Can an electric car tow? It’s a topic that has attracted a lot of attention, not least when Australian prime minister Scott Morrison cast doubt on their ability to do so during a misleading campaign against Labor’s 50% by 2030 EV sales target in the lead-up to 2019’s federal election.
For electric car owner and Scout Leader Peter McBurney, the ability to tow was a non-negotiable in his search for an electric car to replace the family’s Mitsubishi Outlander plug-in hybrid, for zero-emissions towing to Scout camps and other weekend activities.
“Now this was genuinely alarming to us! We weren’t sure… Were we about to make a big mistake?” McBurney noted in a post in Facebook group Electric Vehicles for Australia.
“So I looked into it and decided that at least for our purposes, the PM’s statement was simply wrong, but that it was truly a very challenging situation given the vehicles available in Australia then.
“Either they said they couldn’t tow or they cost way too much.”
First choice for the job was Kia e-Niro – but of course, these have been delayed indefinitely for Australia, and McBurney said the Hyundai Kona Electric was a little too small for his purposes.
Instead, he hit upon the idea of a Long Range Model 3 and went ahead with the purchase.
Now, McBurney has put his Model 3 to the test to prove it was a decision well made, using an independently imported tow hitch that he installed himself (Tesla has still not yet brought a tow hitch to market in Australia).
In figures shared with The Driven, McBurney has shown that the LR Model 3 not only can tow – it can do it with more finesse than previous internal combustion engine models he has towed with.
In tests pulling first a 700kg load of 6 canoes on a box trailer, then 500kg worth of raft-making parts and equipment to Katoomba (and even out to Lithgow for the first test with the canoes) and back, he says it passed the tow test with flying colours.
“I came up Victoria Pass [back from Lithgow] at full legal speed with no problems at all – I overtook [another car towing a load] with no trouble at all, and I was pulling that big load of canoes. It just sailed up,” he tells The Driven.
“I think part of it is the power of those motors with all the torque – I’ve pulled that exact same load before behind Taragos and Outlanders and this car pulls it better.”
“It’s not just the power though,” McBurney says. “I wonder whether maybe it is to do with the very low centre of gravity and sheer weight of the car that disciplines the trailer.
“The trailer is so well behaved behind the Tesla compared to swaying behind the other cars – it’s not being tugged at the back. It just sits there and pulls.”
With a 20-year history pulling these same loads behind different cars, McBurney just might have the experience to back up these musings.
Of course, there is the inevitable impact on range, and for those interested McBurney has been kind enough to share his figures gathered at various weigh-points, with which he calculated an “effective range” based on the kilometres travelled in the journey and the battery capacity used. McBurney has conducted about 20 such tests and may conduct more cold weather winter tests.
For reference, his baseline test without a load from Beecroft to Katoomba via Glenbrook (a 201km return trip) gave an effective range of 491km and energy consumption of 126Wh/km.
Overall, with the 700kg load – on a trip out to Lithgow and back, 291km return – the vehicle consumed 266Wh/km, with the effective range dropping by less than 50 per cent of his baseline. With the 500kg load (which he notes was subject to extreme storm conditions on the return leg), the trip consumed 208wh/km and gave an effective range of 330km.
McBurney notes that coming back down the mountain there was there was significantly less in regenerative power when driving with no trailer.
He clarifies by saying, “while there is still regeneration, it is not as much as in percentage terms compared to the amount lost going up (compared to driving without a trailer). So you’re not making up so much coming downhill.
“It really matters because when you calculate when you need your next charge coming down from from the top of the mountain you need to be much more conservative than usual when you have a trailer behind your EV.”
As a side note, McBurney also shared a short but perhaps illuminating drive of 18km towing the 500kg load in which he was forced to turn home due to traffic.
“I was going to go up to Glenbrook to do a fast drive but I headed out on M2 and it was peak hour, so I drove home again at 60, 70, 40km/hr. I ended up with 460km of effective range,” he says, which suggests that theoretically at least if driving very conservatively, very little range may be lost at all.
The Driven reminds all drivers to do their own research on suitability of third-party tow hitches and impacts they may have on insurance and warranties.
Bridie Schmidt is lead reporter for The Driven, sister site of Renew Economy. She has been writing about electric vehicles since 2018, and has a keen interest in the role that zero-emissions transport has to play in sustainability. She has participated in podcasts such as Download This Show with Marc Fennell and Shirtloads of Science with Karl Kruszelnicki and is co-organiser of the Northern Rivers Electric Vehicle Forum. Bridie also owns a Tesla Model 3 and has it available for hire on evee.com.au.