Without a doubt, the Number One worry by motorists who might like an electric car is the prospect of running down the battery, becoming totally immobile. Limited range has been the primary obstacle to EV sales. Plenty of shoppers who could be attracted to an electric develop a case of what’s come to be called “range anxiety,” halting further consideration of an EV.
Even in regions where public charging stations have been erected, drivers have to wonder what might happen if they stray too far from the network of such facilities, and can find no place to “plug in.” Charging stations have been emerging in significant numbers, but they still cover only a minuscule area of the country. In the vast midwestern United States, for instance, no one could count on finding a convenient electrical outlet if an EV’s battery pack happens to become fully discharged. That’s the main reason EV sales have been so skimpy outside of states like California, which has pushed hard for a growing network of public charging facilities.
AAA, known for more than a century for its roadside-assistance services, has come up with a potential–if partial–solution. The nation’s largest motor club has announced a pilot program that will soon be underway in six metropolitan areas. Roadside-assistance trucks will be equipped with mobile electric-vehicle charging capability, providing both Level 2 and Level 3 charging to stranded AAA members with “depleted” electric vehicles.
The roadside-assistance vehicles will be fitted with different charging technologies, allowing the organization to evaluate which ones are doing the best job in various environments. Some trucks developed for this service will be fitted with a removable lithium-ion battery pack for mobile charging. Others will be equipped with electrical generators, which may be powered by alternative fuels.
Similar roadside-charging trucks have been unveiled in other countries, but AAA advises that the American versions will look “remarkably similar” to the organization’s existing light-services vehicles. Don’t expect a full charge, though. The goal is to provide just 10 or 15 minutes of charge time, allowing the depleted vehicle to drive between 3 and 15 miles to a charging station. Clearly, this limits their use to regions where public charging facilities are numerous and cover a relatively broad area. In short, the roadside-charging trucks are strictly for emergency assistance.
Phase-in of the program begins later this summer, continuing into the fall. Six areas are scheduled to have roadside-charging trucks available: Portland, Oregon; Seattle, Washington; the San Francisco Bay area; Los Angeles, California; Knoxville, Tennessee; and the Tampa Bay, Florida area. AAA made the roadside-charging announcement at the Plug-in 2011 Conference & Exposition.