Tesla’s Cybertruck, set to be unveiled tonight, will push the boundaries on conventional pickup design. One likely innovation will be the number, type, and capability of its AC power outlets.
Large pickups from the big makers like Ford, GM, and Ram come with a single 120V outlet either located in the cab or in the bed near the tailgate.
This feature is often marketed as enabling use of power tools at construction sites but powering a laptop or two might be more realistic. These outlets are almost uniformly limited to 400 Watts of power or less. A single typical corded electric drill can require more than that. Forget about larger tools or plugging in a home refrigerator during an extended power outage.
A rare exception is the Mitsubishi Outlander which isn’t even a truck but is a plug-in hybrid SUV. It sports two 120V outlets rated for up to 1,500W which is essentially equivalent to a regular home 120V outlet circuit. If the Outlander’s 12 kWh battery runs low, the gas engine starts up intermittently to act as a generator.
But even a 1,500W 120V outlet can be limiting. What about cooking at a campsite with both an electric grill and an electric hot plate or two at the same time? That takes more than 1,500 Watts. “Cooking with gas” used to be positive catchphrase but we need to move away from fossil fuels.
Bollinger Motors, the EV outdoor adventure truck and SUV startup, has figured this out and plans to offer not just a single 120V outlet but 10. Four are located in the back and others are scattered in the cab and other areas. The outlets will be grouped into six switchable circuits so they can be de-powered when not in use. They are also considering support for a 240V outlet. They haven’t yet decided on what power capacity to support. But, like other vehicles with AC power outlets, Bollinger will be using a separate dedicated inverter to supply the AC.
Rivian, another but better EV funded startup, is also promoting the three AC outlets in their own R1T truck but haven’t said how much power they will be rated for. Rivian recently showed off an electric camping grill concept at this year’s Overland West festival in Arizona. The grill, which the company intends to sell as an accessory, uses up to 3 kW but separately taps into the high-voltage battery rather than sharing power with the AC outlets.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk seems to be setting high expectations.
While that was said over a year ago there is no reason to think anything has changed.
Tesla has hinted that pricing on the new truck could be targeting the $50,000 price point which would be a challenge with a large truck with a substantial battery pack. What if Tesla could provide over 10,000 Watts of 120 and 240V power at multiple outlets at minimal added cost?
Marco Gaxiola thinks they can. He’s an engineer at GM’s Cruise Automation subsidiary that’s developing a fully automated driving system using Chevrolet Bolt EVs on the streets of San Francisco.
But prior to joining Cruise he worked at another company that did one of the early teardowns of a Tesla Model 3. As part of that effort, Gaxiola had access to the circuit boards taken from the Model 3’s Power Conversion System otherwise known as it’s built-in AC battery charger. Gaxiola believes this charger design is capable, from a latent hardware perspective, of operating bidirectionally even though it isn’t used that way today in the Model 3.
Usually, AC battery chargers take incoming AC power from a J1772 plug or Tesla’s equivalent connector and convert it into DC power at the appropriate voltage needed to add energy to the vehicle’s battery pack. A bidirectional charger would be capable of taking DC power back out of the battery and converting it into AC power.
Various designs for bidirectional AC battery chargers have been developed over the years but they haven’t been used in commercial mainstream EVs. One reason is that there haven’t been so-called V2G (Vehicle to Grid) standards for J1772 to define how that AC can be exported back out into the J1772 cable. Using bidirectional capability to power built-in AC outlets in a vehicle doesn’t require J1772 standards and, in any case, Tesla has been willing to innovate when charging standards aren’t available.
The advantage of re-using the battery charger to supply AC power is that its already paid for and already supports, in the case of the Model 3, up to 48A or 11 kW of power. It could make a lot of sense for Tesla to re-use the Model 3’s battery charger in the Cybertruck and update the controller software to allow bidirectional use.