EV puling caravan on road

We are encouraging questions from readers about electric vehicles, and charging, and whatever else you want to learn. So please send them through and we will get our experts to respond, and invite other people to contribute through the comments section.

Our latest question comes from Michael, who asks:

We are a one-car family and we hope to get an electric car soon. However, perhaps like most Australians, (we think) we need a car with less compromise.

We enjoy camping, we often carry bikes and other gear on the roof and pull a trailer or a light caravan, and we want our car to be able to do that. I’m not sure anyone has ever tested an electric car with loaded roof racks or pulling a caravan, but I suspect it would do poorly. Is it practical to hope for an EV, or PHEV that can do it all?

(Renting a car just for camping trips is not very appealing as it adds a lot of complexity to a trip, and we often go away at peak times.)

There are some big Range Rover and Volvo PHEVs that can do it in theory, but even if you disregard their (over $100k) price tags, are we actually producing less CO2 than a comparable car if we drive 1000km around town on renewable electricity, but then 1000km across country, pulling a caravan and mostly using their petrol engines?

Can we have our cake and eat it too?



Our resident expert Bryce Gaton responds:

Hi Michael – you have pretty much outlined the ‘Great Australian Car Dilemma’!

(The ‘dilemma’ being, if you ask Australian family car owners, most will say they want a car that is both practical and economical around town AND capable of the odd family camping or extended road trip).

The problem with that set of criteria is they are generally incompatible – city cars are expected to be small enough to easily park and manoeuvre in city traffic as well as economical to run.

Camping and road-trip cars need to comfortable enough to drive long distances at higher speeds and be commodious enough to carry the full family and all their gear. Fuel economy (and maintenance costs) for such large vehicles are, er, not so good!

The usual path to solving the dilemma is to ask a follow-up question to quantify the person’s out-of-town use for the last few years. Turns out that most of the big SUVs chosen to enable those camping and road-trips rarely/never do them! (For that scenario – the best answer is to buy an appropriately sized city car and hire a larger one for those rare trips).

The above solution is predicated on the savings of running the smaller ‘town’ car (and particularly so for a battery electric vehicle, or BEV) for the majority of vehicle travel, putting the fuel and maintenance savings towards hiring that large vehicle every year or so. (See table 1).

Table 1: Fuel costs for a town car vs a large petrol-only or Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV)

Vehicle Fuel efficiency3 Fuel costs for 10,000 km4 BEV-only range
Renault Zoe BEV 133Wh/km $425 300km
2018 Toyota Corolla 6.4L/100km $1088 N/A
Volvo XC90 PHEV 2.1L/100km & 200Wh/km $336 + $4861,2 = $822 22km
Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV 1.7L/100km & 200Wh/km $272 + $4861,2 = $758 35km
Mitsubishi Outlander 7.2L/100km $1152 N/A
Toyota Landcruiser 13.4L/100km $2144 N/A

Notes to table 1:

  1. Using the comparison of a Mitsubishi Outlander to its PHEV sibling – the 7.2L/100km vs 1.7L/100km suggests the PHEV option saves 76% of fuel compared to the ICE version. Applying that saving to add 76% of travel via electric only gives an electric ‘fuel’ usage of the second figure for both the Outlander PHEV and Volvo XC90.
  2. Given an Outlander (or any other large PHEV) will not give the same electrical economy as a Zoe – I have used a figure of 200Wh/km for a large PHEV to estimate the electricity costs. (NB: this was chosen based on the Tesla Model X rate of 226Wh/km).
  3. All fuel economy figures taken from the Australian Government website The Green Vehicle Guide at: https://www.greenvehicleguide.gov.au/
  4. Fuel costs used: petrol @ $1.60/L and electricity @ 32c per kWh

From the table – commuter travelling 10,000 km in a Renault Zoe will save over $1700 in fuel costs alone over owning a Toyota Landcruiser. This would go a long way to a week of large vehicle hiring, hence the usual answer to the dilemma.

PHEVs complicate the answer – in several ways. First up: they do seem to have an advantage in reduced fuel usage (see table 1) – but whether you realise that advantage is another matter.

The test cycles are only an estimate of usage – and PHEVs are particularly sensitive to being used in ways different from the test cycle. Provided your daily commuting travel is within the BEV-only range, you can effectively drive as a BEV during the year and as a petrol car for the long trips.

(In that circumstance: you may even do better than the test cycle figures!)

However, if your daily commute is longer that the BEV-only range – then the savings decline with the amount of driving you do using the vehicle’s internal combustion engine (ICE).

Secondly, with a PHEV you also lose out in servicing cost savings as compared to a BEV: PHEVs have an internal combustion engine with all the oil, filters and other service needs that come along with them.

So, coming back to your original question Michael – it sounds like you are one of those people for whom the answer to ‘Great Australian Car Dilemma’ is not the usual one.

If you do short commutes between charges (for instance 35km or less for a Mitsubishi Outlander, 22km or less for a Volvo XC90) then the savings in fuel and second car registration should cover the additional service and fuel costs of running the PHEV and it will offer the flexibility of being able to take off on camping and road-trips without the hassle of vehicle hire multiple times a year.

PHEVs also offer better tow ratings than all the BEVs except the Model X (see table 2). Unfortunately, if you slip outside the narrow envelope of those km constraints you may as well have bought an ICE equivalent as your carbon footprint will not be reduced much by owning the PHEV.

But don’t despair! There are some BEV options available, or coming, that may suit your needs.

In order of price these are the Kona Electric, the Jaguar I-Pace and the Tesla Model X. Table 2 summarises the features of these. As you can see, each offer ranges of around 400km, each includes DC fast-charge and may offer roof rack and/or towing options that suit.

(Note that the Model X has a large carrying capacity AND a good tow rating, but cannot have roof-racks due to its iconic falcon doors). By the way: a later option may also be the VW ID Buzz – but it will be several years before we see that one offered for sale.

Table 2: Battery Electric Vehicle SUVs available (or soon to be) in Australia

BEV model BEV range1

quoted/real world2 km

Battery size: kWh Max. AC charging rate: kW Max. DC charging  rate: kW Tow rating


Cost3 Available now or ETA
Hyundai Kona Elec. 482/400 64 7?4 100?4 ?TBC?4 TBC $57K?4 Q1, 2019
Jaguar I-Pace 480/352 90 7 100 750kg max $132,000 Y
Tesla Model X 75D 417/350 75 20 120 750/2250kg $145,000 Y
Tesla Model X 100D 565/470 100 20 120 750/2250kg $178,500 Y


Notes to table 2:

  1. Quoted ranges are from the Green Vehicle Guide: https://www.greenvehicleguide.gov.au wherever possible. Those not yet available in Australia use the European NEDC ratings.
  2. Real world ranges are US EPA figures (generally found to be met or exceeded in actual day-to-day driving).
  3. Approximate base model price based on currently available listings, including on-road costs (ORCs).
  4. Full Hyundai Kona specifications are yet to be announced and may change.

I hope this rather extended answer goes some way towards answering your question Michael, as the Great Australian Car Dilemma has no single answer.

It depends on whether you prefer a one car solution – in which case it will be a personal preference to bias the choice towards one end or other of the spectrum of city commuter vs highway load-lugger, or choose two cars that better meet the needs of each individual task and wear the additional registration and parking needs.

On top of that you need to consider the environmental effects of your choice (ICE only, PHEV or BEV) and the total costs.

So no, one cannot ever ‘have one’s cake and eat it too’ when it comes to answering the Great Australian Car Dilemma, but exploring the options and acknowledging your needs and desires will result in coming up with a solution that you are personally the most happy with.

Bryce Gaton

Bryce Gaton is an expert on electric vehicles and contributor for The Driven and Renew Economy. He has been working in the EV sector for 10 years, and also is editor of the Australian Electric Vehicle Association newsletter.

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