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Thursday, June 2, 2016

Where Are The Range Extending Trailers?

Pure EVs are great. Even with less than 100 miles of range, a lot of trips can be made in an EV. However, there are times when having a range extender would be nice. Maybe the planned trip is through a region that has a dearth of charging infrastructure or maybe my schedule does not allow for charging stops. During these few times, it would be nice to have a range extending trailer.

Of course you could buy a plug-in hybrid vehicle with a range extender like a Chevy Volt or a BMW i3 REx. However, if ~70 miles of electric range is enough most of the time, and I would only need the range extender a couple times per year, it seems wrong to carry the weight of an internal combustion engine and fuel tank around on the hundreds of other trips each year.

The 200+ mile EVs are coming. This will reduce the need for a range extender, but it is not clear is the 100 mile EVs will simply disappear or move to a lower price point when their longer range siblings come to market.

So why haven't any of the short range EV manufacturers come out with a range extending trailer?

The idea is not a new one. The AC Propulsion T-Zero electric roadster (the inspiration for the Tesla Roadster) had a range extending trailer.

AC Propulsion T-Zero with range extender
The first gen electric Toyota RAV4 had a range extender trailer.

Toyota RAV4 EV with range extender
A startup company called Nomadic Power is working on a range extender for the Nissan Leaf and the BMW i3, but they are still seeking funding and using their trailer may require modifications to the vehicle that many people would not be willing to make while the car is under warranty or leased.

Nomadic Power range extender for the Nissan Leaf and BMW i3
EP Tender is another company that is working on a range extender. Theirs is for the Renault Zoe and Nissan Leaf.

EP Tender range extender

Even the home tinkers have gotten into the game. In late 2011, Phil Sadow, known as Ingineer on MyNissanLeaf, created a propane-powered gas-turbine range extender for his 2012 Nissan Leaf.

Phil Sadow and his DIY propane-powered gas-turbine range extender for the Nissan Leaf
So what has stopped the auto-manufacturers from making their own range extenders? These could be upsell opportunities or something the dealerships could rent out.

It would be best if the vehicles were designed with these devices in mind. The car would need a power connector and a control and communications channels to turn the generator on and off and to monitor the fuel level.

Even when there are 200+ mile EVs, you may occasionally need a range extender trailer. And even when there are 200+ mile EVs for sale, there will still be a market for cheaper ~100 mile EVs. A range extender would be very helpful for these shorter range EVs.

If you were shopping for a ~100 mile range EV, the one that had a range extender trailer option would be the more appealing of an offer to many people. So Nissan, GM, VW, BWM... if you want to stand out from the others, you can offer something that your competitors are not.
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