Home » Aftermarket Trailer Hitch-Mounted Gasoline Range Extenders For EVs: Silly Or Brilliant?

Aftermarket Trailer Hitch-Mounted Gasoline Range Extenders For EVs: Silly Or Brilliant?

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Would you rearrange the deck chairs on a sinking Titanic? How about getting the carpet cleaned in your family room while a storm-felled tree sticks through the ceiling? Most of us don’t ignore the primary problem in a situation, but somehow with EVs I feel like the elephant in the room is still not being addressed fast enough.

The odds are that if you talk to any electric vehicle owner (well, at least non-Tesla owner) you’ll get at least one tale of woe. Something like “I thought I could make it home, but it died a few blocks away.” Or maybe “I barely made it to a place with a charging station, but all the chargers were being used!” A common favorite is one that goes along the lines of “the chargers at the hotel were all filled up so I drove around until I found a WalMart with an open one around one in the morning and slept in my car until it was charged.”

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This is lunacy, and while the situation with chargers (as well as car range) will surely get better over time, it could be an eternity before you can drive through bitter cold or into the most desolate part of Montana without fear of being stranded. You can’t just put a gallon of electricity in your car. Or could you?

Max1200
US Army

 

Necessity Is The Mother Of Invention

Some time back, we posted a story about a system that was proposed by a company called BlueDot Motorworks to add electric power to almost any car with batteries, motor, and a drive system that bolted right to the lug nuts of your rear wheels.

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BlueDot Motorworks

 

This seemed like an interesting solution to make a hybrid EV conversion, but it would seem that the real need might be for a hybrid conversion of EVs themselves. Let me explain.

[Ed Note: The Bishop wrote this prior to the Ram 1500 Ramcharger debuting; it seems Ram gets it. -DT]. 

While few will dispute the advantages of clean electric power in a car, many people are leery of investing at least $40,000 of their money into something that might turn into a paperweight if you drive it too far from a sometimes difficult-to-find charging station. Even staying within the seemingly safe confines of an urban area doesn’t protect you from the possibility of out-of-service chargers, chargers that don’t work with your car, or lack of openings.

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Tesla

There is a reason why hybrids and especially plug-in hybrids remain best sellers today. Besides traditional hybrids, cars like David Tracy’s i3 can be equipped with a “range extender” gasoline motor to increase battery life on the go. Oddly enough, we’ve actually seen makeshift examples of people doing something similar for different automotive needs on various social media posts. The air conditioning on your old w126 560SEL shoots craps and you commute in Florida? No problem. Just strap a gas generator onto the roof, put a small unit in an opened rear window that you seal with duct tape, and problem solved. Is this legal? They don’t seem to care, and if you’ve ever been to Daytona Beach in the summertime, you wouldn’t care either.

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YouTube screenshots

As crude as this setup seems, others have done essentially the same thing to get more range in EVs. I did not watch the below video in its entirety, but the owner of this Tesla (a reputable YouTuber) has indeed installed a gas generator into what used to be his cargo area to increase his range enough to go four-digit mileages without the need for a charging station.

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Another option is to carry a generator on one of those metal platforms you can buy that fits into your trailer hitch socket (obviously this isn’t an EV, but you get the idea).

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I do not know if these people are heading to a distant campsite or just afraid of confrontation at a charging station, but according to various websites it’s very possible to use one of these to charge your EV, even if it will likely take longer than a typical charging station [Ed Note: All EVs will lock out “drive” when you’re plugged in, so you’d need to do some software hacking to use this while driving. -DT]. Still, a space saver spare tire is not as good as your normal rubber, but it beats sitting beside the road. If this range thing is a common issue, why can’t we take this makeshift solution and embrace it?

You Want To Put It Where?

My concept is called the Charg/R; a self-contained internal combustion generator that sits in a module that hangs off of the rear of your EV, fitting into the trailer hitch socket. Inside the clean-looking box, the generator and fuel tank are arranged inside along with a small battery that is used for the tiny starter motor. For the fuel, I was thinking of diesel for a couple of reasons.

Sure, it’s loud, but with a diesel engine you can typically run all sorts of different fuels you might find, from kerosene to the dregs from what you had left over from a fondue pot. Secondly, diesel fuel is flammable, but far less combustible than gasoline. In a collision, it would be unlikely to explode so you would not have a Ford Pinto situation on your hands.

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There’s more that you can do with the Charg/R. Wheels fold down from below with casters so it’s easy to remove and attach to your car, plus you can roll it away to store in the garage. You could also roll it around at the camp site, job site, or use it when your power goes out at home.

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The Bigger Question

I know what you’re asking now: Could this thing run and charge your EV while you are driving? The simple answer is that with most cars today is, probably not. My plug-in hybrid won’t do shit if the charger door is open. However, the principle could work if the car’s electronics would allow. I don’t doubt that software hacks could make it possible, as proved by some of the YouTube freaks.

If you did have a system like the Charg/R, the hope would be that one day the infrastructure will be so good that you’d never have to drag this thing behind your EV ever again; that day could be a long time coming. Until then, something like this could come in handy. Unless you want to strap a Honda gas generator on your roof instead.

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Yes, it’s a bit absurd, but that’s what I — The Bishop — do. Or maybe it isn’t absurd? You tell me.

Relatedbar

A Daydreaming Designer Attempts To Bring EV Charging Stations Into The Late Twentieth Century – The Autopian

Here’s An Idea For The Gas-To-EV Charging Station Transition: Shipping Containers – The Autopian

These Are The Rules Of Electric Car Charging Etiquette – The Autopian

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Mathew Rasmussen
Mathew Rasmussen
2 months ago

So basically, the Chevy Volt. An EV that was 100% electric powered with an onboard ICE and gas tank to act as a generator to recharge the onboard battery pack.
I had a lot more of a comment, but it got too long. Touching on things like a small electric add-on motor for early mornings, electric motor in wheel, E-fuels, EVs being disposable vehicles, a rip on Tesla for the floor of their pickup truck. So I left all that out.

John McMillin
John McMillin
6 months ago

Could “a simple diesel engine” propel an EV? Not under any modern regulatory environment. If diesel is burned in the process of operating the vehicle, that diesel must need similar emission control systems to, say, a VW TDI (bad example). How and why would you try to get around that?

Torque
Torque
7 months ago

There are two related and overlapping opportunities here.
1. Low(ish) range of evs vs. Ice vehicles, bc for all the pollution problems of burning yee ol’ dinosaurs, gasoline & diesel are Hella energy dense
2. Not enough ev charging stations bc it is still early days and setting up new charging stations is expensive (like $100k per charger expensive)… And #2 of course is a chicken v egg problem…

Another idea that Could help with range is embedded pv on the hood/roof/trunk + possibly glass.

Solar challenge competitors run from solar directly… certainly an apples v oranges or maybe apples v pears comparison, still technically it is possible to have some charging of the batteries (or direct contribution to forward propulsion) powered by the sun while driving. Either way gets a longer range.
The big IF here is doing so while the vehicle is in motion and not relying on the relatively speaking very small contribution of the pv panels in the overall range calculations by the vehicle…

The big question is How Much of a difference it would make?

Of the 3 “solar/battery/ev startups that have been attempting to make a go of it…
1. Sion is dead
2. Lightyear supposedly is coming back post bankruptcy with a new product in the $40k something to $50k something range
3. Aptera supposedly is $50M from starting production (even if that means each unit is hand made to get started)

Of these 3, Aptera may have the best chance, although being a very unorthodox 2 seat 3 wheeler suggests it is likely to always be a niech product.

Still In each case, weight was a Big factor in ability to move via solar power (plus smaller battery pack again to help keep weight down). Given the model 3 is still something like +3600 lbs and the limited ev.generating capabilities of current pvs… I don’t think the juice is likely worth the squeeze

IHCDemoman
IHCDemoman
7 months ago

When I finally convert my Scout to BEV, I’d thought about using a version of Mazda’s rotary generator from the e-skyactive in the shape of a spare tire on a bumper mount & have a couple jerrycans hard mounted for fuel.

Hopefully by the time my 3.2 finally decides to die, solid state batteries will be the norm & Dana will have their light-duty e-axles available.

Speedway Sammy
Speedway Sammy
7 months ago

I think a better answer is community cooperation. Probably half the vehicles on the road today are full size pickups and SUVs with hitches. Put a towplate on the front of your EV and buy a tow bar. Then all we need is a universal hand signal for “hitch a ride” for my EV. Or somebody can develop an attachable sign to flash the message.

Ward William
Ward William
7 months ago

A big Nope to all that bolt on rubbish. Buy a car with more range.IMHO

Bassracerx
Bassracerx
7 months ago
Reply to  Ward William

this will probably be a bandaid for when your BEV battery inevitably loses capacity 7-10 years later… So everyone will celebrate that ICE cars are no longer in production and then everyone will be back to stinky gas generators 8 years later..

NosrednaNod
NosrednaNod
7 months ago

“While few will dispute the advantages of clean electric power in a car, many people are leery of investing at least $40,000 of their money into something that might turn into a paperweight if you drive it too far from a sometimes difficult-to-find charging station.”

59% Of US households in 2020 owned two or more cars. That means 6 out of 10 households could just USE THE OTHER CAR in situations like the one described above.

Mantis Toboggan, MD
Mantis Toboggan, MD
7 months ago
Reply to  NosrednaNod

That’s probably because most people don’t want either one of their expensive pieces of machinery to be limited in what it can do as far as it’s function and purpose for being purchased. People usually make decisions based on their personal interest. If you want them to make decisions that are in accord with the interests of society those decisions must benefit the individual in some way. Berating people for not accepting less usefulness out of their consumer goods will not get you where you want to go.

NosrednaNod
NosrednaNod
7 months ago

That’s probably because most people don’t want either one of their expensive pieces of machinery to be limited in what it can do as far as it’s function and purpose for being purchased.

What are you talking about? People have second cars that are “limited in what it can do as far as it’s function” all the time. In fact, I would suggest that is what happens more often than not.

People don’t have second cars that are smaller than the other one? Second cars that are less comfortable? Second cars that are less practical? Second cars that are just a decade old Camry?

How is an Electric car a tradeoff too far but a Miata is just fine?

Mantis Toboggan, MD
Mantis Toboggan, MD
7 months ago
Reply to  NosrednaNod

What does the EV bring? Lower operating costs in return for less practical use? A lot of expense for something that can’t do what it’s ice cousins can? If someone wants an economy car for a second car a cheaper EV is fine. If they want a luxury vehicle that can accelerate like a supercar (and can afford it) fancy one would work too. But that’s not the way most people buy a second car. Most second cars are trucks, SUVs or minivans because those are useful. Also the second car is often driven by the second income earner, something that is quite common. That changes the buyer’s needs.

A broad statement like the one you made may be theoretically true but you’re overlooking many practical difficulties. Currently EVs are more expensive and less useful. When they’re not they will be popular beyond people who are early adopters, people who see them as status symbols and those obsessed with efficiency. Once there are widely available working fast chargers that may make a difference without the cars changing too much. We will have to see.

NosrednaNod
NosrednaNod
7 months ago

What does the EV bring? Lower operating costs in return for less practical use?

Your less practical is someone else’s more practical. Statistically speaking, the average driver would find an EV more practical for the average trip in a car.

Jb996
Jb996
7 months ago

I like that this site goes into deep dives. Can we do that more often on some of these “solutions”?

A small generator like described here will put out about 2kW (2.7hp). To maintain 70mph, a car typically requires 20-50hp to maintain speed against wind and rolling resistance. SUVs and especially 5000lb BEVs will be at the upper end of this. A detailed deep dive would do actual calculations here, but I’m not going to.
But even with perfect charge efficiency and defeating the lockouts, this isn’t helpful alone.

But what about adding a slight charge over time while driving? A Tesla travels about 3.8mi/kWh (a quick search), and most BEVs are much worse. Stated ranges of 220-358miles will take 3.1-5.1hrs to deplete at 70mph. In that time, the small generator will have produced 6.2-10.2kWh of power. Congratulations, assuming perfect efficiency you just added between 23-39 miles of range, and much less for the larger or less efficient BEVs.

Is this really a plausible option in any way?

But how does the i3 range extender do it? That’s actually a 37hp engine; equivalent to a 28kW generator, so not a tiny one. And as we know, it can’t keep the tiny i3 above 60 by itself.

Last edited 7 months ago by Jb996
StayPutReachJump
StayPutReachJump
7 months ago

In the late 90s, a small California company was at the forefront of EV technology and engineering. They developed a small two-seat roadster with an advanced and innovative AC induction drive motor. The inverter/charger was also bi-directional, meaning the car could be used as a portable power supply. The company also developed a small, low profile trailer with a Kawasaki motorcycle engine in it which drove a generator for charging the car as you drove. The trailer even had steerable wheels that kept it perfectly aligned with the car when reversing. (https://youtu.be/A5GLlbIMK40)

The car was called the tZero, its range extender trailer was called the Long Ranger. The company, AC Propulsion, was founded by a few former GM engineers who designed the GM Impact, which would become the EV1. They left GM after the EV1 was cancelled and decided to go their own way.

After introducing the tZero and demonstrating its impressive performance, a couple of tech bros encouraged AC Propulsion to put the car into production, but the company chose to focus on converting Scion xB’s using their proprietary AC induction drive, selling the converted cars as the AC Propulsion eBox (Tom Hanks bought one after GM took back his EV1). They felt they did not have the resources to develop a production car themselves and decided to stick with conversions in a market with near zero EV ownership or understanding. The tech bros decided to license the AC Propulsion design and develop their own 2 seat car. This became the Tesla Roadster. The tech bros were Martin Eberhard, JB Straubel and Elon Musk.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AC_Propulsion_tzero

Christo Arvanitis
Christo Arvanitis
7 months ago

That’s not exactly how it happened. Musk came along later as an investor as most know. From Wikipedia-

Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning had both taken test drives in the lithium-ion battery powered revision of the AC Propulsion tzero before founding Tesla Motors. Martin Eberhard encouraged Tom Gage and Alan Cocconi to move their prototype tzero into production. When they declined, in favor of working on their electrified Scion xB called the eBox, Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning incorporated Tesla Motors to pursue the idea of building an electric roadster in the spirit of the tzero. Elon Musk later test drove the tzero as well, and he also encouraged AC Propulsion to commercialize the vehicle. Tom Gage again deferred, but put Elon Musk in contact with Martin Eberhard which led to Musk becoming Tesla Motors’ first major investor through Series A funding”.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AC_Propulsion

Jeff Hager
Jeff Hager
7 months ago

I’ve seen this solution before! Mr. Sharkey’s electric VW Rabbit diesel pusher.

http://web.archive.org/web/20120717075637/http://www.mrsharkey.com/pusher.htm

And didn’t the Volt kinda do the EREV thing a few years back, too?

Scone Muncher
Scone Muncher
7 months ago
Reply to  Jeff Hager

The Volt was waaaaay ahead of its time.

Jeff Hager
Jeff Hager
7 months ago
Reply to  Scone Muncher

I have a Voltec based vehicle (ELR) and it’s the only car I’ve had that I’d replace with the same if something happened to it.

Slow Joe Crow
Slow Joe Crow
7 months ago

This seems like a development of the “Juice Box” hitch mount RV generator kits.

EPGCivic
EPGCivic
7 months ago

I think this thing would be stolen. I’m assuming it would cost $1k – $2k and be out in the open.

Lockleaf
Lockleaf
7 months ago

For anyone interested, here is an article on a company that built small battery filled trailers to pull behind your EV for additional range. The idea was like Uhaul, trade them in anywhere, or you could probably recharge them yourself. Extended range, only when you need it. Article is from 2020 though, so I don’t know that the idea went anywhere.

https://europe.autonews.com/blogs/french-startup-uses-battery-trailers-cure-ev-range-angst

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