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The Back-And-Forth About the Tesla-Ford Towing Tug-of-War

Pickup trucks are built to tow, and the electric Tesla Cybertruck pickup is no different. In tri-motor AWD form, Tesla claims the Cybertruck will be able to tow up to 14,000 pounds. That’s actually more than the Ford F-150; its max is 13,200 lbs. But numbers on a screen aren’t the same as actually hauling something. So, Musk decided to demonstrate exactly how much more than America’s best-selling truck the Tesla pickup can tow. Over Twitter, Elon showed a Cybertruck and an F-150 in a towing tug-of-war, which ended with the Tesla towing the Ford uphill. But like a lot of things about the Cybertruck, the video’s been getting some push-back—even from Ford X’s VP.

The initial Tesla-Ford towing tug-of-war video

The video set-up is fairly straightforward. A tow cable is attached to the tow hooks of a Ford F-150 and a Tesla Cybertruck. The exact location isn’t detailed, but it’s presumably on some California hill. The Tesla driver is told to put the cable under tension. Then, both drivers go for it. But, with a cloud of smoke coming from its rear wheels, the F-150 gets pulled up the hill. The Cybertruck didn’t even spin its tires.

Ford Electric F-150
Ford Electric F-150 | Ford via Youtube

Some have dismissed the video as a marketing stunt, rather than an actual demonstration. But to be fair, this is at the very least proof that the Tesla Cybertruck can effectively pull another vehicle. And it’s not like Ford isn’t guilty of similar antics, what with that electric F-150 towing a claimed one million pounds?

But just like that Ford ad, the Tesla truck towing tug-of-war comes with some caveats.

How Ford made its ‘million pounds’ ad

Jason Fenske of Engineering Explained broke down both the Tesla video and Ford’s ‘million pounds’ ad. And as he, well, explains, both come down to friction.

The electric Ford F-150 was only able to tow one million pounds was because all that weight was moving on a railroad. Steel wheels on a steel track slip much more easily than a truck’s rubber tires on pavement. It’s still an impressive accomplishment, but Ford was only able to pull it off by carefully manipulating the laws of physics. Just like Tesla did with its towing video.

What Tesla’s tug-of-war video actually proves

Yes, the Ford F-150 is being towed uphill. But the Cybertruck’s and F-150’s specifications are never shown. We don’t know how many motors the Tesla has, or what kind of engine is in the Ford. Although, the video did let one thing slip—that Ford isn’t using all-wheel drive. Only the F-150’s rear tires are smoking, meaning power is only getting sent to the rear. Meanwhile, the Cybertruck appears to be an AWD model. But as Fenske shows, there’s more to the tug-of-war than that.

The issue isn’t one of torque or power. It’s again down to manipulating friction and physics. With AWD, the Tesla can put its power down more effectively: it has more grip and traction. The F-150 also has less of its total weight over its drive wheels, further reducing traction.

Tesla Cybertruck
Tesla Cybertruck | Tesla

Weight is actually what makes the biggest difference here. The Tesla Cybertruck is simply heavier. Tesla hasn’t released the Cybertruck’s official weight as of this writing. However, its stainless-steel construction means it probably weighs more than the aluminum-bodied F-150. More weight over the tires = more friction = more grip. Even going downhill, the Ford can’t overcome the weight and traction advantage.

Will there be a rematch?

As Autoweek has reported, Ford X VP Sundeep Madra tweeted to Elon suggesting a true “apples to apples test.” Presumably, where both trucks have their most powerful specs and AWD/4WD. And though Ford later claimed Madra’s tweet was “tongue in cheek”, Elon already accepted the challenge. Considering the current level of animosity between traditional truck and Tesla fans, a rematch just might make things worse.  

Ultimately though, as Autoweek pointed out, things like this are really more for publicity than real-world tests. Yes, they’re cool to look at, but manufacturers pay careful attention to make sure the laws of physics are in their favor. Ford took advantage of slippery railway wheels and tracks. Tesla used a lighter, RWD F-150. In addition, Tesla’s claims about tow ratings are just claims for the moment. Until the Cybertruck undergoes real-world, industry-standard testing, the tow ratings really are just numbers on a screen.