The short answer is “yes they can”. In fact, battery EVs (BEVs) should make for better tow cars than petrol, or even diesel ones. This is, in part, because BEVs have much better torque at take-off than any internal combustion engine vehicle.
This fact will not be lost on tradies when they start looking at the soon-to-come range of BEV utes offering class-leading towing capacities.
The longer reason why so few BEVs here have tow ratings lies with the manufacturers not bothering to certify them with one. As you can see in Table 1, there are several cars with the same drive trains where one version has a tow rating and the other not.
The Tesla Model X currently holds the mantle of the BEV with the highest towing capacity, yet the Model S (with exactly the same drive train and battery) has not.
The Model S towing issue is, by the way, a world-wide one – not just in Australia. But it serves as an example of manufacturers considering those who want to tow as second-class buyers.
Meanwhile, all of the Kia Niro range (hybrid, plug-in hybrid and BEV) was released here with a maximum braked trailer tow rating of 1300kg, which is the same rating as that given to the petrol Kona. However, the Kona electric has no tow rating at all.
This is odd, as it is the e-Niro’s step-sibling with exactly the same drive train – plus the Kona petrol and electric share many of their body and suspension components, just like the Niro range.
As a result, in Table 1 I have placed a question mark on the Kona electric for tow rating, for Hyundai Australia have long said (but not delivered on) that the Kona electric will “eventually” be rated for towing.
Having done so for the e-Niro and the petrol Kona, it really does beg the question as to why Hyundai is avoiding the work needed to define a tow rating for the Kona electric.
Another problem with BEV towing is there are few aftermarket towbars available. The reason here is simple economics. BEVs with tow ratings are not sold here in great enough numbers to make it worthwhile for Australian tow-bar manufacturers and importers to offer Australian complianced towbars to fit them.
This most particularly applies to the Tesla Model 3. On its release, Tesla assured Australian Model 3 buyers that the Tesla branded tow-bar would soon become available here.
Sadly, almost two years since the Australian release of the Model 3, Tesla Australia have yet to make good on their promise to make their towbar available. To rub salt into the wound, until very recently no Australian complianced aftermarket towbar has been available for the Model 3.
While now available, they are rather more expensive than the ‘average’ towbar – starting at $1300 and ranging up to more than $2000 before fitting charges.
The situation is worse for EVs that have no tow rating: some can have made-to-measure tow bars fitted and complianced, but at a cost. As an example, a fully Australian complianced Tesla Model S tow bar can be sourced here, but at $3600 PLUS fitting cost, it is not cheap.
So why the EV towing hold-up? Australians love to tow things, be it the box trailer loaded with mulch on the weekend, or the camper trailer hitched up for the Xmas holiday.
Not having EVs that are rated for towing, or even if they are – not being able to buy a towbar to fit is yet another (and totally unnecessary) hurdle to EV uptake in Australia.
So what can be done now?
Firstly, always make the point to dealers that you want an EV that tows – the questions will eventually get fed back to the manufacturers if enough people ask.
Even if the answer is “yes”, make sure either a dealer-fitted or aftermarket tow bar is available to buy, and don’t be fobbed off by being told “it will available soon.”
Bryce Gaton is an expert on electric vehicles and contributor for The Driven and Renew Economy. He has been working in the EV sector since 2008 and is currently working as EV electrical safety trainer/supervisor for the University of Melbourne. He also provides support for the EV Transition to business, government and the public through his EV Transition consultancy EVchoice.