Why Tesla's Cybertruck Tug-of-War Against a Ford F-150 Proves Nothing

On the face of it, Tesla’s tug-of-war stunt with the Cybertruck seems impressive. The oddly angular electric prototype easily dragged a tire-roasting F-150 up a stretch of mountain road, apparently showing off the torque advantage of Tesla’s electric motors. But, as Jason Fenske of Engineering Explained points out, Tesla’s truck stunt doesn’t really prove anything about the Cybertruck’s capabilities.

If you missed the original stunt, Tesla attempted to show off the Cybertruck’s power by pitting it against an F-150 in a tug-of-war that the prototype EV handily won. You’d be forgiven for assuming that means the Tesla is the stronger truck, but that isn’t quite what’s going on here.

Cybertruck pulls F-150 uphill pic.twitter.com/OfaqUkrDI3

See, in a tug-of-war situation, it’s not just about how much torque your vehicle can put to the wheels. The limiting factor is traction. And because grip is determined by the frictional coefficient of the tires and the mass carried by those tires, a lighter truck is always going to be disadvantaged.

That’s a problem for the aluminum-bodied, gas-powered F-150 when it’s facing off against a heavy battery-electric prototype with a body of stainless steel. We don’t have a weight figure for the Cybertruck yet, but if we assume it weighs as much as a production-spec Tesla Model X (a significantly smaller vehicle), the Cybertruck would still weigh hundreds of pounds more than the heaviest version of the current F-150.

And even if the trucks weighed the same, it sure looks like Tesla rigged this test. As the F-150 gets dragged backwards, you might have noticed that only its rear wheels are spinning. The front wheels are comfortably rolling backwards, suggesting that this F-150 either doesn’t have four-wheel drive engaged, or it’s a two-wheel drive model.

Without four-wheel drive, Fenske notes that the F-150 faces an even larger weight disadvantage. Only 40 percent of the F-150’s weight hangs over its rear wheels, which means its ability to put the power down from a stop is severely limited. And even the downhill angle of the Ford puts it at a disadvantage, since less of the F-150’s weight is resting on its driven rear wheels, though Fenske suggests the angle of the hill might be a trick of the camera.

So, bottom line, this stunt doesn’t actually prove anything about the Cybertruck’s capability. In what seems to be an unfair and strange stunt, all Tesla has proven is that the Cybertruck prototype is heavy. Hey, at least they’re not alone in doing an impressive-looking truck stunt that doesn’t prove much of anything.

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