EVs & Towing : 2024
First I’m going to throw back a short time to when I posted about towing with a Suzuki Jimny – that video will be published soon. Many commenters said “you can’t do that” or “you shouldn’t do that”. So to make them feel better, I then followed up with a clip of a BRZ towing. And today I present a RAV4, shortie no less…also towing.
The point is that pretty much any vehicle can tow, just got to keep the limits under control, both the regulated limits and what is dictated by the laws of physics. Fact is, that RAV4 you see above could control that little trailer better than an LC300 pulling 3500kg of “offroad” van simply because of the weight differential. And Jimnys can tow; they are definitely low-capacity towcars to begin with before we get to drawbacks of power, handling and fuel consumption, but if someone wants to tow with one…well, it’s possible.
Now we come to EVs. I’ve driven some pretty eye-catching cars in my time as a journalist but I think the Tesla X plus Tvan back in 2017 had to be the most attention-getting of the lot, even to date. That was my first EV tow test. I have since done others, and now EV towing is getting a bit of attention as there is presently one couple towing a van around Australia with a Tesla 3, Atto Gal’s EV Adventures, and another family about to depart using an EV9. Both are using caravans modified for EV towing, mostly aerodynamics, and the AG one has on-board power not to the wheels but to help recharge the car. That is a smart move as when in cruise what matters is aero, not weight – I have all the measurements and explanation to prove this in the video below.
Anyway, having towed with EVs myself under test, spoken with others and generally researched it, here is the summary of where things are at:
EV General Towing
Just two points:
- EVs are better at towing than ICE with the one exception being range.
- EV range is shortened by more than ICE using the same trailer for aero reasons (explained in the video)
- EV tow capacities are well below ICE at the moment. The highest capacity EV towcar in Australia is the new Kia EV9, 2500kg, but TBM was unknown as of October when I spoke to Kia. Often this is a limitation, not max braked tow, as in all my tests I have had to ballast the trailer behind the rear axle to get TBM down. This is not an EV specific problem as many Euro cars have the same problem, it’s that our trailers run heavy TBM relative to the rest of the world. So, EVs in Australia cannot tow heavy, yet. Remember I have a towing calculator to help you figure out your tow weights.
- In the USA there is the F-150 Lightning, Rivians, Cybertruck etc. Quite a few heavy-towers there. However, the range problem is not solved.
Is range an issue? Would you need to tow a big trailer further than say 200km without a charge? Maybe not, if it’s down to the boatramp, or your car to a racetrack where you can charge, or your horse trailer to an event. But for most people the answer is yes, need to go further and faster.
Aside from the dramatically shortened range, charging is an issue when towing because you really need to go to 100%, not the usual 80%-then-scoot long-range EV roadcars can adopt, and the batteries are bigger in towcars. So, instead of going say 20 to 80% on a 70kWh battery, it’d be 10 to 100% on a 100kWh battery. This is a much, much longer charger especially past 80%. This starts to dramatically increase journey time.
Another issue is that hardly any chargers are set up for trailers so often it’s hitch/unhitch, a huge PITA.
Finally, the distance between chargers becomes a problem as range is short, and it’s generally an issue for touring even without towing. You just need to spend time managing an EV’s energy for distance driving when you don’t really need to for an ICE. For example recently I took off down the Great Ocean Road with 1/4 of a tank out of Melbourne not worrying where I’d fill up…with an EV I’d need to get PlugShare fired up and plan my charges. Doable, but extra hassle, and extra again towing. For towing, you’d need the chargers ideally spaced too.
An interesting point is “oh but you’re on holiday, slow down and enjoy”. Two problems with that. First, if I want to get to say the Flinders Rangers from Melbourne and I’ve got 2 weeks, I’m going to sprint to the Ranges in a long day, then slow down, not take three days there and back, six out of my fourteen. Second, EV chargers are often not exactly at scenic holiday destinations. When touring, you want to stop where and when the humans need or want to, not when the car needs to.
Right now, EV towing can be done, but it’s a mission and most people want to focus on their holiday or their event, not worry about managing the energy requirements of their towcar. So those who say “oh look there’s a caravan behind an EV why isn’t everyone doing it sell your ICE who needs a block of flats on wheels” etc etc clearly don’t understand the realities of where we’re at today with real-world limitations and market acceptance. And you don’t even need to consider trips like the Simpson or a Lap, you run into range issues on much, much shorter trips. Try doing a four-day High Country camp trip with an EV, or three days in and out of a sandy park, towing offroad…I can do it in my Ranger with a long-range tank. As for those on the other side who spew semi-coherent bile extrapolated from some tiny nugget of fact…well, it’s not 1950 any more.
EV towing will become an everyday reality. The question is when, not if. This is what needs to change:
- Energy density. There will be a step-change in battery tech sometime, maybe solid-state, who knows. Hopefully that’ll deliver a 2-3x improvement in energy density and that’ll hugely increase range.
2. Trailer efficiency. I also expect some trailer makers to pay actual attention to towing efficiency. At the time of writing I’m aware of only one company who had done any aero modelling at all, Bruder X, and you can watch my 30m deep-dive into their tech. I think more energy efficient trailers would be a good idea generally as they would benefit ICE. Maybe start with swapping out those mud tyres for ATs? But, I’m not hopeful we’ll see that sort of leadership locally. Would like to be wrong though, and love to hear from any trailer maker who wants to research this topic. This would include trailers with on-board batteries for the towcar, and perhaps even driven trailers, even the hitchless tow concept.
3. More chargers will come online too, and become more trailer friendly. Look at my map below, 2019 to 2023, the brown icons are fast chargers:
When those three things are in place, EV towing can replace ICE. There will be no sudden day of change, it’ll be gradual, just like EVs are not financially viable for many at the moment, but that’s changing month by month – go back 5, 10 years when you had a choice between no-performance Leaf or a super expensive Tesla S; at that point EVs made very little financial sense for anyone, today’s that quite different.
There is one more problem which I think will take significant investment and that is scaling to peak. Take somewhere like the Yorke Penisula, which I visited a year ago. Hundreds of holidaymakers and caravans, all wanting fuel. Easy, you send the tankers three times a week not once every two weeks, problem solved. You can’t scale EV charging as easily either by energy delivered or concurrent charging bays, so how does a holiday destination handle massive seasonal demand for energy? This one will be interesting. Today, pretty much every high-capacity dual-bay charger halves its throughout when both bays are in use for example.
Minds need to change too. I actually think the forthcoming Ranger PHEV might revise a few opinions. How’d you like 12kWh or so of battery on-board with the option to quickly charge up? How’s that for powering Starlink, coffee machines, winches, power tools? Sounds great to me, wouldn’t need much on the ‘van then, and then that’s a gateway step to an EV. Come back after a trip and maybe even recharge the Ranger off the van’s solar for a bit.
If someone wants to tow something, and they are aware of the vehicle’s limitations be that a Jimny or an EV or a Ram 3500…then that’s their business. Every travel vehicle out there, towing or not, is a compromise of some sort. We all choose our own compromise, and for many, you do what you can with what you have. Those doing early EV Laps with caravans should be applauded as they are paving the way for others to follow – I bet back in ’62 the Spriggs were told they were crazy, couldn’t do it and here we are today holding them up as the pioneer heroes they really are. However, we can’t get too far ahead of ourselves and must recognise the very real challenges and limitations there are with EV towing and inhabit an alternate reality where such problems cease to exist, because if we do that those problems won’t be solved.
Finally if you want to know about EV drivetrains, watch this video: