Pickups in the U.S. are often sold on the bragging rights of numbers—not the Olympic-sprinter acceleration times and top-speed numbers that sell performance cars, but in how high they can tip the scales in strongman-contest pulling and hauling tasks.
For that, the electric pickups on the way from Tesla, Rivian, and others, provided they can overcome the significant range and charging concerns, are likely to boast some seriously competitive numbers. Certainly not everyone with towing needs is going to be able to forget about diesels and V-8s; but for those with occasional weekend-towing needs, electric pickups could work very, very well.
Rivian claims that its R1T pickup, for example, will have a tow rating of 11,000 pounds and peak payload of 1764 pounds, according to the startup electric-vehicle maker. In the interest of full disclosure, Rivian’s truck is still in development and these numbers could change quite a bit by the time they go on sale in 2020.
The 2019 Dodge Ram 1500, for instance, can have a tow rating of up to 12,750 pounds if you buy the right version and check the right equipment boxes. Quite a few other versions in the lineup—some with the big 5.7-liter Hemi V-8—carry a tow rating under 9,000 pounds.
2019 Ram 1500 Laramie Longhorn Edition
Why will electric trucks do so well in the towing-number dog-and-pony show? Towing experts point out that electric trucks will probably have no problem keeping up with, or even outdoing, big V-8 or diesel trucks because of one simple benchmark: Launch on Grade.
As part of SAE J2807, the standard that most vehicle makers use to issue tow ratings in the U.S. (and beyond), the truck must be able to launch up a 12-percent grade—a very steep incline—five times in a row within a five-minute period. And it must also do that in Reverse.
With the capability to deliver peak torque almost instantly, and the ability to modulate power from individual motors more effectively as part of traction-control systems, electric trucks are inherently better-suited to launch confidently up such a ramp—pulling a trailer up a slick boat launch, for instance.
Although this won’t be surprising to current electric-car drivers—especially Tesla owners who have wowed passengers with repeated super-strong yet drama-free launches, the perspective may be new to some truck fans.
Rivian R1T electric pickup concept
As part of the SAE standard there are several additional steep-grade tests conducted at speed, as well as handling and braking tests—which could be more stable thanks to the lower center of mass of electric vehicles and their increasingly common “skateboard” layout.
With its full load, on level ground, the trucks must also meet acceleration and passing-time requirements—and be able to tackle a real or simulated ascent up the challenging 11.4-mile Davis Dam Grade in Arizona, with an ambient temperature of 100 degrees and the air conditioning on max. This could potentially be a serious test for battery-pack cooling.
That standard was enacted largely by the domestic “Big Three” after a series of cases in which truck makers upped the ante, one after another, often without evidence of significant physical engine, transmission, or braking upgrades.
Consider, for a moment, Tesla’s sudden overnight software-enabled improvement last year to acceleration times on new and existing Model S sedans and Model X utility vehicles. With electric-vehicle battery cooling and power controls a rapidly evolving field, we may soon see a new kind of numbers race.