Is There an Electric Toad in Your Future?

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June 28, 2008

By Bob Difley
How close are we to an electric vehicle? A bit far, I suspect, for motorhomes or trucks powerful enough to pull trailers and fivers, but maybe not as far for a toad. GM has pulled out all the stops for the Volt PHEV (plug-in hybrid electric vehicle) due out in the spring of 2009.

GM has accepted its own challenge of accomplishing 40 miles on a single charge and plugging into a regular 120-volt electrical outlet to recharge overnight. After 40 miles, a gasoline motor kicks in to get you extra mileage and to recharge its batteries. GM has also promised to deliver it to market for $30,000, which most sources think will be at a loss until enough can be sold and plug-in battery technology improves enough to get their manufacturing costs down. GM is so focused on the Volt that they have allowed the Volt division to bypass much of the corporate bureaucracy that would slow them down and is throwing buckets of bucks at the division.
Meanwhile, Toyota quietly announced that they will also have plug-ins by 2009 and are planning to introduce a half step toward that goal with an up-graded Prius hybrid electric vehicle (HEV), whose batteries are charged by the on-board gasoline engine, that will get 10 miles on electric only (the current Prius will only get one or two on electric only) before the gas motor kicks in.
Other companies are also on the fast track, such as Tesla Motors, manufacturer of an all-electric (EV) sports roadster claiming to achieve 0 to 60 mph in 3.9 seconds and a single charge driving range of over 200 miles (tested as high as 276 mpg). Unlike hybrids, the Tesla has no gasoline motor, using only electricity from its li-ion battery pack and charged on any 120-volt system.
So what does all this mean when considering toads? First, any of the three electric vehicle types (HEV, PHEV, EV) is much cleaner and less polluting than burning gasoline or diesel, emitting less carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere (none from the EV). Second, you could charge your toad battery pack from your rig’s solar panels or wind generator at 0 cost, or from a campground electrical connection. Third, a PHEV, where you can drive 40 miles on a charge would in most situations be enough to drive to the grocery store, post office, and Starbucks, then back to the campground to plug in. It would also be enough to do a fair amount of touring from the campground, and if you did drive more miles, the gasoline engine would take over to finish your drive.
With an EV you could simply find an outlet to plug into for enough of a charge to get you home, like while enjoying your latte. And it wouldn’t take much of a conversion, if at all, for service stations to provide electrical outlets for EVs and charge by the time or kilowatt hours used.
Given the future of EVs, maybe that’s why the oil companies are sitting on millions of acres of oil leases and not drilling. If I were CEO of Exxon-Mobil I would think twice, knowing it would cost $100 million to drill a well that might turn out to be a dry hole, when everyone was lining up to buy EVs.
However, the next logical question is: What is the cost of an EV’s battery replacement? The answer could put a damper on the whole concept unless some major breakthrough comes along in battery technology initiating mass production and the resultant lower manufacturing costs. Is that what the electric car enthusiasts and entrepreneurs are betting on?

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  2. I haven’t seen any that will work from the turbine spinning as a result of the wind speed generated by driving, nor do I know that we would need one. The alternator of the driving vehicle would probably charge at a faster rate, and the wheels turning on an electric tow vehicle would most likely charge the EV. But that’s just my guess.

  3. A.W. Walker

    Bob, Great thought-provoking article! I’m intrigued by the thought of towing an electric (mostly) vehicle behind my MH, and being able to charge it as I go along. What have you found for MH-mounted wind turbine machines that will do the ancillary charging as we motor along at 55-60 mph?

  4. Rich – You’re not far from reality on your requirements. I don’t know about the Volt, but many electric vehicles (EVs), because of the high torque, don’t need a transmission, so nothing sticking down below the axels. Also, they then put a drive motor on each wheel, therefore, 4-wheel drive. And since no transmission, it should be flat towable, and wouldn’t it be neat if while being towed, the turning wheels charged the battery.

  5. Rich Kozloski

    The Volt looks cool but I still want something that looks like the Smart ForTwo or Yaris that runs on batteries all the time with a small diesel engine to recharge the batteries when no power source is available. I should weigh around 1500 lbs and be flat towable. What the hell. Since I’m dreaming throw in a little ground clearance and 4wd. (No rock climbing needed.)

  6. TXBrad

    Come on BOB !
    1, Electric cars ? Long way to go. Battery only 1 issue. Weigt not only problem.
    “poker Diva” Did you have problems w/ tire wear/align? Battery weight?
    Disposal used up batteries ? Last I heard cost for new set $3000.00 Fire depts. around here taking special training & buying special tools for wrecks. Then need Hassmatt clean up wrecks ? Where are plug ins @ State/Fed. parks ? Wal-Marts, rest stops?? RV parks not going to go up on rates / even for toads ? Current rate in most areas of TX = $o.11 to 0.18 per kWh. We have already had an “alert” & not yet summer. What impact building these plug ins to enviorment? Now finding Ethanol (growing & refining) causing more issues than being saved!
    This is a big/complex issue. Stop knee-jerk actions just to say “Green”
    2. Still there is a problem for future of class A motor homes. Who is going to buy a $300,000 to $1,000,000. used coach ? What will a plug in/ solar/ wind powered
    new one cost to buy, operate, maintain ????
    Remember: When the federal govt. polititions & EV wackos kill the Oil/gas companies, hope your 401K stocksretirement will be there & don’t hope for Social Security as they running it broke too! Have the wind to your back. TXBrad

  7. Stefan – I think that’s what it all comes down to, the batteries. In the case of towing the Boeing, though, I’ll bet all all the energy went into torque. Maybe top speed of 3 mph. Battery research is booming, though, with car companies operating their own battery research divisions. Got to be a major break through: get the weight down and length of charge up and have the unit fit in your hand. Invent that and you will make Bill Gates look like a pauper. Bob

  8. Stefan

    Just to let you know there are electric vehicles that can move a tractor trailer. When I was working in Chicago we had an Electric Tug that could move a Boeing 727. I would assume for over the road you couldn’t hold enough batteries though.

  9. PokerDiva – It’s too bad that the market for toads is not large enough for the big car companies to build in towability on the wheels. I hope that it will be possible with the EVs of the future. Bob

  10. Chuck-N-Jeanne say, “The future is at hand.” That it is. And moving faster.
    We need all the energy sources we can find but I get nervous when the politicians and big business get together and tell us what is right for us. I’m think transparency, research, safety, and several other factors are important to the safety and acceptance of the masses, without whose support, it will never move forward. That’s why I think that continued study on nuclear, especially on how to handle nuclear waste and improved security measures, continues to move ahead–but no building of new reactors until we know that the handling of these problems are within reason form most of us. The same is true for offshore drilling, which is a political hot potatoe, but where vast improvements have been made over the years to prevent spill. At the same time, buy all predictions, the need for oil will be lessened only if we develop as many alternate sources of energy as we can, to whittle away by small percentages–but lots of them–the amount of foreign oil we use. And it is happening, just as you mentioned Honda’s fuel cell. Thanks for the comments. Bob

  11. Carol says, “I hadn’t heard of a wind generator for RVs.” Wind generators have improved over the past few years. One of the problems I had with them was that made a whirring noise and set up a vibration into the coast which–at least at night–were annoying and and intruded on the night’s silence. But I think that is pretty much been controlled and improved. Check out this Web site: and this “Low Tech RVing” blog: You can also google “rv wind turbine” for more. And welcome to the world of fulltimers. Bob

  12. Chuck-N-Jeanne

    I’m for alternate energy, offshore drilling and Nuclear power plants. All of these units can be built and utilized with the utmost care and safety. When was the last time we had a major oil spill. We should use oil as a weapon on terrorism by becoming independent to foreign oil instead of a slave to it.

    Of particular importance to be is Honda’s recent announcement of their Clarity FCX. A Fuel-cell power car that has zero emissions and doesn’t use gas or electricity to recharge. Very cool – when can I get one for my motorhome??

    The future is at hand.

  13. We had a Prius, and loved it….but did not like using a tow dolly. Not only was it hard on the Prius (would rub on it’s front end when loaded) but I found the straps on the dolly very difficult for me to loosen with slightly arthritic hands. So we traded it in for a little Chevy Colorado which is easy to ready for towing by just pushing 2 buttons, and hooking it up with our roadmaster towing apparatus.

    Would love a Prius again if we could tow it tires on the ground.

  14. Carol

    Bob, great information and follow up to Lynn’s comments. I am planning on full-timing by November and will definitely be installing solar panels in my RV.

    I know the high cost of fuel is really hurting people but I am glad we are finally getting back to coming up with real alternatives. We have let it slide for at least 2 decades. I wholeheartedly agree to Lynn’s statement “I would like to see the politicos take a macro approach to our collective contribution to CO2 emissions”.

    I hadn’t heard of a wind generator for RVs.

  15. Lynn – My research has shown that in a choice between an electric vehicle recharged off the grid and a conventional vehicle burning gasoline, the EV wins hands down. The good news is that very little of grid energy comes from burning gasoline, which would then reduce our oil imports. The bad news is that a sizeable chunk of grid electricity comes from burning coal, which is dirty, polluting, and environmentally a bad guy. The good news is that, it is more economical to generate power in massive quantities at central locations than by individual vehicles, and regulations are in place to try to control coal plant emissions. The bad news is that more dirty coal burning electric generating facilities are due to be built, rather than taking that money and investing it in alternative fuels. The good news is that private investors, venture capitalists, and entrepreneurs are doing just that. It is obvious where the future is going and there are fewer and fewer who want to invest in short term projects that are already out of favor and will quite likely end up with carbon charges, an army of pollution watch dogs hounding them, and a host of government regulations. The bad news is that this all takes time and the price of oil is affecting us now, not just RVers but every user of fossil fuels around the world. The good news is that this has spurred interest, excitement, and investment in all types of alternate fuels/energy and is speeding up the process as the public is becoming more and more demanding of cheaper energy. Where this is all going, I think, is that a variety of fuels and energy possibilities will continue to be found, and will eventually have the affect of reducing our dependence on a single fuel source –oil. It is an exciting period, but I wish it would hurry up so we could all get back to our RV Lifestyle.
    Thanks for your comments, Lynn, and your kind words. And stay in touch. Bob

  16. Lynn E. Holland

    Hey Bob, good article. I am pro alternative energy, opposed to anwr drilling, the OCS is ok as long as very strong environmental safeguards are in place. Also, I buy carbon offsets from to reduce the impact of my 35′ 300 hp CAT DP. I tell you this so you know where I am coming from when I say I am very concerned about the huge rush to EV with no consideration of where we will get the kilowatts to charge all these nifty, hi tech vehicles of the future. If we reduce or eliminate tailpipe emissions, but still create equivalent or greater impact by burning oil or coal to recharge our EV’s batteries, are we gettng ahead at all? I know others will disagree, but I would like to see the politicos take a macro approach to our collective contribution to CO2 emissions, and not just single out one community (RVers and V8 pickup SUV owners) as the bad guys. I am not trying to start and argument, just throwing out some thoughts I have.

    Keep up the good work, I always open up your blogs!