On Tuesday Ford released a video showing a prototype fully electric F-150 towing over 1 million pounds of train cars for 1,000 feet. Then, they upped the ante even further by loading those train cars with 42 F-150s, and repeating the stunt. If you haven’t seen the video yet, it’s pretty entertaining.
Now, although the feat itself is impressive, there are several factors that come into play to make this possible. Here are 5 things that make this stunt possible:
1. Electric motors provide “instantaneous” torque
By now, most enthusiasts have heard the cliché that electric motors produce “instant” torque. Usually, it’s cited as the reason people make those funny faces in Teslas during Ludicrous Mode launches.
While that’s an oversimplification of a very technical topic, it generally holds up as true since it is roughly how the control systems for the motors are designed in electric vehicles.
Nonetheless, electric commercial trucks benefit from being able to generate near peak levels of torque on demand. This makes the torque to accelerate the load from a stop more accessible than in a gas or diesel motor (where the available torque is tied to engine speed).
No matter how the torque is delivered though, this feat still speaks to just what an astronomical amount of torque the F-150’s motors are able to produce.
2. The truck uses rubber compound tires on pavement
This is an obvious one, but in this case the truck benefits from having relatively grippy tires on a near-ideal surface. This helps the truck more easily put its mountains of torque down on the pavement without causing the wheels to slip. If the truck was on a less-grippy surface, it would have been more of a challenge. Which leads me to my next point…
3. The train is on steel rails
Everyone has seen freight trains that extend for miles and miles. One of the reasons those trains are able to effectively pull so much weight is due to the fact that it rides on rails. A train riding on rails consists of metal-on-metal contact, so the rolling resistance is considerably lower than that of a rubber tire on the road. This means there’s less friction preventing movement when a force is applied to the train, and once it does get moving it doesn’t take as much effort to keep it moving.
4. They towed it using a tow strap
Since trains are able to stand on their own, there was no need to hook the train up using a more traditional tow hitch. As a consequence of that, there is no vertical load imposed on the suspension of the truck. Eliminating the suspension as a limiting factor for towing capability makes this truly just a test of the drivetrain’s ability to tow the load.
5. The distance and duration are short
Your average car is physically capable of towing considerably more weight than the car’s “rated towing capacity” might indicate. However, just because it can tow more, doesn’t mean it can do so in a way that is safe for the vehicle. When determining the rated towing capacity of a vehicle, engineers need to consider a variety of factors including cooling, acceleration, handling, and braking abilities. These factors need to be considered on not just a perfectly flat road, but also on steep inclines and at elevations that someone might reasonably encounter.
By contrast this stunt only lasts for a short time, and only covers 1,000 feet. This makes subjecting the truck to such intense strain feasible – if this were to be sustained for a long period of time, keeping the batteries and motors adequately cooled would pose a much greater challenge. Even if adequate cooling was possible, the available range from the batteries would be greatly diminished as well.
While there’s a lot of nuance that goes into making a stunt like this possible, it’s still pretty cool to see. If this is a sign of what’s to come when light-duty electric trucks start hitting the market, I think it’s a future we can all look forward to. I am certainly looking forward to start studying and testing the capability of these vehicles once production models start hitting the road.