What I wish to discuss with this article are the specific charging options that electric tow car/truck owners will have available to them. Now, most of the time, most people will charge their electric tow car at home. Granted, some people don’t have a drive and will have to rely completely on the wider charging network. This brings up lots of charging related questions. However, with this article, I want to specifically discuss using fast/rapid chargers during a towing journey which will be needed to make electric towing viable.
In my previous articles on can electric cars tow RVs/trailers I discuss the general rule of electric tow cars. That being, when towing you should expect the range of an electric car/truck to reduce by roughly 50% from its normal driving range. Therefore, on a towing journey, you will typically be looking at twice the number of charging stops compared to covering the same distance when not towing.
Introduction To Rapid/Fast Charging
As towing can significantly reduce the range of an electric tow car leading to more frequent charging stops, you will want to get energy back into the battery as quickly as possible. How quickly the electric tow car will be able to charge will be dependant on two key factors:
- What is the electric tow cars/trucks maximum rate of charge?
- What is the maximum power of charge provided at the charging station?
I’ve previously written about which electric tow cars charge the fastest, so please check out that article for information on that front. This article is here to discuss the second question about the power/speed of the charger itself and their availability. As with most things in the electric car world, rapid/fast charging stations both in terms of the technology they use and their payments options etc are changing pretty fast. As with all my articles, I’ll do my best to keep this information up to date.
The Current State Of US Rapid Charging
While my article below discusses the current and future options for rapid charging an EV in the US, I would also encourage you to watch the video below by Matt Ferrell. The video does an excellent job of explaining how the Tesla Supercharger network not only in terms of charging speed but user experience compares to the competition.
As Matt discusses in the video above, the US rapid charging network does need improvements. Not only in terms of the number of locations and the number of chargers but in the simplification of the payment system. I like many others are confident that the rapid charging network outside of Tesla will improve. However, especially when it comes to long-distance towing with an EV, a dependence on the public rapid charging network will present several challenges for several years to come.
What Classifies As Rapid/Fast Charging?
So as I’ve stated above, this article is primarily to discuss the fastest charging options available. Hence, if you are on a long journey towing an RV/trailer along the highway, for instance, rapid/fast charging is what you are going to need. When you’re charging at home, on the street or at a public car park they are commonly whats called Level 1 or Level 2 chargers which will deliver up to a maximum of 22kW of power.
Typically, its much less, most home chargers provide a maximum peak output of 7kW. However, for the purposes of this article and discussing rapid/fast chargers we are discussing charging technology which can provide more than 22kW of power, and in some cases much more. Charging power over 22kW is referred to as Level 3 charging, or more commonly as rapid charging.
The Different Rapid Charging Plugs
From this point forward when it comes to electric tow cars/trucks and Level 3/Rapid charging the CCS 1 plug seen in the image above is what you’ll be using. If you purchase a Tesla, they have their own proprietary plug. Yes, there are competing fast charging alternatives such as CHAdeMO. However, only a few cars such as the Nissan Leaf were fitted with a CHAdeMO plug for fast-charging, and the Leaf isn’t rated to tow. The Nissan Ariya which is rated to tow (1,500 lbs) uses a CCS 1 plug.
Now, you may be aware there is a different CCS 2 plug. However, that plug is only used in Europe for rapid charging. What is interesting to note is in Europe Tesla have fitted the CCS 2 plug in the Tesla Model 3 and Y. Hence, in Europe you can therefore easily (without an adapter) charge a Tesla at both a Tesla Supercharger and any other public rapid charger. Will Tesla make this change in the US and start fitting cars with a CCS 1 plug? At this point, we just don’t know. However, it would be nice if there could just be one US plug type for rapid charging.
Public vs Private Rapid Charging Networks
Of all the rapid charging networks discussed below, its only Tesla which is a truly private network. In other words, only Tesla vehicle owners can rapid charge at a Tesla Supercharger. It won’t matter if Tesla does start fitting CCS 1 plugs to their chargers, the Tesla Superchargers will not currently work with any electric cars other than a Tesla.
The Electrify America rapid charging network is technically for public use which any electric car can use. However, their pricing system does vary considerably for members and non-members. Hence, Electrify America members get a much cheaper price per kWh of charge. However, members have to pay for their membership (in most cases). As the Electrify America network is a subsidiary of the Volkswagen Group of America don’t be surprised to find out VW owners of electric cars such as the VW ID.4 get free membership.
The Tesla Supercharger Network
As things currently stand, in terms of electric tow car rapid charging in the US the Tesla Supercharger network is the most widely available not only in terms of locations but the number of rapid charging stalls. It does appear that Tesla is going to be carrying out a considerable expansion of the network in 2021. Therefore, that will further stretch the advantage that Tesla currently holds over EV practically for long-distance road trips/towing.
To provide you with a quick look at the simplicity/ease of use of a Supercharger I’ve included the video below from Ryan Shaw using a Supercharger for the first time with his Tesla Model Y. As Ryan shows you simply select the Supercharger location and the car will tell you the speed of the chargers (V2 or V3) and how many are currently in use. The car will then pre-condition the battery to the ideal temperature read to accept the maximum power of charge the car is capable of.
In the above video, Ryan briefly touches on the topic of the differences in speed/functionality of V2 and V3 Tesla Superchargers. Therefore, I’ll discuss the differences between them in a bit more detail below.
V2 vs V3 Tesla Superchargers
When the Tesla Supercharger network was first rolled out with V1 stalls, these had a maximum output of 120kW. However, currently, most of the V1 stalls have been upgraded to V2 specification, which is as follows:
- V2 = Max 150 kW (Shared/Paired Chargers)
- V3 = Max 250 kW (Dedicated Chargers)
So obviously, a V3 charger can provide a faster rate of charge over a V2 charger, provided the specific Tesla vehicle has the hardware to accept up to 250 kW (see here). However, the other important distinction between a V2 and V3 Supercharger is that a V3 stall does not share its power with another stall. As V2 chargers share their power between two stalls, there is ‘Supercharger etiquette’. In other words, as is shown in Ryan’s video above, if possible, a space is left between chargers to get the best speeds possible.
However, a V3 charger has it own dedicated source of power. Hence, every V3 charger can pull 250kW, at all times. That doesn’t mean your car will charge at 250kW through the whole charging sessions, as charge rates are not linear (see here). Though once every Tesla Supercharger is eventually V3 it will create a better/more equal user experience.
What About Charging With An RV/Trailer In Tow?
You may have noted in Ryan’s video above with a typical Supercharger you have to reverse into the space to use it. Well, that’s obviously not practical for say a Tesla Model Y or Cybertruck with an RV/trailer in tow. There are currently at several Tesla Supercharger stations one or two pull-in stalls which I’ve shown being used by Tesla Model X owners. However, if electric towing is truly going to become viable, Tesla will need to increase the number of pull-in charging stalls and also the length of the stalls.
There are rumours that larger pull-in V3 charging stalls are coming to help meet the needs particularly of Cybertruck owners who wish to tow. However, I don’t currently have a solid source to reference on that. Though charging while towing is surely something Tesla is working on, they are obviously a pretty smart bunch.
Electrify America Rapid Charging Network
The Electrify America network was founded by Volkswagen and was effectively born out of the ‘Dieselgate‘ scandal. As a result in 2016, as penance for their sins, the VW group were court-ordered to put $2 billion into electric vehicle development. The Electrify America network has started to install rapid chargers across the US at a very impressive rate. While the network is funded by VW, it is not purely for Volkswagen vehicles to use, any EV can charge at an Electrify America station. However, as discussed in Matt Ferrell’s video at the start of this article, their pricing structure varies considerably for non-members/members and whether you are paying per kWh for the power you consumed or per minute.
In terms of charging speed, Electrify America can currently toot their own horn as to offering the fastest rapid charging solutions at 350kW. However, as always, context is important. Those 350kW chargers are not at most of the current Electrify America locations, most are limited to 50/150kW. Though it is good to see that they are offering market-leading technology. While currently, no electric tow car can charge at anywhere near to 350kW, they will be coming. Its just better to avoid the whole chicken and egg debate. Just get the fastest charging technology out there, and people will buy more electric cars, simple.
Electrify America & Its Challenges
I’m not a ‘Tesla Fanboy’, I support all efforts to develop EV adoption. However, if one charging solution is objectively better than another, I will state as such. I want Electrify America to succeed to primarily provide non-Tesla owners with a viable solution to long-distance towing with an electric tow car/truck. First though, there are a series of issues that need to be addressed. Electrify America need to simplify and streamline their rapid charging network offerings, both in terms of their chargers and payment process.
As discussed in the video above, some of the issues Electrify America users have come across to date is down to the fact five different manufacturers of chargers are currently being deployed. Add in the differences in charging protocols between different electric cars and the result is reliability issues. One of the most significant complaints I’ve been aware of is charging per minute at charging stations.
The Problem & Solution On Charging Per Minute Over Per kWh
As I discuss in my article on which electric tow cars charge the fastest, not only do some cars have higher maximum charge rates over others, but charge rates are no linear. In other words, even if the car/truck can accept say 150kW it will not charge at that rate during the entire charging session. Therefore with a payment per minute charging session, there is no consistency on what you are actually paying for. Hence, a price per kWh of energy is the only fair/consistent means to charge users.
Some have stated that charging per minute of use for the charger is a means to stop people leaving a vehicle at a charging stall once fully charged. Making sure charging stalls are available for those who need them is obviously important. Therefore, charging per minute of use could be used after the car is fully charged. During the charging session, it should only be payment per kWh. That is a fair system that would also incentivise people not to leave a fully charged EV sat at a charging stall.
What About Charging With An RV/Trailer In Tow?
As of yet, I’ve not seen any comments from Electrify America representatives with regards to EVs towing and charging. Though since the VW group already sells electric tow cars (Audi E-Tron/VW ID.4) surely the scenario of charging an EV while towing is something they have been/are thinking about?! I’ll be reaching out to the press team at Electrify America to get a response on this one.
Other US Rapid Charging Networks
While Tesla and Electrify America are by far the largest and most widely available rapid charging options, they are not the only networks. Rivian is also going to be building its own ‘Adventure Network‘. However, details are currently still a bit thin on the ground with that one. Other rapid charging networks include the following:
How To Find Rapid Charging Stations?
In many instances the best solution to find a rapid charger during your journey will be to use the cars interactive screen, this is particularly true with Tesla vehicles. However, outside of using the car to find a rapid charger what’s your other option? Say you are planning a towing trip in advance (which you should) you can use tools such as PlugShare which has information on all the rapid charging options.
Conclusions On Rapid Charging
However, all rapid charging networks (including Tesla’s) need to provide more pull-in longer charging stalls for electric tow cars/trucks. Requiring users to unhitch their RV/Trailer every time they want to charge is not a viable solution. There are rumours that Tesla is going to be installing many more pull-in charging stalls. However, as stated above specific details on when these stalls will be available is not currently available. Though once in place, if a Tesla owner can search for pull-in Tesla Superchargers through the car’s screen that will provide an excellent user experience when towing.