Tesla alums' new company offers a solution to the towing problem
Towing is a bit of a new trick for EVs—Tesla’s Model X was the first model to officially offer towing capability at all. It’s a trick they need to perfect, however, as towing is mission-critical for some drivers.
Above: Tesla Model X tows an Airstream trailer. Photo: Lightship Energy
As is the case with a legacy vehicle, towing a trailer with an EV greatly reduces range—as John Voelcker found in his recent test of a Ford F-150 Lightning (see the latest issue of Charged), towing can reduce range by 40% or even more. But what if the trailer had its own electric powertrain?
That’s the idea behind the first product to be launched by Lightship Energy, a startup created by a group of former Tesla employees.
The company was co-founded by Ben Parker, who worked on the Model 3 battery pack and the 4680 battery cell, and Toby Kraus, who managed the Model S program at Tesla before becoming an executive at electric bus maker Proterra. Their original mission was to electrify food trucks, but their attention turned to the idea of electrifying recreational vehicles, and they took a 6,000-mile RV trip to gain some first-hand information about the market.
“We pulled the most aerodynamic trailer we could rent behind a Tesla Model X and we actually had to drop the trailer in the middle of an off-ramp on an interstate because we couldn’t pull it to the next Supercharger,” Kraus, now Lightship’s COO, told TechCrunch. “It was miserable.”
According to Thor Industries, over 600,000 RVs were sold in North America in 2021, and 90% percent of those were towable travel trailers. “The market is huge,” says Kraus.
Lightship Energy recently closed a $23-million Series A funding round, and plans to use the cash to develop its first working prototype. The team is working on an EV skateboard architecture, including a battery pack comparable to one in a Tesla Model 3, which will propel the trailer as it is being towed. Roof-mounted solar cells may also be incorporated.
An electric truck with a 300-mile range could see that range shrink to 100 miles when towing a traditional travel trailer at 65 miles an hour, said Parker, Lightship’s CEO. “I think the gravity of the problem around towing and towing range is just starting to hit home with people as more EV trucks are hitting the market. With an EV powertrain on board, you can use that additional energy for the trailer to propel itself, reduce all of the load on the tow vehicle and get back to a range loss zero experience—now you have a 300-mile trailer and a 300-mile truck.”
This article originally appeared in Charged. Author: Charles Morris. Sources: TechCrunch, Electrek