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The State of Bargain EV Towing in Mid-2024

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When it come to towing, everyone talks about trucks. This makes sense, because trucks are built to tow serious loads. So, most people wanting to haul big things around go get a truck. A truck also has a big open area in the back that you can load many things inside of without needing a trailer, making life hauling things around even easier. It just makes sense.

But, it’s not always the best choice. For example, if you’re the kind of person who buys large things at Home Depot a few times a year, does it make sense to drive an expensive and fuel-hungry pickup truck to work at an office for the rest of the year? Not really. So, many people have a smaller, more efficient vehicle and tow a small trailer on those rare occasions that it’s needed. Towing trailers with small vehicles is a lot more common in Europe than in the United States, but it’s still something people do.

With EVs, a truck isn’t even in reach for many people, even if they want one. The cheapest Ford F-150 Lightning starts at just under $50,000. The cheapest Rivian is about $20,000 more. We can talk all day about how expensive a gas pickup truck is these days, or how the average price of a car has gone way up. But, when you can still pick up a brand new Ford Maverick hybrid up for about $25,000 out the door, it’s clear that EV truck options are a lot more expensive than gas truck options in 2024.

So, it makes sense to see what non-truck options exist for light towing, how the perform in the real world, and where things might be headed.

Local Towing Isn’t A Problem At About Any Price Point

When range isn’t a problem and you don’t need to rely on repeated DC fast charging to get there, EVs at just about any price point are up to the job, assuming it’s not a big one. For example, a used Chevy Bolt can be had for under $15,000 now. Add a $380 Torklift EcoHitch, $100 for wiring, and $200 for installation (assuming you can’t do it yourself), and some cheap Airlift suspension helper springs, and you can readily tow trailers locally up to around 2,000 lb for cheap.

Other options can be done in the teens and twenties following a similar formula. Buy a cheap used EV, put a hitch and wiring on it, and then pull a small utility trailer, U-Haul moving trailer, or a small camper around locally without any problems.

So, at least locally, we’re about there and things will only get better. As used EVs get cheaper and cheaper, and cheaper electric pickup trucks get cheap on the used market later, local towing will get to the point where anyone who tows today can do it under electric power.

Highway Towing Still Isn’t Affordable Without Serious Pain (For Now)

If you’re a regular reader, you’ve probably already seen my article about pulling a small trailer across Texas with my Bolt EUV. While the EUV I bought wasn’t under $30,000, they were available for under $30,000 and older Bolts with the same drive units and battery capacity can be had well under $20,000. So, it’s a good proxy for dirt cheap towing.

Personally, I wouldn’t recommend it at all at the bargain basement price point. I did it, and I’ll probably do it again, but I’m a fanatic and I don’t mind all of the charging time and days traveling only 300-400 miles. Most people don’t have the patience or even the days off to waste going slow like that pulling a 1,000 lb trailer with some camping gear and old furniture in it. It’s something most people simply wouldn’t consider because they have better things to do.

If you’re willing or able to spend more and get a used Tesla in the $20k-$30k range, the much faster charging and the greater range means being able to do better than you can in a bargain EV like the Bolt or a LEAF. But, it’s still very time consuming and a small trailer cuts the range almost in half. This is still pretty far short of most gas vehicle drivers’ expectations, even if it’s better than what I’ve been doing.

Even with electric pickups, about the only electric pickup truck that gives a remotely gas-like experience is the Silverado EV, and in non-fleet trim, you’re talking about $100,000 for fast enough towing and enough battery to haul a trailer and still go hundreds of miles between stops.

So, for now at least, most people are still going to do things like car hauling, RVing, and other long hauls using fossil fuels.

How Things Will Get Better

ev charging v2h gm chevy silverado electric pickkup truck
Image provided by GM.

While budget towing isn’t great, there is some hope on the horizon, as the technology at least exists. The problem is that batteries are just too expensive for most people to really consider a tow vehicle with enough capacity to make the experience reasonably time efficient.

Battery prices are on the way down again, for starters. According to Goldman Sachs, a mix of battery material price drops (as mining picks up) and continued innovation in manufacturing processes are keeping prices going down, even though they were up for a while. This innovation leads to not only cheaper capacity, but also better energy densities (meaning smaller, lighter packs) and faster charging. So, the cheaper electric trucks of tomorrow will be even better than the Silverado EV is today.

So, today’s crop of electric trucks will be cheaper on the market as they depreciate, and future trucks will start the process of depreciation from a lower starting price, leading to even better prices for better trucks and SUVs that can tow well.

So, don’t read my negative take on budget EV towing today and assume that EVs will never be good enough at an affordable price. That couldn’t be further from the truth, as I’ve explained above. But, the real question is what people should do for now as prices work their way down. That’s mostly a question of patience!

Images by Jennifer Sensiba, with the exception of the GM image of the Silverado EV.

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