Bed Batteries vs ICE Range Extenders: Will Tesla or Stellantis Be Proven Right?
With the reveal of the Cybertruck’s final specifications, one weird thing was revealed: an extra toolbox’s worth of batteries that can be snapped into the Cybertruck’s bed. the downside, obviously, is losing space, which is said to be about 1/3 of the available capacity. The upside is additional range, which is going to be about 130 miles (depending on package).
Before I comment further, I want to make it clear that there are still some important details missing. We don’t now whether the bed battery box will be actively cooled, so it could be prone to heating. We also don’t know whether this auxiliary battery will be able to fast charge along with the rest of the pack at a Supercharger station. I’d e-mail Tesla to ask them about these details, but I’ll save myself and you time and tell you what they’ll say: “💩”.
With these questions and Tesla’s press statement out of the way, let’s get into the big question: is an ICE range extender or “m0ar battery” going to be the superior solution? Let’s talk about the pros and cons of each one!
Ways The Battery Wins and Loses
The biggest advantage to the battery is that it doesn’t mean you’d consume fossil fuels. Whatever way it charges and discharges, that’s a great fact. Many EV buyers stayed away from a plugin hybrid for exactly this reason.
A second way the battery wins is that the battery can give you extra power even when you don’t need the extra range. With an auxiliary battery, you could power a jobsite for far longer, run heavy equipment, power a campsite, or even power a luxury travel trailer all without the need for fossil fuels.
But, the biggest way the extra battery loses is packaging. At present, lithium batteries simply aren’t very energy dense. If you’re pulling a trailer (one of the primary uses for such an extra battery), you’re not going to need the bed space as badly. But, if you’re not pulling a trailer, there’s a significant amount of cargo capacity gone in a truck that’s already short on cargo space.
Another problem is that it makes the charging time longer. Assuming I’m right in my speculation that the extra battery charges at a Supercharger along with the rest of the vehicle, this means more time spent at the Supercharger. If it’s got a second NACS port, this may not be an issue.
Ways The ICE Range Extender Wins and Loses
The biggest win for the ICE range extender is time. Like any PHEV, a truck like Stellantis plans will be able to pretty much drive like an ICE truck on road trips, but with the advantages of being a hybrid. Instead of taking a long charging stop on a road trip pulling a trailer, you can just use a gas station. But, around town, you still don’t have to buy gas.
Another big win for the range extender is cost. Batteries are pretty expensive, so buying a truck that already has 250+ kWh of battery storage and then adding another block of batteries could push the cost up well over $100,000. A truck with a smaller battery and an ICE playing backstop in less common situations should cost a lot less than a regular BEV truck.
The biggest way it loses is environmentally, but it’s not as bad as people think unless it’s a truck constantly going on road trips. I studied this in great detail, and found that it largely depends on how one uses the truck. For a person commuting in the truck and hauling the boat to the lake on the weekends (90% electric, 10% hybrid), a PHEV truck is almost as clean as an EV.
Another big downside is the cost of the trips. Gas is more expensive than charging. Pretty simple. Whether this negates the savings in town will depend on the cost of the truck at time of purchase and the mix of city vs highway driving, among other things.
One tossup is packaging. If you have a truck with a full-sized ICE, you lose out on having a frunk. But, if a manufacturer uses something more compact, like a rotary engine or a turbine of some sort, the loss of space for the generator could be a lot lower.
My Take: Things Change
I can’t give a simple answer on where I stand because this is a complex issue. I listed pros and cons above, and it’s going to depend on the buyer. But, I can give a semi-simple conclusion: it’s going to change over time.
At present, I think most truck buyers who want to tow on the highway will prefer the ICE range extender. The truck is cheaper, it’s less of a hassle to tow with, and you don’t have to worry about charging infrastructure and trip planning like you with towing with a BEV. So, this is a great way to get people to drive a lot more electric miles ASAP. So, I’d say that the ICE range extender is the winner in 2023.
But, the universe isn’t permanently stuck in 2023.
The price of the BEV truck will go down with time. This will be a function of both economies of scale and the demand for such trucks. When the battery truck gets as cheap as the PHEV truck, the battery truck will become the clear winner on price, because you don’t burn expensive gas in a battery truck.
The hassle of towing will also go down over time. Charging speeds will increase. People will get used to charging. Better EV charging stations geared toward people towing will increase in number. Trailers with better aerodynamic shapes and even their own auxiliary drive systems will become more common.
Finally, infrastructure will improve. When there are more charging stations along all of the routes people tow on, the perceived hassle of charging a BEV truck and towing will go down. Range anxiety (aka charging anxiety) will become a thing of the past.
So, I think over the next few years we can expect the Cybertruck’s approach to become the better one. But, getting to that point is going to take a few years.
Featured image provided by Tesla.
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