In a previous article, I told the tale of a couple on YouTube who breaks all of the supposed rules for EV towing. Not only are Chevy Bolt EVs not supposed to be able to tow, but everyone thinks that they’ll instantly reduce themselves down to 50 miles of range the moment a trailer’s tongue latches onto the car’s hitch. In a time when Americans tend to pull 10,000+ pound camping trailers, and something that weighs in at 4,000 pounds is marketed as an “ultralite” camper, it makes sense that people would think that.
RVing with an electric drivetrain presents some unique challenges. To move a Class A motorhome (the ones that look like a bus) requires quite a good bit of energy, more so than what is found in your average battery pack — and those take a long time to charge compared to gas tank fill-ups. So, you’ll need a giant battery pack to move it an acceptable distance. Because of this expense (or lack of range if you don’t pay for an expensive pack), there are few all-electric motorhomes on the market.
Although electric trucks have the potential to revolutionize this industry, they are not without flaws. One of the best things about gas-powered trucks is that you don’t need to worry about conserving battery power. There’s a gas station on almost every corner, and it only takes a few minutes to fill up the tank. Yes, your mileage might drop when you’re pulling a trailer, but it’s still manageable for even long trips down less-traveled roads, because you can be back on the road fast even if you’re buying gas twice as often.
If you lose half of your range with an electric truck, it’s a lot more serious because there are no DC rapid charging stations in many places. In rural areas (popular with campers) you often can’t make it to the next station. Even if you could get to the following one, journeys become painfully slow and inconvenient. What used to be a simple journey in a gas-powered pickup or SUV becomes an agonizingly long expedition.
So, no, the naysayers on towing aren’t just making stuff up to smear EVs. It’s a real challenge. And, it’s no surprise that even EV fans would be skeptical that something like the Chevy Bolt EV wouldn’t make a good tow vehicle on long trips.
They Did It Anyway, And For A Lot Longer This Time
It’s important to note that they solved the EV towing problem through efficiency. After examining different types of campers, they chose an Aliner Scout popup camper because it was small and light-weight, easy to tow for anything with solid walls. This little thing only weighs a bit over 1,000 pounds. Not to mention, it folds down into a compact shape that doesn’t slow you down as much when driving on the highway. However, once they got the wiring and tires sorted out, the camper still caused their Bolt’s range to drop by 30%. Although this is unsettling news for long-distance travelers cross-country 150 miles should be manageable without too much anxiety.
On the first trip I covered, they drove around 400 miles, but they decided to push the distance out even further, going 1,000 miles this time. For eight days, the couple explored four states, starting in Florida and then going to Georgia and South Carolina. Finally, they visited North Carolina. On five of the days, they traveled an average of 200 miles each day. The other three days were spent sightseeing various attractions.
“The trip, including the Carolinas, completed my roster of visits to all 50 states,” Gail Thorpe said. “The Southeast Coast may have been the last place in the country I visited, but it’s among the most beautiful.”
Of the five travel days, two were less than 200 miles, so they didn’t need to stop to charge between RV parks. On the other two days where they had to drive more, they only needed to stop for rapid charging once or twice. This allowed them to get there before it got too dark out, and still enjoy their day.
On the fifth day of their travel, the Thorpes had to cover a 300-mile distance, which meant two long charges were needed. Also, since they mostly stayed on back roads, their average speed was only 40 miles per hour. To make matters worse, both charges required them to unhitch from their vehicle; Consequently, it was a very tiring day for them. They arrived at their campground around 8 PM that evening after a long journey. Fortunately though, the trip allowed the couple visits in Savannah (Georgia) and Charleston (South Carolina). When they reached the northernmost point of their journey, the Thorpes took National Outer Banks Scenic Byway towards Cedar Island’s National refuge. Fort Macon State Park on Emerald Island is also something worth mentioning that they got to visit during this time.
“Towing a little camper over 1,000 miles with our compact electric Chevy Bolt was a fun challenge,” Devin Thorpe said. “Countless people have told us we couldn’t do it or shouldn’t try; we’re proud to have done it.”
The Thorpes spent seven nights camping and were able to use solar power for five of those nights. However, they ran into trouble a couple times when weather conditions during the day stopped the panels from charging the battery, leaving them without power at night. So, it’s probably a good idea to have a backup plan for when solar power doesn’t keep up.
They’re Showing Us The Right Way To Approach Electric RVing
The typical American solution to problems is to throw raw power at it. Foreign relations problems? Drop more bombs! Problems with a neighborhood or drugs? Send in more cops! I know this is an exaggeration, but it’s part of our culture to just call for “m0ar!” when we see something not working out.
Less is not more! More is more!
But, often our problems aren’t solved by just throwing “more!” at it, just like the clip from one of the Star Wars sequels I shared above. Sometimes not only do our problems just dust their shoulders off, but we’ve got more problems than we had when we started embiggening our supposed solutions.
If we do this with electric trucks, we’ll end up in a world of impressive hurt. Not only will electric trucks with 200 kWh, 500 kWh, and even 1 MWh (1,000 kWh) batteries be superbly expensive, but they’ll soak up significant portions of the available battery supply, driving up the cost of cheaper, more efficient EVs with smaller batteries.
The other option, adding battery packs and propulsion to trailers, is no better really. The amount of battery pack needed to move big, hulking trailers with more king beds and TVs than our homes doesn’t go down just because we shift the battery into the trailer any more than shuffling your food on your plate fooled our moms as kids when we didn’t want to eat.
This could easily stall or delay the EV transition by years, and perhaps a decade.
There has to come a point where we decide we want to do more with less instead of simply demanding more and more battery pack and towing capability if we want to avoid that outcome.
I’m not saying everyone needs to learn to live within the limits of a Chevrolet Bolt EV (especially the slow rapid charging), but we’ve got to develop more efficient trailers that a reasonable EV with less than 100 kWh of battery pack can pull.
Featured image: A screenshot from the YouTube channel linked above.
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