17 January, 2022   By: Toby Hagon

Electric cars offer many advantages for those who make the switch from petrol or diesel, but will they ‘end the weekend’ because they can’t tow?

A family road trip in Australia is often more than the car and kids. Whether it’s a caravan or boat or a box trailer for extra gear, many Aussies love to tow.

But as we head towards a future with more electric vehicles, there are questions about their suitability to towing.

Our Prime Minister once famously said the opposition’s policy on EVs would “end the weekend” because they would not tow a trailer and get families to their favourite camping spots.

The raw numbers associated with EVs suggests otherwise.

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Ford in America recently began selling an electric version of its iconic F-150 pickup. Towing is one of the headlines with the F-150 Lightning, its capacity topping 4.5 tonnes – one tonne more than the best of the twin cab utes and Toyota LandCruiser in Australia.

Rival General Motors is going one step further with its Silverado EV to eventually be offered with a "max tow package" that can lug about nine tonnes.

The Lightning and Hummer don’t appear to be on the menu for Australia in the short term, but they’re some of the dozens of larger electric utes and SUVs soon to be unleashed that have towing as a major focus.

Ford Lightning on the highway
Ford F150 Lightning

Most EVs can’t tow… yet

In Australia, most of the 25-odd EVs currently on sale can’t tow, either because they haven’t been engineered to or because the local importer hasn’t certified a tow kit to meet Australia’s specific design rules.

Until this year the Tesla Model X had the highest EV tow rating of 2250kg, but it has just been outdone by the BMW iX at 2500kg. Only the Audi e-Tron (1800kg), Hyundai Ioniq 5 (1600kg), Polestar 2 (1500kg) and Volvo XC40 Pure Electric (1500kg) can tow a decent amount, while the Jaguar I-Pace (750kg), Kia EV6 (1600kg) and Kia Niro Electric (300kg) can be used for smaller loads.

Despite being engineered to tow overseas, the top-selling Tesla Model 3 cannot do so in Australia. Similarly, the Mercedes-Benz EQA and EQC can’t tow here, purely because the manufacturer didn’t deem it a priority in the infancy of EVs.


“We haven’t gone through that process based on customer demand,” a Mercedes-Benz Australia spokesperson said in reference to the Australian Design Rules.

That’s a familiar theme, according to Scott Nargar, Hyundai Australia’s Senior Manager of Future Mobility and Government Relations.

“Towing hasn’t been prioritised,” says Nargar. “The priority is getting EVs in, getting them fast charging and creating a footprint.”

But he says that will change rapidly as customers increasingly turn to EVs, bringing with them all the expectations placed on a petrol or diesel car.

“We’re seeing globally, especially with the US market – and Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and some of the European markets – towing is really becoming a consideration,” says Nargar. “The cars need to be doing the same as their internal combustion competitors.”

Why can’t electric cars tow well?

In principle, an EV is well suited to towing, albeit with limitations.

While power is often the headline in an ad, anyone who’s hitched up a caravan or boat knows it’s torque – or pulling power – that does the grunt work. That’s why most serious tow machines have diesel engines - diesels are known for generating more torque at lower revs than petrols.

And it’s torque that EVs also do well. Whereas an internal combustion engine needs to build revs for the turbo/s to start spinning and have that peak torque swell, an electric motor produces its torque peak as soon as it starts spinning. That’s one reason EVs can feel fast when taking off.

And there’s no shortage of torque in many EVs.

In dual motor all-wheel drive guise, the recently released Hyundai Ioniq 5 makes 605Nm of torque, not far off the 650Nm of the twin-turbo V8 diesel in the Toyota LandCruiser 200-Series, which remains a favourite for towing despite being discontinued more than a year ago.

Hyundai Ioniq 5
Hyundai Ioniq 5

“There’s no doubt that many EVs produce enough power and torque to tow a trailer,” says Alex Forrest, RAC manager vehicles and fuels.

Keith Mason runs Drive Zero, a Tesla rental business in Sydney and often uses his Tesla Model X to tow a 1300kg caravan.

“You don’t seem to lose much acceleration when towing but you chew through a tonne more power,” he says, highlighting the biggest issue with towing with an EV – how far you’ll get.

He says towing that modest 1.3 tonnes reduces the usable range from 410km to around 230km, adding that “efficiency is the issue” with towing with an EV.

Forrest says “EVs can experience notable drops in their battery range given the extra loads on the vehicle”.

“Liquid fuelled vehicles also, of course, use more petrol or diesel when they’re towing, but the infrastructure to refuel them is vast, and it also takes relatively little time to put the fuel into them and get back on the road,” Forrest says.

Mason also says most charging stations aren’t configured for towing, so you need more planning and investigation about where you want to charge. And, typically, it involves removing the trailer from the car.

“You get very good at hitching and unhitching!” he says.

Ute towing boat

Fast charging is the key to EV towing

The RAC’s Alex Forrest says the EV charging network needs to be expanded, including to accommodate cars planning to tow, something that will naturally occur as state governments and private enterprise continue to invest in infrastructure. The WA Government has committed $21 million to an Electric Vehicle Fund which will include the development of a fast charging network connecting Kalgoorlie, Esperance, Perth and Kununurra.

And rather than slower AC charging outlets usually seen in shopping centres, hotels and at homes, it will offer DC charging that is critical to EV towing.

“To make towing with EVs more viable over long distances, larger capacity chargers spaced more closely along popular routes would be a great start,” says Forrest. “Making charging areas better suited to vehicles with trailers would also be a big help.”

The latest high powered DC chargers can provide up to 350kW, about 150 times more power than you get from a home powerpoint – or 50 times more than the wallbox EV charger many have installed in their garages.

Currently, there are two locations in WA offering ultra-rapid charging which form part of the RAC Electric Highway® and Chargefox network.

Those sorts of rapid charging speeds – or higher - will be required to make towing viable in Australia, where some will expect to cover hundreds of kilometres day after day.

DC fast charging means some EVs can add 300km of driving range in less than 20 minutes. That may translate to only 100km of range with a trailer on board.

RAC Electric Highway
RAC Electric Highway® ultra-rapid charging at West Perth

Hydrogen cars could be a solution for towing

Some argue a longer-term solution for towing and heavy haulage is hydrogen fuel cells, which replace most of the batteries with a fuel cell that combines hydrogen and oxygen to create electricity. Like battery electric vehicles, FCEVs produce no CO2 emissions from the tailpipe.

Their big advantage is refueling times akin to using petrol, and the potential for a longer range when moving heavy loads.

In its Electric Vehicle Strategy, the West Australian government says there is a goal for “renewable hydrogen being widely used in mining haulage vehicles and regional transportation by 2030”.

And the vehicles are coming, with both Toyota and Hyundai already trialing FCEVs in Australia.

Hyundai says hydrogen is a viable replacement for diesel engines, while Toyota has acknowledged fuel cells are relevant for longer distances and lugging heavy loads. There is already speculation some of Toyota’s off-roaders could eventually use FCEV technology.

Car towing caravan

Regenerative braking

One of the biggest energy-saving tricks an EV has in its repertoire is regenerative braking. By reversing the flow of electrons in the motor, it can send electricity back into the battery pack, capturing energy that would usually be lost through friction in the brake system.

Often, when braking in an EV, the conventional brakes are doing very little, with the electric motor/s instead acting as a generator and the resistance from this being used to slow the vehicle.

Under braking, the additional mass of the trailer will add to the braking force required to reduce the speed of the whole combination, and this may create more opportunities for regenerative braking, depending on how much the trailer’s brakes (if fitted) contribute.

However, these gains will be offset to some extent by the extra energy required to accelerate the load and maintain its speed.

Using an EV to power your camp site

There are advantages once you roll up to the campground in an EV.

Some EVs have powerpoints or external power supplies so you can plug in to your EV to power your lights, heaters or cooktops. The size of the battery packs means there’s usually plenty in reserve to run a camp site for a night – or more.

Plus, those who’ve paid for a powered site at a campground, may have the ability to recharge their vehicle while parked there.

In addition, RAC is currently expanding the RAC Electric Highway® to some of our Parks and Resorts, meaning travellers can charge their vehicles more quickly than with a standard power outlet.

RAC Electric Highway charging station at the RAC Esperance Holiday Park
RAC Electric Highway® AC charging station at the redeveloped RAC Esperance Holiday Park

How well can a plug-in hybrid car tow?

Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) are pitched as the best of both worlds as we transition to electricity. Pairing an electric drivetrain with an internal combustion engine, they can run purely on an electric motor but have a smaller battery than an EV.

Typically capable of between 30km and 100km running purely on electricity, the internal combustion engine boosts power and extends the driving range. Like any petrol-powered car they can be conventionally refueled for longer journeys.

It’s that flexibility RAC’s Alex Forrest, believes makes PHEVs appealing.

“They add to the choices consumers have to get into an electrified vehicle, even if it isn’t purely battery-powered,” he says.

On paper PHEVs seem well suited to towing, with most PHEVs on sale capable of towing a similar amount to their ICE-only counterparts. The Mercedes-Benz GLC300e, for example, tows up to 2000kg, while the X5 xDrive 40e can take 2700kg. Porsche’s Cayenne e-Hybrid is rated at a full 3.5 tonnes.

BMW X5 xDrive 4e
BMW X5 xDrive 4e

But with more modest performance from their electric motors, it’s petrol doing most of the work.

They’ll usually consume more fuel once you hit the open road, too. That’s because there’s a weighty battery pack that’s not doing much once it’s been drained of electricity, leaving the engine to work harder.

So they may be better suited to occasional towing rather than long distance adventures.

For many, a PHEV remains an affordable and practical option, which can also be driven with almost no tailpipe emissions when not towing.

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