I wrote recently that while Tesla (TSLA) - Get Report plans to soon unveil an electric-powered pickup truck, Ford (F) - Get Report -- whose F-150 has dominated the truck market for decades -- "can't let Tesla be seen as the industry's future leader of electric trucks." Well, Ford took a big step Tuesday toward keeping ahead of Tesla by posting a video of an F-150 electric prototype towing a freight train that weighed more than 1 million pounds.
Of course, any automaker can show off a concept car or a demo model that can accelerate up and down a drag strip. But it's important to understand that Ford is already testing the electric-powered F-150, whereas Tesla is probably nowhere near as close to rolling out a Tesla electric pickup.
Yes, Tesla will get lots of publicity whenever it publicly reveals its truck prototype for the first time. But TSLA will likely have only built one or a handful of these prototypes, and they'll be nowhere near ready for production. Nor will Tesla's trucks have gone through any meaningful "torture testing," which is where automakers test-drive vehicles in a variety of challenging real-world environments for more than a year.
Auto firms will test a truck's final design until they're confident about what's called "QRD" -- quality, reliability and durability. You must have confidence that your vehicle will perform well for consumers in all situations over potentially dozens of years and hundreds of thousands of miles of truck ownership.
That's why automakers will usually build about 400 prototypes of any new truck, testing them for about 24 months in the world's most extreme climates. To do anything less risks an automaker's reputation.
Of course, things can go wrong even with proper testing -- and they often do to some extent or the other. However, "torture testing" minimizes that probability. You can't eliminate mistakes, but you can reduce their probability.
However, every indication is that Tesla has a long way to go in testing its coming electric-powered truck. And as I previously noted, TSLA also still has to build a new factory to make its trucks in as well. So, I'd say that even in a best-case scenario, volume deliveries of any Tesla truck are still three years away.
By contrast, Tuesday's video of an F-150 electric prototype has me confident that Ford could ship its all-electric F-150 in 2021's fourth quarter. In addition, Ford has already confirmed that it will begin mass-producing a gas/electric hybrid F-150 next year.
My Take on the F-150 Test Video
On a side note, I'd like to say that while Ford's "reveal" video showing an electric F-150 towing a freight train looks impressive, some variant of that has been done before. For example, a Toyota Tundra towed the Space Shuttle (which weighs approximately 300,000 pounds) across Los Angeles in 2012.
Yes, a pickup truck can tow extreme amounts of weight at very slow speeds on a flat surface in a controlled environment. But no truck in this weight class would ever win approval to tow anywhere near even 50,000 pounds. The brakes alone can't handle the stopping power needed.
A regular F-150 can tow up to 13,200 pounds when properly equipped, and the larger F-350 can tow some 35,000 pounds with the proper equipment. An electric-powered F-series isn't going to increase those numbers, seeing as the limiting factor has more to do with brakes and chassis than with engine/motor power.
In any case, Tuesday's video shows that Ford is well underway with testing an electric-powered F-150, and already has F-series factories ready to build the new model.
But Tesla? Maybe it can build an electric pickup some day, a few years from now.
At the time of publication, Wahlman was short TSLA and long F. However, positions can change at any time. The author also regularly attends press conferences, new vehicle launches and equivalent, hosted by most major automakers.