Battery Trailers: One French Startup’s Plan To Overcome Range Anxiety

If you’re not keen on getting an electric car, it’s probably because you’re worried about range anxiety. That is, running out of charge and getting stranded. Could the answer be battery trailers?

A Novel Solution For A Novel Problem

A French startup believes it has a way of helping motorists overcome range anxiety. This is the fear that electric vehicles will run out of charge before reaching their destination or charging infrastructure. It persists despite improving battery technology and the rollout of more charging points. Paris-based EP Tender believes that the way around this is to offer drivers what are, effectively, battery trailers. Jean-Baptiste Segard, the company’s CEO, said “we are solving the issue of making EVs which are affordable convenient on long distances”.

The company wants to make the battery trailers available at key holiday routes. When a EV driver pulls up, they automatically attach to the rear of the car. They then provide an extra 60 kilowatt-hours of power. Precisely how much additional range this would offer is difficult to determine; varying between car models and driving styles. Still, for EP Tender affordability is key. It wants to offer the trailers for rental at a maximum price of 34 Euros (£28). This would mean the trailers would be, in theory, ideal for drivers of lower-end EV options, which usually have lower ranges.

Originally, the French company offered trailers which used combustion engines; effectively turning EVs (temporarily) into hybrids. But the falling cost of batteries prompted a switch. Hugo Basset, the team’s data science and simulation engineer, said “the combustion engine version is still used by our clients, but we are not developing it as we have a lot more traction on the battery tender. Batteries have progressed a lot”.

Learning Its Lessons 

This isn’t the first foray into tackling range-anxiety from the ‘outside’. Back in 2008 Renault worked with Israeli company Better Place to introduce swappable battery stations. Drivers would pull into a car wash-like facility which would automatically swap their car’s battery with a fully-charged one. It didn’t work and Better Place went to a better place in 2013 when it was dissolved.

EP Tender believes it has a better shot with its battery trailers due to a much lower investment. Basset said “we’re not spending millions on battery swap stations, for one thing”. It’s also designing the packs to be aerodynamically efficient and so that they can be linked to the grid to return energy at peak times. Ultimately, EP Tender believes it can produce its trailers for 10,000 Euros each and that it’ll reach profitability by 2024; possessing 4,150 trailers and some 60,000 customers.

Will It Work?

In some respects, the company’s idea is attractive. It means someone with a cheaper EV, like a Nissan Leaf, could undertake significantly longer journeys and for a modest price. For comparison, the Leaf currently has a range of 168 miles in comparison to the 250 mile range of the cheapest Tesla Model 3. As a result, cheaper EVs suddenly start to look a lot more practical and, potentially, good enough to provoke a transition amongst motorists.

The problem is that battery technology is accelerating at a rapid rate; and the cost of EVs is beginning to decline as automakers pursue electrification. Eventually, then, there probably won’t be much need for more range than is already on offer; except for aging EV models. Another issue is that, gradually, major roads throughout Europe are being fitted with more and more charging stations. They’re set to become as a much of a staple as a petrol station on a motorway. In which case, a range of 160 or so miles starts to look less intimidating; as drivers will simply be able to charge up every few stretches of highway travelled. In this respect, EP Tender’s model seems to rest on a much slower transition to electric vehicles than many governments and automakers expect.

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