Tesla is set to unveil its pickup this week and it needs to be widely different from its current lineup. The current line of Tesla vehicles share a lot of parts, and, logically, the Tesla pickup will do the same. However, a truck has different demands than a passenger car or sport utility vehicle. It has to be more robust and able to stand up to more abuse. It has to tow and haul and scale more than a mall flowerbed.
The Tesla pickup is launching as Rivian’s electric pickup is nearing launch. The Rivian R1T looks and feels like an electric pickup. It’s also built off of a purpose-built platform designed to haul and tow. Tesla does not have a similar platform as the Model X SUV is more car than a truck.
Eventually, more automakers will offer electric trucks. Ford has confirmed it’s building an electric F-150 and recently showed it off pulling a train. The upsides are profound. An electric truck will, in theory, offer improved toque (better towing), high payload capacity (due to better weight distribution), and improved performance numbers (electric motors are quick). A truck platform is also, by nature, larger and stronger allowing automakers to stuff more batteries into the frame.
Here’s what we want to see in a pickup from Tesla:
Twice the towing capacity of the Model X
The Tesla Model X is incredible and by most measures, the fastest production SUV available. But it cannot tow much. That’s not because of the powertrain but rather the vehicle platform. A Tesla pickup needs to be able to tow and haul.
According to the Model X owners manual, the vehicle can tow 5,000 pounds. That’s good enough for a couple of jet skis or a tiny trailer, but not much else. For comparison, most Ford F-150 models can tow over 10,000 pounds with some models topping off at 13,000 lbs. Rivian projects its electric pickup can tow over 11,000 pounds. The difference comes from the frame design and vehicle length.
The design of the vehicle often limits towing. The rear suspension needs to be able to support the weight, and the vehicle needs to be long enough to reduce trailer sway. Short vehicles have a hard time towing trailers, and the Model X, built on a version of the Model S, is a compact vehicle. There’s nothing worse than looking out the driver-side window and seeing your trailer racing you down the hill.
In the name of safety alone, a Tesla pickup must have improved towing capacity over the Model X. It should have an integrated trailer brake controller, too — something missing from the Model X.
The Model X platform is not built for hauling either. According to the owner’s manual, when two passengers are in the vehicle, it can only hold an additional 654 lbs. That’s just eight bags of Quickrete cement. To make matters worse, the rear deck of the Model X can only support 285 lbs somewhat saying the rear axle cannot hold that much weight, and the additional weight needs to be spread between the two axles.
A pickup needs to be able to take a load of wood mulch or a couple of major appliances, and Tesla’s current platforms are not designed for such.
Most light-duty pickups, from the Honda Ridgeline to the F-150, can support from 1,500 lbs to 2,000 lbs in the bed. And it’s easy to exceed that rating, too. An open truck bed is an invitation to load it up, but unless you’re using a heavy-duty pickup, don’t get a pallet of landscaping bricks.
Robust Serviceable Parts
Even if a pickup is only used for monthly Home Depot runs, it sustains more abuse than passenger vehicles due to its size. Brakes wear out quicker, and tires need more attention. If it has a light-duty suspension, bushings and joints wear out faster than in cars or SUVs.
Tesla makes it difficult for owners to repair the vehicles they purchased. I don’t expect that to be any different with the Tesla pickup. Tesla is not going to want owners wrenching on the truck. Since that’s the case, the pickup must come with improved parts.
The serviceable parts (brakes, suspension, and tires) that come on the Tesla pickup needs to be more robust and reliable than that used on the Tesla passenger vehicles.
Electric vehicles feature much fewer parts that can go wrong than internal combustion vehicles. It’s great. Owners do not have to change a timing belt or engine oil. But there are still items that will wear out, and most pickup buyers need assurances that they can go the distance.
Off-roading capabilities (or the ability to add off-roading capabilities)
The electric Rivian R1T is currently racing across South America to demonstrate its off-roading chops. Here’s the company’s blog post about it. This excites the truck guy in me. Now that’s a truck, I yell!
I don’t have the data, but I suspect most light-duty pickups are hardly used to their potential. I have a well-equipped F-150 that is used to tow a trailer twice a year.
Trucks are often aspirational purchases where buyers shop for potential lifestyles. Sure, you must have a truck, because one day, you’re going to buy that travel trailer and drive through Yellowstone. To fulfill this dream, a pickup should be able to run the desert or climb rocks.
The Rivian R1T gets a lot of things right, and I hope Tesla is following Rivian’s lead. It’s longer than a Ford Ranger and exceeds the Toyota Tacoma’s bed capacity rating. The wheel wells are large, seemingly saying it can support larger tires than the original from the factory. The R1T has an imposing stance. It looks the part, and the Tesla pickup needs to look the part, too.
Even if the Tesla looks like a weak truck, it’s essential to be able to modify the truck. Add-ons are a big part of the truck culture. My F-150 has become a money pit as I’ve thrown cash into buying accessories. Rivian knows this and has shown off its pickup with a handful of adds-on from tents to kitchens.
A Tesla pickup could have a unique selling point by allowing owners to use it as a high-output generator.
Right now, a lot of trucks have plenty of power ports, both 12v and 110v. They’re found throughout the cab and bed but cannot power serious tools. The 12v system used in internal combustion vehicles will not power much more than a drill or small saw, let alone a house by acting as a whole house generator.
The functionality would be well received. Homeowners would appreciate the ability to power parts of their homes during blackouts. Campers could use it when taking the pickup on an adventure. Construction works could use it to power and recharge tools.
Right now, there isn’t a way to output the full power of a Tesla vehicle. Owners can use an inverter, but that’s also limited and requires extra parts. Tesla would need to build safeguards and regional power ports into the battery platform to ensure safety and compatibility.
A word about the price.
There’s no way around this. A Tesla pickup will be more expensive than its internal combustion counterparts. It will be an upscale pickup, aimed at those that wear Arc’teryx instead of Carhart.
Rivian is pricing its pickup with a starting price of $69,000 and a Tesla pickup will likely start in the same range. If it’s a new platform built for hauling or towing, Tesla will have a lot of engineering and manufacturing hours to recuperate, which will drive the price north. Until more are available, Tesla and Rivian will be able to set the market price.
It’s a lot for a truck. That’s the price of a fully-spec’d out Ford F-150 that’s more comfortable or capable than it has any right to be. It’s also the same price as a beefy F-350 with Ford’s most potent engine and a towing capacity of 37,000 lbs.
Check back later this week as TechCrunch will be on hand later when Tesla unveils its pickup.