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AAA sends giant diesel trucks to rescue tiny electric cars

Consumer Reports News: July 18, 2011 03:48 PM

At the Plug-In 2011 Conference in North Carolina today, AAA, the largest provider of roadside assistance in the United States, unveiled a fast-charge truck for electric car drivers who end up on the side of the road filling their reservoir of range anxiety.

Electric car drivers can get a 15-minute jolt of either Level 2 (240-volt), or Level 3 (480-volt) charging to (hopefully) get them to the nearest charge point. Level 2 will get you three more miles and 15 at Level 3. Level 2 charging, nominally the same voltage as an electric clothes dryer or oven, is the primary standard for charging electric cars. Level 3, so-called “fast-charging” can recharge an electric car battery in about ½-hour, but only to 80 percent. But the standards for fast-charging are not finalized, and the only cars that can use it so far are Nissan Leafs and the upcoming Mitsubishi i.

AAA says it will roll the trucks out initially in Los Angeles; San Francisco; Portland, Ore.; Tampa Bay, Fla.; and Knoxville, Tenn. Other areas will follow later.

The concept truck revealed today in North Carolina uses a giant lithium-ion battery to charge the cars, but in its press release AAA says “Other vehicles will be equipped with generators powered by alternative fuels and other power sources.” Those “other power sources” would thus presumably include conventional fuels, such as the petroleum diesel that runs most modern tow trucks. In Japan, Nissan has been criticized for its fleet of diesel recharge trucks for Leafs.

Given the current state of the electric car charging infrastructure, we’re not sure three or even 15 miles will be enough to get you home or to the nearest charger. But any effort to relieve range anxiety for electric car owners could be helpful. And availability to get some extra miles by recharging from the trucks makes a good case for buying the optional $700 Level 3 charge port if you’re considering a Nissan Leaf.

See our guide to alternative fuels.

Related:
Video: Testing electric cars--Chevrolet Volt, Nissan Leaf
EPA rates Mitsubishi "i" electric at 62 miles of range and 112 mpg equivalent

Eric Evarts

   

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