Roadside assistance for electric cars conjures images of big trucks with giant diesel generators spending hours on the side of the road charging stranded electric cars after their drivers run out of range. But the technology doesn’t have to be so grand or expensive, says John Nielson, director of auto repair and buying at AAA.
The auto club has just rolled out six roadside assistance trucks to recharge electric cars. The initiative was first announced at the Plug-In conference this past summer. Nielson says the goal is to give drivers a 15-mile charge in as little as 10 minutes. That’s a tall order for now.
AAA is testing three different types of charging technology. The first system is a lithium-ion battery pack that can be mounted on a small Ford TransitConnect van and charged by the generator whenever the van is running. Nielsen describes this is the most advanced technology they are assessing, but the least reliable. The second method uses natural-gas powered generators, which can be mounted on a Ford F-150 pickup with a utility body. The third option is a simple generator driven by the engine of a gas or diesel-powered ¾- or 1-ton pickup. This is the simplest, and so far most reliable system, Nielson says.
If the idea of dead electric cars being charged by big dirty diesel tow trucks strikes you as a Stephen Colbert fantasy come true, know that this equipment is installed on the same trucks that AAA has in the field already to provide lockout service and to bring gas to regular cars that have run out.
The roadside electric-car service is rolling out in six regions: Northern and Southern California; Oregon; Washington; Eastern Tennessee; and Tampa, Florida. So far, Nielson says, no place has a dense enough population of electric cars to make the charging trucks economical. But he says AAA wants to be prepared when electric cars become more popular.
Nielson notes that the electric-car recharging business isn’t new for AAA. It provided roadside service for electric cars all the way back in 1909. The powertrain technology soon fizzled into the pages of history, before its relatively recent resurgence. Maybe this time it will stick around a little longer, and if so, AAA aims to be ready.