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An Engineer Explained Why That Cybertruck Vs. F-150 Tow-Off Was 'Pointless'

Ryan Ford 3 Dec 2019

Few vehicles have so immediately polarized people like Tesla's Cybertruck, but it's fair to say that we've seldom seen anything even approaching the look of the Cybertruck outside of a science fiction flick.

Usually, changes in vehicle design are either incremental, or meant only as concepts. This thing is headed for production, however, and that means we need to know a whole lot more about it than how it looks.

Elon Musk and Tesla Motors have set out to revolutionize how we drive, and now that includes how we haul, too, thanks to the Cybertruck.

Seeing the Cybertruck on stage is one thing — seeing how it performs on the road is another thing entirely.

So, after unveiling the Cybertruck to much fanfare and some unplanned broken windows, Elon Musk posted a video of his creation taking on a Ford F-150 in a tow-off.

When the rubber met the road, it sure looked impressive for Tesla's shiny new electric toy.

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With tires spinning and squealing, the Tesla appeared to win the day with ease. But what's going on under the hood that we're not seeing? And what did the tow-off prove?

YouTube | Engineering Explained

Jason Fenske, a mechanical engineering grad with a YouTube channel called Engineering Explained, decided to do the math for us and break down why the electric Cybertruck handed that combustion engine F-150 its lunch in Elon's viral video.

As many suspected, torque had little to do with it.

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Had torque been the deciding factor, the F-150 would have bullied the Cybertruck with ease, Fenske demonstrated.

YouTube | Engineering Explained

Now, we obviously don't have exact specs on either of the vehicles used in the test, but there are some known factors for both, or at least reasonable extrapolations. Going by what's known about Teslas in general and the F-150's abilities to produce torque, Ford's truck has a clear, decisive advantage.

But of course, in the video, the Cybertruck treats it like a cat with a piece of string.

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Rather than torque, Fenske explains that it all comes down to force.

YouTube | Engineering Explained

And the force each vehicle produces comes down to the weight over driven wheels, factoring in the friction of the tires, which for the purposes of the math, Fenske assumes are roughly equal for each truck.

Fenske has to make some assumptions about the weight of the Cybertruck as well, putting it a mere 500 pounds more than the Tesla Model X.

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Even at that, the Cybertruck has a 1,000 pound advantage.

YouTube | Engineering Explained

When you factor in that the F-150 appears to be a rear-wheel drive, with only the rear tires spinning in the vid, the 4x4 Cybertruck gains a major edge. All of its 6,000 lbs. of weight is over driven wheels, while the F-150 only has about 2,000 lbs. of weight to generate force with.

"It's just a silly demonstration to do," says Fenske, "because obviously the Tesla's going to win this. It has three times the weight on top of driven wheels, so we're not learning anything here."

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Just for argument's sake, Fenske decided to break down whether going uphill might have made the Tesla's feat more impressive.

YouTube | Engineering Explained

And even factoring in gravity working against the Cybertruck, it still had a huge advantage over the F-150.

"What this number proves is that it was very easy for the Tesla to pull the truck uphill simply because it has more weight on the driven wheels," Fenske says. "So, the only thing we learned from this video is that the Tesla truck is heavy. That is all that we learned."

But as marketing goes, Tesla's vid sure looks like a big hit at least.

Check out Fenske's full video below!

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