An intriguing cure for range anxiety allows any EV to take a road trip
The three most common cures for range anxiety are as follows: a larger and more expensive battery (Tesla), a backup gasoline engine (Chevrolet Volt, etc.), and well-developed charging infrastructure (Nissan, Tesla). Is it time to make way for a fourth remedy for this troublesome ailment?
The German firm ebuggy is developing what amounts to a battery on wheels; a trailer packing 85 kWh of energy that can add 300 miles of range to support long drives in otherwise range-limited electric vehicles (via Ecomento). Their newest concept is still in the rendering stages but the advantages and disadvantages are already clear.
A backup battery that is used only when needed is in theory an ideal answer to one of the greatest shortcomings of battery electric vehicles: most have limited range and therefore are not suited for long drives, restricting them to daily commutes and rendering them impractical unless a second vehicle is in the garage. If a BMW i3 can pick up a battery trailer on the weekend for the trip to visit relatives in the next state, it instantly becomes viable for many more potential buyers.
The first problem with the ebuggy is the cost and ownership model. This concept in a way recalls memories of now-defunct Better Place; the best way to make it work would be to have roadside “stations” in cities and along major highways where a driver could pick up a trailer, hitch it to his vehicle, and hit the road until the backup battery ran out and it was time to swap it for a fresh one.
It would be difficult for the company to make a profit on such an expensive product (an 85 kWh battery at the moment costs at least $20,000) until the concept and the EV industry gained significant momentum, though the company could charge steep fees for use of the ebuggy. Presumably an electric vehicle owner will only occasionally make long trips necessitating the range-extending trailer, so they won’t mind paying a few extra for their highway miles.
The second problem is a technical one; it would likely require additional components installed on the vehicle to make it ebuggy-compatible. Delivering motive power from a trailer to the motor of the vehicle represents an engineering and safety challenge.
And of course, there’s the issue of towing a trailer; not only does it require installation of a trailer hitch and make your elegant EV look rather foolish, but the added weight and aerodynamic drag effect could impact range. Granted, mass has less of an effect on fuel economy at highway speeds than in urban driving; aerodynamic resistance dominates, and no doubt the German company will have figured out how to make the trailer sleek and slippery. But there is no escaping the fact that 85 kWh of current battery tech weights on the order of 1,000 pounds.
We hope that ebuggy can make this concept work. Any solution to improve the practicality of electric vehicles is a positive for the EV industry, and if ebuggy can pull off their ambitious concept we may begin to see the tow-behind range extenders on American roads in a few years.