Ben Coxworth: Until there’s some huge revolution in battery technology, electric vehicles are destined to remain as urban runabouts, never going out on long highway trips ... right? Well, not if Germany’s ebuggy project has anything to say about it. The group is developing little range-extending battery trailers that could be towed behind electric cars, providing power to the vehicles on longer trips. When a user’s trailer started getting low on juice, they could just pull over at a roadside exchange station and swap it for one that was fully charged.
In more detail, the plan is that users would start by hitching an ebuggy to their car when leaving their home city. They would pick that trailer up at an exchange station, on their way out of town. It would only take about two minutes to hitch up and plug into their vehicle’s electrical system. They could then swap it out if needed while en route, depositing the final ebuggy at a station outside of their destination city. For driving within either city, they would just use their car’s existing battery.
Users would pay for the trailers on a per-use basis, via an ebuggy card which they would receive when signing up for the service. Fees would be automatically calculated and billed, and would reportedly “always be lower than driving a gas or diesel car.” Those users would also initially have to get an ebuggy kit installed on their vehicle, which would include a standard trailer hitch, a power socket, and a dashboard user interface.
A prototype trailer has been built and tested, thanks to the involvement of Germany’s Ministry of Economics and Technology, and project partners including the Fraunhofer Institut IPA and Stuttgart University. That prototype is claimed to work perfectly – its battery capacity hasn’t been stated. The group is now optimizing the design for large-scale production, and is looking into establishing a network of the exchange stations across Germany and ultimately in other countries.
While the system may indeed make long-distance EV travel possible, it could conceivably also cause electric vehicles to become more affordable. “ebuggy allows the automotive industry to build reasonably priced electric vehicles with a smaller battery, because ebuggy is available for longer distances,” said the group’s managing director, Dr. Manfred Baumgärtner. “As a result, electric cars will become cheaper than vehicles with a combustion engine and e-mobility will be able to assert itself rapidly and dynamically.”
Should the ebuggy system become a commercial reality, it may have some competition. Germany’s Rinspeed is developing a similar concept, Dock+Go, in which two-wheeled range-extending modules are actually attached to the back of an existing EV – essentially temporarily turning it into a six-wheeled car.