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Electric Trucks' Range Will Suffer Dramatically When Towing But I Think There's A Solution

Illustration for article titled Electric Trucks Range Will Suffer Dramatically When Towing But I Think Theres A Solution
Illustration: Jason Torchinsky / Tesla
Truck YeahThe trucks are good!

There’s lots of companies out there getting ready to release some very exciting electric trucks. In addition to the major automakers’ electric truck plans, we have Rivian, Bollinger, and, of course, Tesla, with their bonkers Cybertruck. While all of these trucks offer good packaging, power, accelleration, and utility, they all have one huge achilles’ heel: towing. But I think there may be a solution for this problem, and it’s both absurdly simple and perhaps painfully complicated.

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The problem isn’t that electric trucks can’t tow; they actually can tow massive weights extremely well. The Cybertruck, for example, claims to be able to tow an impressive-sounding “7,500+ pounds,” which is, of course no joke.

But, the problem is that none of these electric trucks can tow anything very far.

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The issue is the same issue that EVs always struggle with: range. Towing anything will dramatically lessen an electric truck’s range, increasing the weight and making a mess of the carefully-considered aerodynamics of the truck.

Many estimates suggest that one can expect an electric truck that is towing something to have a range that is half what the truck would normally get. And i f you’re towing something like a camper or boat that usually implies that you’re driving a long distance, making this is effectively a death blow for EVs and towing.

So, what’s the answer here? How can electric trucks hope to compete with combustion trucks when it comes to towing? I think there’s a solution, with an easy part and a hard part.

Let’s start with the easy part, and boy is it easy: put batteries in the trailers.

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Illustration for article titled Electric Trucks Range Will Suffer Dramatically When Towing But I Think Theres A Solution
Graphic: Jason Torchinsky

Yep, that’s it. I’m not the first to come up with this by a long shot, because it just makes so much damn sense. If you need to increase range, then pack that trailer floor full of more batteries, and connect the tow vehicle to that extra source of sweet, sweet electrons.

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Sure, there’s extra weight, but the extra weight is mostly battery, and the end result is much more range.

Now, here’s the hard part, which I allude to in this diagram. See if you can spot the important, tricky bit:

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Graphic: Jason Torchinsky
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It’s two words: standardized, and replaceable. I’ve felt that EVs should have standardized, swappable batteries for years, but the industry hasn’t moved in that direction, at all. Carmakers can’t even really all agree on a charging standard, and they all want to so tightly integrate battery packs into the design and structure of the cars that making them swappable is a non-starter for most carmakers.

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Trailers, though, are a very different story. The extremely simple structure of most trailers and their size means that they could very easily be adapted to hold a set of standardized battery packs. Even camping trailers are, underneath, just simple rectangular trailers with a lot of usable room under the floor.

The problems of tight integration and design and manufacturing difficulties that have kept carmakers from building swappable-battery EVs just aren’t issues with trailers.

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There is, though, a different problem: A trailer with enough extra batteries to improve a tow vehicles’ range significantly would be significantly more expensive than a normal trailer, thousands and thousands of dollars more, most likely.

Sure, some rich people may buy their own range-extending trailers for their fancy Burning Man campers/mobile sex dungeons, but for mainstream EV truck owners who occasionally want to camp or take a boat or some jet skis or motorcycles somewhere, chances are that owning such a trailer would be cost-prohibitive.

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So what’s the answer? It’s don’t own one! But use them, when you want to.

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Graphic: Jason Torchinsky/U-Haul
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For this to work, a company like U-Haul or Hertz will need to get into the battery swapping and rental business. They’re already renting trailers of all kinds: moving, car-towing, boat-hauling, whatever, so they would just retrofit some set of these trailers to include standardized battery packs and power connectors, or design and build new EV range-extending trailers.

Solving towing range issues for EV trucks will require a whole system-level solution, not just solutions at the truck itself. EV trailer rental places will need to be able to rent trailers with batteries, charge them, and possibly offer add-on battery pack systems for existing trailers.

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Owning a trailer with a battery will likely not be worth the cost for most people; but paying a bit more to rent a range-extending trailer (or range extending kit for an existing trailer) would likely be worth it for the few times a year people want to haul heavy things longer distances.

If we want to be able to tow reasonable distances with EVs, we need trailers with batteries, and if we want trailers with batteries, we’ll want to rent them, not own them.

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Companies like U-Haul or Ryder should see this as an opportunity to open new markets. All companies involved, though should really agree to some sort of battery pack size and connection standards: you should be able to buy a cheap trailer with at least mounting points and electrical connections for batteries, and multiple companies should be able to make batteries and trailers that are all compatible.

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If this was a thing, trailer-rental companies could find entirely new markets by offering light and small range-extending-only trailers for EV cars on road trips, a useful thing that currently no one offers today. The same infrastructure and engineering used for stuff-hauling trailers could be used for these, similar to the Trunk Battery idea I had a while back.

There is a way for EV trucks to tow, and even a way that makes it viable for non-millionaires; but that solution needs a whole new sub-industry and related standards. It’s do-able, and I even think there’s money in it, but I’ve learned better than to expect carmakers to agree to things like standards and logic.

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But maybe! U-Haul, you can get to me the usual way: park a 12-foot trailer with a burning mattress on my lawn.

Senior Editor, Jalopnik • Running: 1973 VW Beetle, 2006 Scion xB, 1990 Nissan Pao, 1991 Yugo GV Plus, 2020 Changli EV • Not-so-running: 1977 Dodge Tioga RV (also, buy my book!: https://rb.gy/udnqhh)

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DISCUSSION

briangriffinsprius
BrianGriffin thinks “reliable” is just a state of mind

There’s a tiny bit of safety logic to battery trucks, too. Which is why they should not just be encouraged, but mandated once the tech gets to a certain point.

A standard diesel semi will have 150-300 gallons of fuel. At about 6mpg, that’s 900-1800 miles between fillups. Or, roughly, 18 hours of driving at minimum.

Regulators want truckers to take breaks every 12-14ish hours. Trucks can drive more than 12 hours, and technically indefinitely. If you make it so they *can’t* and then require 4-6 hours to “refill”, you’re essentially creating defacto rest breaks that can’t be circumvented or forged in the books.

You can award me my NHTSA merit badge now.