A few days ago, I saw that the automotive media found something really horrible on Tesla’s Cybertruck page. Most manufacturers give it a tow rating and use it in their advertising claims, but Tesla went further, stating that its vehicle can tow “nearly infinite mass.” I checked it out for myself, and not only is this hilarious claim something they’re actually making, but it’s still live on the site as of this writing.
To be fair …
In all fairness to the Tesla team, they’re not the only people who go to crazy lengths to sell a tow vehicle, and it’s not even the first time they’ve done it.
Let’s start with the F-150 Lightning prototype towing stunt:
No one is going to claim that the F-150 Lightning can tow a million-pound trailer, but if you put the million-pound trailer on rails (reducing rolling resistance) and only need to tow it on level ground at low speeds, There’s really no reason why the Lightning couldn’t pull out over a million pounds. So, it’s true, but it’s not something that can translate to trucking in the real world unless you own a rail station.
While it’s not a million pounds, there’s also the time Toyota pulled a space shuttle out of a Tundra:
You’ll notice that much like the trick F-150 prototype, the Tundra has almost zero weight on its tongue. All of Endeavour’s weight is supported by the axles below it, so the Tundra just had to build up momentum and not support the space shuttle’s weight at all.
Just to put the icing on the cake, here’s a Porsche SUV that proves a plane is worth pulling:
Which is something Tesla has also done:
So yes, vehicles of all kinds can generally tow a lot of mass. With the low-end torque likely to be available from the Tesla Cybertruck, it’s technically capable of pulling a fair bit of mass. To prove this, there will probably be several stunts like the one above done with the truck, both by the company and by superfans who want to try something out.
Stunt pulls don’t really prove anything for real-world towing, but they do show that there is plenty of power and torque available. There are real world towing tests, which are meant to determine what a vehicle can pull in real world conditions. But these crazy stunt pulls are just one example of a “drawbar pull.”
But is it “almost infinite”?
As Jason Torchinsky in the autopiano You mention, there is a way to calculate drawbar pulls based on vehicle torque. If you choose a towing target with low rolling resistance and use a lot of torque (something Cybertruck will have), the pulling capacity (not towing, but pulling) should be in the millions of pounds. So yes, the numbers will be very large (once we get them).
But the problem with “almost infinite” is that it’s a meaningless term. It’s not just vague, but literally meaningless. Mathematically speaking, something can be infinite or not. If there are too many to count because you would never get to the end (because there is no end), then it is infinite. If it’s countable, even if it’s a really big number, then it’s finite. In other words, something is infinite or it is not, something like someone can be pregnant or not pregnant. If a person was “almost pregnant,” then he simply isn’t.
However, as the xkcd comic points out, this is a common thing to see in advertising. Vague, nonsensical, and anti-mathematical claims are, in fact, all too common. One example they give is GEICO’s slogan “save up to 15% or more.” Because savings can be negative (ie, not saving) and the number can be up to 15, but also possibly more, there are an infinite number of possible savings outcomes. In other words, pointless marketing hogwash.
I wouldn’t call it fraudulent though.
That being said, Elon Musk likes to use scientific or scientific-sounding terms to say “really big,” and he likes to throw in sci-fi-sounding terms to sound impressive. “Order of magnitude” is common to hear from him, for example. He describes the factories as “cyber collectives” and Twitter like this:
I love how you talk
— Tesla and Doge (@TeslaAndDoge) December 4, 2022
I’m not trying to call Elon Musk a fraud, though (so please no more C&D cards ready to fire, Elon). The point I want to make is that this is Elon Musk’s style. Sometimes it borders on sci-fi techno-babble, but usually it has some sort of real meaning behind it, even if it’s a bit over the top. An order of magnitude usually means adding a trailing zero, which makes the number much larger. But it can also be used in the same way as the term “exorbitant”, which doesn’t really mean beyond orbit, but can mean “really big or expensive”.
The term “near infinity” doesn’t have a precise mathematical meaning, but it sounds cool and scientific. It also sounds very, very big. It’s also hard to call it false advertising because it doesn’t actually specify a testable claim (making it decidedly unscientific). It’s Musk’s style.
But I wouldn’t go so far as to call this fraud, because you’re not really trying to fool people. Nobody thinks that a Cybertruck could drag Jupiter around the solar system (even if you could somehow hook a tow rope to a ball of gas). No one thinks that the Cybertruck will be Chuck Norris’s truck and move the Earth instead of moving along the Earth.
And really, Chuck Norris Facts is probably a great way to understand this statement. Nobody really believes that Chuck counted twice to infinity. No one really thinks that a cobra bit them once and that after five days of excruciating pain, the cobra died. No one really believes that he can make onions cry. But, because he was in some really unrealistic Hollywood action movies, he’s a cultural reference that everyone understands, and we’re in on the joke when we name his ridiculous feats the way Starlord/Peter Quill tells the fans. aliens about Kevin’s exploits. Bacon and David Hasselhoff in the Guardians of the Galaxy Serie.
We know Elon Musk’s companies say crazy things that sound like technobabble because that’s what Elon does. Hardly anyone, be it a skeptic like me or the craziest superstan, really believes that the Cybertruck will be able to tow itself into the future approaching infinity.
But, if it did, some lucky (or very unlucky) Cybertruck owner could honestly say the bottom line of Planet of the Apes and damn us all to hell.
Featured image of Tesla.
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