Towing with an electric car might not seem like the most obvious use of battery technology. That’s not surprising given that, until recently, very few electric cars were approved for towing. The Tesla Model X was the notable exception to that rule, and now the Tesla has been joined by the likes of the Audi e-tron, Jaguar I-Pace and the Mercedes-Benz EQC, as well as the more affordable Tesla Model 3.
If you’re towing with an electric car how much weight can it actually pull? How will it perform when towing? And how does pulling a caravan or trailer affect the range?
FROM 750KG to 2,250KG
The answer to the first question varies depending on the specific make and model. At one end of the spectrum, the Jaguar I-Pace can legally tow just 750kg. That rules out full-size caravans, but is enough for small trailers and micro-caravans. At the opposite extreme, the Audi and Mercedes-Benz can pull a whopping 1,800kg each, and the Tesla Model X can tow 2,250kg.
Such generous limits mean these cars can legally tow most caravans or a large horsebox. And there are good reasons why electric vehicles ought to make good tow cars.
Firstly, electric cars tend to be heavy compared with similar models with an internal combustion engine. Take the Audi e-tron (pictured below), which has a kerbweight of 2,565kg. Audi’s diesel-powered big SUV, the Q7 50 TDI, weighs 2,240kg, just over 300kg less.
WHY WEIGHT AND PERFORMANCE MATTER
Why does that extra weight matter? Well, car and trailer tend to be more stable at speed when the car weighs significantly more than what it is towing. All else being equal, the bigger and heavier the car, the more secure the combination tends to be.
Then there’s performance. So far, the electric cars approved for towing are mostly high-performance SUVs. The Jaguar has 513lb ft of torque, the Mercedes has 564lb ft. These are big numbers, and make for effortless performance in everyday driving. There’s more than enough muscle to spare for towing.
The Camping and Caravanning Club put theory into practice when towing a trailer with a Jaguar I-Pace as part of the Tow Car Awards. They were impressed, concluding that “the Jaguar’s pace and stability are cause for optimism about the future of EVs as tow cars.”
HOW DOES TOWING AFFECT RANGE?
However, the picture wasn’t all rosy. As well as putting the I-Pace through acceleration, braking and hill-start tests, at which it excelled, the Club also tested the effect of towing a 750kg trailer on the car’s range. The Jaguar’s WLTP range from a full charge is 258-292 miles, depending on specification. While towing, the Club calculated that would drop to around 108 miles.
Don’t forget, this is towing a small trailer. Some of the Jaguar’s rivals have broadly similar official ranges, but can legally tow much more than the I-Pace can. It’s reasonable to predict the decrease in range would be greater still when towing a big, heavy caravan.
Short range leads to another problem – the need to recharge. Here Tesla has an important advantage over its rivals in the form of the Supercharger network. These rapid chargers add 111 miles of range to a Model X in 15 minutes, according to Tesla. The Supercharger network can only be used by Tesla cars, and the chargers are more than twice as powerful as the 50kW rapid chargers widely available to owners of other EVs. Yes, there are now alternative ultra-rapid chargers which match or beat the Supercharger network’s recharging speed, but they’re not yet around in significant numbers.
NOT QUITE THERE YET
If you do stop to recharge, there’s another problem. Where do you put your trailer? Recharging spaces are sized for single vehicles, not a 4×4 towing a speedboat. So in practice drivers will need to find a motorway service area’s caravan and HGV parking, unhitch their trailer, make sure it is secure from theft, then drive to where the chargers are to top up the batteries. It adds another level of inconvenience to what will already be a long-winded process.
So yes, towing with an electric car is perfectly possible. But limited real-world range and the difficulty of recharging while towing mean that even the latest electric SUVs are better suited to short-distance towing rather than long journeys. That won’t change until the cars have a much longer range, or ultra-rapid chargers are available in caravan parking bays at motorway services.
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