car performance capabilities on a par with the Porsche 911, while on a recent episode of the “Ride the Lightning” podcast he compared it favorably to the Ford (F) F-150:

“It’s going to be a truck that is more capable than other trucks. The goal is to be a better truck than a F-150 in terms of truck-like functionality and be a better sports car than a standard 911. That’s the aspiration.”

That sounds great in theory. After all, who wouldn’t want to drive a vehicle with the rugged capabilities of an F-150 and the handling of a 911? Unfortunately, when something sounds too good to be true, it almost always is. That certainly appears to be the case here.

CNBC recently interviewed Brett Smith, the director of propulsion technologies and energy infrastructure at the Center for Automotive Research, who threw some cold water on Musk’s big ambitions:

“While ‘you’re never going to get a vehicle that can do everything well,’ says Smith, ‘I have no doubt that they can build a pickup truck that has much better handling than the current F-150.’”

“But it will likely prove too difficult to build the typical features of a pickup truck, including the ability to haul heavy cargo and handle off-road driving, into ‘a light-weight, high-performance sports car’ that could match the Porsche 911, he says…‘The physics don’t work there.’”

The tradeoff between robust trucking capabilities and sports car performance are well understood in the automotive industry. Tesla has shown no magical ability to defy the basic physics and engineering constraints that render Musk’s promises essentially impossible to attain with present technology.

Hauling Fantasy

Musk’s claims about the Tesla Pickup have gone even farther into the realm of science fiction from time to time. Taking to Twitter in March, he scoffed at the Dodge Ram, declaring its 12,750 pounds of towing capacity to be puny:

  • Dodge Ram owner@RamLover69: you would still be physically fatigued if you tried to haul 12,000 lbs of steel beams like I do every day with my Dodge Ram, 2019s motor trend truck of the year
  • Replying to @RamLover69: 12,000lbs!? How puny. Do you construct Children’s Toys?

This was not the first time Musk has commented on the towing capacity of the Tesla Pickup Truck. Indeed, in June 2018, he proclaimed it would be able to haul an astonishing 300,000 pounds:

  • Elon Musk @elonmusk 26 Jun 2018: The Tesla truck will have dual motor all-wheel drive w crazy torque & a suspension that dynamically adjusts for load. Those will be standard.
  • Psycho Hippie @psycho_hippie 26 Jun 2018: 30,000 lb towing capacity
  • Elon Musk replying to @psycho_hippie: 300,000 lb towing capacity

Even if taken as mere braggadocio, Musk’s claim is so far beyond the pale as to merit a hearty scoff or two. Indeed, this claim literally defies the laws of battery engineering and physics. Even the Tesla Semi, an electric big rig truck, is supposedly only going to be rated to haul 80,000 pounds. The notion that the Tesla Pickup would have a large enough battery – and powerful enough drive-train – to rate a safe hauling capacity more than 20 times greater than that of its top fossil fuel-powered rivals borders on the obscene.

Of course, Musk is no stranger to claiming specifications for vehicles that cannot be supported by physics. The Semi, for example, is supposed to be able to travel 500 miles full laden. Yet, as Martin Daum, the head of Daimler’s trucking division, pointed out, such a capability is well beyond the limits of current battery technology:

“If Tesla really delivers on this promise, we’ll obviously buy two trucks — one to take apart and one to test because if that happens, something has passed us by. But for now, the same laws of physics apply in Germany and in California.

Musk’s claims appear even more suspect when one considers the hauling capacity of Tesla’s current vehicles. The Model X crossover is Tesla’s most robust vehicle, yet it faces substantial battery drain when used as a hauler. Even with the optional towing package, the Model X can lose more than 60% of its range when hauling weights approaching 5,000 pounds.

Admittedly, an electric pickup truck would likely see lower levels of degradation due to a more optimized design, but the battery consumption would still be substantial – especially if the promises of 911-level handling are to be taken seriously. The Tesla Pickup’s planned 400 to 500 mile range is not likely to hold up terribly well when used as a heavy-duty hauler.

Investor’s Eye View Musk is well known for his propensity to dabble in wishful thinking where vehicle performance is concerned, but the claims he has made about the Tesla Pickup are beyond the pale even for him. There is simply no way it will be able to do the things he claims.

As a consequence, it appears quite likely that the Tesla Pickup is far from reaching the serious prototype and basic testing stage, let alone the all-terrain and all-weather testing that will be critical to the development of a genuinely robust electric pickup truck.

Tesla fans who believe the current hype, and Tesla investors expecting the imminent arrival of a lucrative industry-leading pickup truck, are bound for a rude awakening.

This entry was posted in Electric Trucks, Electric trucks impossible, Electrification and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Tesla pickup truck claims defy the laws of physics by John Engle

  1. Cynic says:

    I have come to suspect that the role of Musk is simply to seed positive-sounding memes, however improbable.

    An equivalent of the ‘wealth effect’ delusion created by stock manipulations.

    The perfect pacifier as society tips into the collapse phase. Mis-inform and mystify…..

    The dry comment by the German about the laws of physics is a delight!

  2. jeorge says:

    Personally I feel not one more EV should be sold until there is a energetically rational recycling scheme in place to deal with them once they’re at end of life.

  3. I loved your last sentence, Sheila. I was all, “Wow!, there are others who actually ‘get it’,” (that’s when I remembered what site I was on). But still, that was impressively poetic. I don’t know your age, of course, but I’m 67, so I remember the so-called Green Revolution that supposedly put Paul Ehrlich to bed, yet if one does even the most rudimentary analysis of what that “green” revolution was based on, it was fossil fuels: mechanized agriculture and natural gas-derived fertilizers and pesticides. And it is precisely because of that first Green revolution that we are in the situation we find ourselves in today since it enabled the population explosion. That train you see barreling down the tracks toward its inevitable collision with reality is the Green New Deal.