Towing A Trailer With An F-150 Lightning Cuts Range In Half, As Expected, Here’s The Hidden Cost

An online report from an F-150 Lightning electric driver indicates his range was cut in half when he towed an Airstream. He got only 0.8 miles/kWh compared to 1.5-1.8 driving without it. What you may not know is that the smaller sedans like the Tesla

Model 3 tend to get 4 miles/kWh, which is 5 times the mileage of that towing truck. Of course, you expect a truck towing a trailer to use a bunch more energy than a sedan, and gasoline trucks lose a lot of mpg when towing, but the EV world gives these numbers a special meaning.

EV buyers are obsessed about range, and spend a lot of money for bigger batteries to get that range. Much of that comes from the somewhat invented phenomenon of “range anxiety” — that you will spend a lot of time worrying about charging and if you will make it. In reality, there is no range anxiety for people driving around cities — they charge every night at home and never have to do anything else. It does become a matter on road trips though, especially the ones you might have towing a trailer.

Truck and SUV EVs are only now coming on the market. Trucks and SUVs have been more popular than sedans in the gasoline world for a long time. Driving these bigger vehicles has always come with a cost in dollars, as you buy more gasoline and spend more money — a lot more at today’s prices. But if you got a less efficient vehicle, it just cost more, it didn’t alter your driving experience a lot. You just got a bigger gas tank, or maybe stopped a little more often for gas. Fill-ups might take a bit longer, but going from 2 minutes to 4 minutes isn’t a big deal. Even the 5-times faster fill-ups of a Prius compared to a RV don’t change the game that much.

The earliest EVs had to be very efficient to get a good range. That means they must have very aerodynamic designs and efficient tires. But car buyers don’t like sedans. Even as the engine wizards made the internal combustion engines 35% more efficient in the last 40 years, the average fuel economy actually got worse. When given the gift of better efficiency, we didn’t spend it on better mileage, we spent it on bigger vehicles.

This is now happening in EVs. EVs have made the energy to drive a car small compared to gasoline. An EV sedan getting electricity at the national average price of around 11 cents/kwh is paying under 4 cents/mile for energy. A 16mpg pickup truck at $5/gallon is paying over 30 cents/mile! Even a 25mpg average car pays 20 cents/mile.

Note, of course, that the price of electrical energy varies greatly, from free to almost 60 cents/kWh at certain fast chargers. 11 cents is a price people pay at home. But what do people want to do with this lower cost? They want to increase it, by getting SUVs and trucks. Saving money and the planet are lower down the list. Of course, driving an electric heavy vehicle is still much better than a gasoline one when it comes to cost, emissions, maintenance and all the other factors.

Decreasing Range

The first consequence of this is you will get much less range for your given battery. The usual answer to that is to boost up the battery. The F-150 uses a 98kWh to 131kWh pack, compared to around 62 kWh in the Tesla SR+ models. This bigger pack costs a lot of money of course, and adds a lot of weight to the vehicle. (That weight further reduces efficiency, and increases tire wear, and can cause more damage in accidents, but it improves handling.)

The extra cost is a lot. The battery is easily the most expensive part of the car. You don’t double it without paying the piper. A bigger gas tank is cheap.

Longer charging

A different issue is that huge battery packs will take longer to charge. How much longer depends on the station you are at. That basic Tesla can only take 7.2kW from public and home L2 stations, but the bigger cars can take more — if the station has it, which most actually don’t. So you could see double the charge time at these stations. Normally, time at these is not an issue as you only use them at night, or at work where you have 8 hours or more. For typical driving, you only need 1-2 hours of charging per night, and doubling it is no issue. If you want to go for a full charge, as you might at a road trip hotel, you can no longer do that for the 131kWh pack in that high end F-150, not at a typical hotel unit that is 6-7 kW.

At fast chargers, it’s a little better. Fast chargers can put in 150kW, 250kW or even 350kW at some stations for some cars. The F-150 is not one of those 800v cars that takes 350kW, it is limited to 150kW. Plus you only get that rate in most cars when less than half full. Many of the older CCS fast chargers for cars like the F-150 only do 50kW, and would take 3 hours to refill that 131kWh pack if you drained it towing a trailer.

(It is surprising that Ford didn’t put in support for 350kW on the large battery model. For most cars, going to 350 from 150 only saves a few minutes. Here, the difference could be larger. Perhaps they just felt an F-150 should charge at 150kW because of the name?)

Again, it’s just a bit wrong. The best times to charge are when sleeping or eating. For a sedan, these both take longer than charging is likely to. So charging takes no time from your day and is not a downside, which means less range anxiety.

Naturally, the towing example is the most extreme. Without a trailer, and sticking to 150kW stations, it should not be too bad in the F-150. A different SUV crossover design is the Ioniq 5, which can use the 350kW chargers (though reports say it rarely goes over 250kW.) It’s still designed to be an efficient vehicle, able to do over 3 miles/kWh compared to 4 for the sedans and 1.8 for the F-150. It is possible to give the buyer some of what they want in cargo space and roominess without a huge efficiency cost. Though only some.

Electric Camping

In spite of this issue, a revolution is coming in the use of EVs to go camping and off-road. Electric trailers with huge batteries will be able to offer most of the electric comforts of an electric home, with no noisy generator. We will also see trailers with their own motors and batteries that can be towed by any vehicle, with no truck required. That makes more sense than driving around a truck all the time when you don’t need its power. Electric hot water, stoves and heat pumps can make a great experience, combined with a bank of solar panels to allow long term boondocking (going off-grid.)

When it comes to trucks, amazing things are coming. We’ll see 4 motor off-road vehicles which need no axles and thus have arbitrary ground clearance and the ability to get traction anywhere. We’ll see suspensions that can raise and lower the wheels to get over ridiculously rugged terrain. We may even see robots that can “walk” on their wheels. The instant high torque of electric motors will leave all gasoline off-road vehicles in the dust. And the silence of the engines will be a boon to all in the outdoors, though the extra ability to go places may spoil some areas.

If they really put fast charging every 50 miles, as the infrastructure bill plans, then the shorter range of towing won’t be too much to bear, though there may be issues going deep into rural territory. We’ll see how the electric transition goes.

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