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Stupidity signalling

Everyone has now heard of "virtue signalling", the idea that words are uttered or actions taken simply to demonstrate membership of the group of "right-thinking people". Taken to its extreme, however, virtue signalling becomes "stupidity signalling" and here we have a truly epic example in the shape of the EP Tender, a trailer containing an electric generator, which you tow behind your electric car on longer trips.



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Reader Comments (106)

To avoid all the towing problems, what about putting a generator and fuel tank on the roof? It might make it all a bit unstable, but that would be in keeping with the psychological profile of the target user.

Mar 7, 2016 at 2:39 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

It occurred to me that given the queues I've seen occasionally for EV chargers at motorway service areas that some EV users must have overstayed their 2 hours and been fined = a possibility which I find quite a delicious morsel of schadenfreude.

People mentioned Top Gear - after the sniping between Bezos and Musk - I wonder if Tesla are going to get some flak from the new show if CEO gets any script input?

Mar 7, 2016 at 3:00 PM | Registered Commentertomo

This makes total sense, as it overcomes a big weakness of electric cars: their short range.

Lots of people drive mostly short distances, with occasional long trips to go on holiday or visit distant families.

An electric car is fine for the short distances, and if you hitch up this trailer for the long trips then it can handle them too.

So the trailer is a good idea. Provided, of course, owners don't just it all the time.

Mar 7, 2016 at 3:04 PM | Unregistered CommenterPete Austin

Pete Austin, what you are suggesting is that small electric cars are useful as glorified shopping trolleys. What about if they made a car that would run up and down the supermarket aisles, and get you home. This would save on unnecessary handling of food, between the supermarket shelf and your own solar powered fridge back home, and would eradicate the need for plastic bags.

All you would then need is a proper car large enough to transport your electric shopping trolley, when you needed to go on holiday, to destress from modern life. Bliss!

Think of the cost savings from not suffering all those chips and scrapes to your car in supermarket car parks, when you could just as easily be run down by an electric trolley in the comfort of the supermarket itself. There may even be a First Aider available with a call over the tannoy system.

Mar 7, 2016 at 3:24 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

In fact the better engineering approach is to use micro gas turbines as range extenders...but they might be too pricey yet.

I'm sure there were plenty of unimaginative conservative types who said the motor car would never replace the horse & buggy.

Mar 7, 2016 at 3:59 PM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG

I'm with those who think this isn't a bad idea at all. Even if you don't agree with the AGW case for electric cars, the fact that electric cars don't emit pollutants from their tailpipes is very nice in crowded urban areas. And even the total pollutant emissions are reduced when the fuel burning is in a central power plant.

So for the large percentage of drivers who usually have short daily trips (i.e. commuting) and occasional long trips, this is a very good solution. It is essentially a detachable hybridization module. An because it is detachable, you are not lugging around the extra weight most days. But you do have a car that is capable of taking the kids to see Granny on the weekend.

European cities today would be a lot cleaner if there were a lot of these rather than the "clean" diesels that are becoming ubiquitous. And the availability of a trailer, whether stored in the garage most days or obtained from a rental service when needed, could push a lot of people who would not otherwise consider it into an electric car purchase.

Mar 7, 2016 at 4:24 PM | Unregistered CommenterEd Bo

Ed Bo - as someone else has already suggested, why not spend the same amount of money on another (conventional) car? Buy a used one and save on all the manufacturing 'footprint' too!


"if one ascender was pulled up by a descender, on the same rope"

Do you remember Gerard Hoffnung, by any chance?

Mar 7, 2016 at 5:29 PM | Registered Commenterjamesp

Isn't this a chevy volt?

Mar 7, 2016 at 5:45 PM | Unregistered CommenterJames

jamesp, Gerard Hoffnung "The Bricklayer's Lament" is available as audio on YouTube.

I have come close to re-enacting parts of that sketch on building sites, and, going up the masts of yachts!

Mar 7, 2016 at 5:57 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

Maybe it can be configured to optionally run on natural gas and have heat recovery fitted - so it can also be kept in the garage as a standby for those still winter nights...

How much is it?

Mar 7, 2016 at 6:03 PM | Registered Commentertomo

Range extending trailers for electric vehicles have been around for a while. eg the Toyota Long Ranger for their electric RAV4

Mar 7, 2016 at 6:19 PM | Unregistered CommenterGareth

I saw the idea first from someone that had done it Australia several decades ago. Contrary to the posters here I think it is a sensible idea. Size the battery to suit what you use daily for going to work, makes the car cheaper and lighter. Use the trailer for the relatively few longer trips. After you arrive you can use the car without the trailer too. Why carry an engine around for the time you don't need it?
Apart from the supposed humor in burning gasoline for an electric car what is wrong with the idea?

Mar 7, 2016 at 6:24 PM | Unregistered CommenterAdrian Ashfield

The price of it is silly, and that "research" money was needed borders on fraud. A good 30 or 40 years ago I looked at electric cars and thought of a towable or roof mounted auxiliary generator for long trips. , Cost ought to be about $1000 for roof mount and $2000 for trailer (less as DIY) with design and development inside the skill level of any auto mechanic.

Many folks have no room for 2 cars, nor the money to support two sets of maintenance and insurance and tax / licensing fees.

For me, an EV would be ideal for local commuting and shopping, but for the once a year "road trip", useless. This overcomes that uselessness. The S.F. to L.A. run is about 600 miles and a high use corridor, as an example. That whole Disneyland trip thing... Stopping 4 times to charge at a couple of hours each is a real non-starter. (Sadly, unlike other States where trailer speeds are unlimited, California has a 55 MPH or so limit, which makes even this solution painful here... where the I-5 to Los Angeles is posted 75 MPH and most folk do 80 to 90... 55 would get you killed and add a few hous to the trip)

Unfortunately, the war on cheap electricity via coal and nukes has made EV use a badge of stupid here as electricity costs about 3 times the cost compared to other States like Florida. Basically, the economics never worked out.

And no, I won't accept "subsidy" as an answer as that is just politically approved theft.

So while I find the idea of the trailer reasonable for some folks, I find the practical aspects (many stupid govt rules) make it impractical. It certainly ought not get subsidy money to develop mounting a generator in a trailer... 4 bolts and a power coupling is NOT R&D...

Mar 7, 2016 at 6:31 PM | Unregistered CommenterE.M.Smith

Gareth, can you get a car that can be towed by a horse or cow? Obviously the windscreen washers will need beefing up to cope with the organic bovine emissions.

If the concept doesn't work, you can always have a Non-Drive Thru Barbecue

Mar 7, 2016 at 6:31 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

And even the total pollutant emissions are reduced when the fuel burning is in a central power plant.

No it aint ( not if you think CO2 is a pollutant). If you calculate CO2 emissions for a modern an efficient IC engine in a car
and compare it to the full cycle of the effieciency of a power station, transmission losses, battery charge and discharge efficiencies, electric motor efficiencies even without taking into the consideration the extra work to tow the trailer and the trailers generation and battery charge and discharge effiencies the whole set up emits more than double the CO2 than an efficient automobile - even if the power plant is fuelled by wood chips imported from the USA.

The simple green solution is to subsidise a wind mill to be provided to the purchaser of every electric car which must be the only way the car owner can charge its battery ( and that in the tralier if there is one).

If the electric vehicle batter is charged by using fossil fuel generated electricity the whole electric car business is a scam.

Mar 7, 2016 at 8:03 PM | Unregistered CommenterSpectator

What a beautiful, elegant, and smart contraption. Loving it! Who would've thought, eh? Those planet saviors really, really are above the common lot. Humanity has averted disaster once again.

Mar 7, 2016 at 8:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterAyla

jamesp: Are you seriously suggesting that a generator trailer would cost as much as a separate car?

The EV owners I know in California all treat it as an additional car and always have a gasoline powered car left in their driveway as they tool around in their Teslas and Leafs. But they are wealthy people (and subsidized by poorer people in this).

California's original interest in EVs was to reduce real pollutants in its urban valleys. But there was very little interest, mainly due to their very limited range, even for people who only needed better range once a month. The detachable trailer solution is the most economical answer.

Mar 7, 2016 at 8:39 PM | Unregistered CommenterEd Bo

Perhaps Dale Vince and the rest of the eco-troughers should buy a shed-full of these tenders. They could then wire them up to their bird-mashers and solar planks to keep them going when the wind ain't blowing or the sun's not shining.

Mar 7, 2016 at 9:08 PM | Registered CommenterSalopian

Spectator: Do you really consider CO2 a pollutant? I don't! I was specifically referring to real pollutants: NOx, CO, VOCs, etc.

And your numbers are WAY off on CO2. The thermal efficiency of a typical centralized power plant is so much higher than that of an ICE that subsequent losses keep its "well-to-wheel" efficiency at least on a par with, and often ahead of, a gasoline-powered car.

It is common for a modern power plant to get 50% thermal efficiency (some get 60% now!). In the US, transmission losses are 7-8%, with much greater transmission distances than in the UK. Charge/discharge efficiency for Li-Ion batteries is typically 86%, and inverter/motor efficiency is typically 90%. So total efficiency is:

0.50 * 0.92 * 0.86 * 0.90 = 0.35

Gasoline ICEs have typical thermal efficiencies of 25% to 30%. And there is more energy-intensive processing of the fuel for gasoline such that the "well to gas tank" efficiency is only about 80%.

Mar 7, 2016 at 9:18 PM | Unregistered CommenterEd Bo

As a long time lurker and rare commentator I think this could be quite a good idea.

For many people they use their car for short trips on a day to day basis, with occasional longer trips (weekends/holidays etc). These people who could use an electric car for 90%+ of their driving don't because of the 10% when they need the range and the thought of spending 8 hours at a service station to recharge instead of 20 minutes at the pump is horrific.

Ignoring the CO2 crap, car emissions do pollute cities. If electric cars worked city air would be cleaner (ignoring the risk from chemicals stored in batteries). So this trailer if it works and is compatible with electric cars would allow electric car drivers to carry on normally and then rent a range extender for long trips. Just as someone with a small car might rent a trailer or a roof box when they need to move something bigger.

If it works comes down to cost, demand and regulation. If it costs £100s to rent for the weekend no chance, people will just buy a proper car. If everyone is going to want one at the same time then the economics of renting won't work and electric cars have to be regulated to be built with this in mind.

An example.
I drive a small car I need for work. I rarely use public transport as with the sunk costs already in my car, trains/buses are uneconomical. Most of the time I drive under 50 miles a day and even when doing longer distances I would be able to charge an electric car if there was a charger at work.
A few times a year I drive longer distances to see friends/family upwards of 200 miles. If I could rent a generator for say <£20 per day for the few days I would need one I would consider an electric car as the range problem is removed.

I suppose the other solution to the range problem in electric cars is batteries common to all cars that can be hired and swapped out at service stations.

Mar 7, 2016 at 9:44 PM | Unregistered CommenterDaniel

Somewhere, there is a fraud artist with a criminal record for peddling a perpetual motion machine sobbing to himself...

Mar 7, 2016 at 9:45 PM | Unregistered CommenterCaligula Jones

One wonders if the cars' designers allowed for charging while driving. May not have occurred to them.

Mar 7, 2016 at 9:57 PM | Unregistered CommenterGamecock

Isn't this a chevy volt?

No, it's a Renault Zoe.

Mar 7, 2016 at 10:04 PM | Unregistered CommenterGamecock

Colin Porter. 1:58pm: I have to agree that these sound like towable petrol bombs, I have not any information on how much inflammable liquid you can legally tow in a two-wheeled trailer, and it would be very interesting to know if these trailers would be permitted to use the Thames road tunnels.

Mar 7, 2016 at 10:19 PM | Registered CommenterSalopian

The Company has a web-site 'for the 'EP Tender' with a Survey in English at "".
Answering their questions allows for some rewarding humour and irony.

Mar 7, 2016 at 10:22 PM | Unregistered Commenternicholas tesdorf

Perhaps Cameron will want to sign tender owners to help stabilize the grid when the wind stops blowing...

Mar 7, 2016 at 11:23 PM | Unregistered CommenterATheoK


"One wonders if the cars' designers allowed for charging while driving."

That is probably the only time you will be allowed to run it, as unattended stationary running of an IC engine is verboten - you're not even supposed to run your car for any length of time if you're not going anywhere.

I had the idea a long time ago of incorporating a small power pack in an EV, with a view to running it while the vehicle was parked, but it was made clear to me that this would break all sorts of regulations.

Mar 7, 2016 at 11:33 PM | Registered Commenterjamesp

Hey, Caligula Jones, I know that guy!

Mar 7, 2016 at 11:57 PM | Unregistered CommenterAyla

Why not extend the bike carrier idea and sling the generator on the back. No towing involved. Bit of extra length for parking that's all. And it would play havoc with your head light beams setting. Could be tapped into the car fuel system so less of a bomb. Tunnels would be no problem.

I commend this idea to the house..

Mar 8, 2016 at 12:00 AM | Unregistered CommenterMatt

jamesp, 11:3pm: You can run a car engine unattended, as long as you are not parked on a public road. On the other hand, you cannot park (in the UK) any form of trailer on a public road.

Mar 8, 2016 at 12:02 AM | Registered CommenterSalopian

The Pedant-General at 2:10pm:

I can't believe that we have got this far into the comments thread without the Top Gear episode of _exactly_ this idea being mentioned:

If thats the case... what date was that aired?

It may well invalidate any patents :) Their patent has a priority date 09.03.2012, so if top gear went to air beforehand, the patent is probably barely even worth toilet paper.

Mar 8, 2016 at 12:28 AM | Unregistered CommenterWally

Oh - and all those who say "What a good idea".

Sorry, for those long trips or once a year hols, you'd be better of just hiring a car at 50 - 100 euro / day, much cheaper than what is effectively the purchase of a 2nd small car.

It's like those people who buy a caravan so they can go on holiday in it for 1 week each year. Silly. Just spend more money on better accommodation and you come out way in front.

Mar 8, 2016 at 12:31 AM | Unregistered CommenterWally

Wally 12:31 I tend to agree. Certain celebrities are known for having a Prius, to be be seen in, for public appearances, and then more entertaining motor cars for pleasurable private purposes.

Pretending to have Green credentials is a luxury few can afford, but I am sure that if you can afford a good Public Relations expert like Max Clifford, you deserve everything you get.

Mar 8, 2016 at 12:51 AM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

Salopian 12:02 I think it is against the Law in Sweden (Stockholm?) to run the engine of your car to warm up, as you scrape snow and ice off the outside. As polar bear numbers have increased, this is proof (under Climate Science standards of proof) that it works.

Mar 8, 2016 at 1:05 AM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

It would be a big problem if you drive off while the car is plugged in. Surely the mfg has an interlock to keep you from doing it.

Browsing the Zoe owners manual, I see that there is indeed an interlock:

'«Disconnect cable to start up» Indicates that the charging cord is still plugged into the vehicle.

The manual discusses a lot of vehicle programming around charging. Hooking up the charging trailer is not going to be a simple task, and I bet it kills the warranty.

Mar 8, 2016 at 3:10 AM | Unregistered CommenterGamecock

I'm with Wally. You see the same thing with timeshares, with all the hassle of trying to "swap" your fixed 2 week allotment and shitty complex, for the time and place you REALLY want to go to. The initial outlay, "membership fee" and service fees make it much, much better value to just book a hotel online...

However, I know some retired folk who bought a campervan (American = RV?), they have rented their house out on a long term let, and now move around the country, catching up with friends and family, also visiting all the places they "always hoped to one day". When they go overseas on a "proper" holiday, they park it up at their son's house. When they get a bit tired of this lifestyle, they'll give their tenant notice and sell the campervan. But it's been a couple of years now, and they reckon there's still a good 1/3 of the country to check out yet. And they're threatening to start all over again, at the top and work their way down.

Mar 8, 2016 at 3:32 AM | Unregistered CommenterClunking Fist

The idea can be extended with some jumper leads, so you run the generator while driving, using the petrol from the generator tank as a primary propulsion supply.
So far I have not found data suggesting whether the generator output is adequate to sustain unlimited miles without running down batteries. Is it a trickle charger or a full-on one?

The idea has extended merit for hybrid cars. If one connects a fuel line from the generator bundle to the car engine, there is a long range fuel tank. If the electricity is also connected while driving, as above, you get extended battery miles.
Taking it further, you can replace the generator package with another hybrid car, tailored for towing, so that you can extend your range even better. Like, leave your primary car at the motel overnight to charge the batteries from the mains, while you run about in the other car, whose batteries have been kept charged by connection to the regenerative braking system of both cars.
This allows the family option of unhitching the cars and the rest of the family, so you can drive in peace, alone.
I have not yet worked out whether this last choice is better if you also tow a genset, for one or other or both.

Oh! The joy of so many options!

Mar 8, 2016 at 6:08 AM | Unregistered CommenterGeoff Sherrington

Re: Ed Po

It is common for a modern power plant to get 50% thermal efficiency

Problem is that we don't have many modern power plants. We have an ageing power infrastructure whose inefficiencies are exacerbated by having to switch them off when the wind blows or sun shines.

Gasoline ICEs have typical thermal efficiencies of 25% to 30%

That's from a 2007 thesis for a PhD. Gasoline ICEs have improved since then and getting over 50mpg is not uncommon for a petrol car. Even my 2011 2.5 litre car could get 40mpg on longer journeys.

Mar 8, 2016 at 9:47 AM | Unregistered CommenterTerryS

The Tesla has a battery that weighs nearly a ton (800kg). This is equivalent of permanently driving around with at least EIGHT extra passengers. Also electric cars have no cabin heating- that would drain the battery even quicker.
There is no 'miracle' battery just around the corner. The laws of chemistry and physics prevent that.

Mar 8, 2016 at 10:33 AM | Unregistered CommenterPhilip Foster


"electric cars have no cabin heating"

But the batteries get warm in use - hot laptops, anyone? - so I think the problem is more often one of cooling. You're right about the physics and chemistry, though!

Mar 8, 2016 at 11:29 AM | Registered Commenterjamesp

I somehow doubt that anyone would have built the trailer without a hefty injection of green financial incentive. I suspect that a number of bye-laws will need amending just to make practical use of the thing...

Mar 8, 2016 at 11:39 AM | Registered Commenterjamesp

Why not just put a wind turbine on the roof of the car. Then when you are driving along under battery power the slipstream can recharge the battery. As long as you keep going your battery will charge forever!

Mar 8, 2016 at 12:37 PM | Unregistered CommenterBlack Dog

Isn't this a chevy volt?

No, it's a Renault Zoe.

OK, for the literalists out there, let me be clear. The combination of a plug in electric car for short range driving and a gas powered generator to allow long range driving is the bundle that you get when you buy a Chevy volt.


Mar 8, 2016 at 3:44 PM | Unregistered CommenterJames

James 3:44 Well yes. It is. But it is now new, and improved, and priced to match.

Where do you keep it, if you live in a town, without off-road parking? Can you run your home electrics with it? Probably, but you can not store much fuel on your premises these days. How will you go and get more fuel, if your car battery is flat?

It is a neat solution, for a manufactured problem, that most don't need. But it illustrates the pointlessness, of effort to make Green Blob dreams functional.

Mar 8, 2016 at 5:19 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

James, you describe a plug in hybrid. The Zoe is an EV. Conceptually, if you hang the engine on a trailer behind the car to charge the battery, then, yes, it is a plug in hybrid. Except the Volt's engine is connected to the drive train. So a Zoe with an engine powered generator is not a Volt conceptually.

Note that diesel submarines and train engines are decoupled from the drive train, as would be a Zoe w/trailer.

Mar 8, 2016 at 7:55 PM | Unregistered CommenterGamecock

Gamecock, maybe all hybrids should be towed behind submarines.

Mar 9, 2016 at 4:04 AM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

It is stupidity beyond belief ....

Mar 9, 2016 at 6:37 AM | Unregistered CommenterImranCan

Never mind the car, pretty soon we'll all need generators for the house :)

Mar 9, 2016 at 9:10 AM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG


The idea may be impractical for one or two holidays a year, but for long-range one-day journeys maybe once every 2-3 weeks on average most people wouldn't want to have to deal with a car rental company every time. The high price almost certainly just reflects the fact that it's being worked on by an underfunded startup anticipating low sales volumes, due partly to the fact that no auto manufacturers support the thing at present. So the price may indicate that the concept is unviable to bring to market at this time unless you're a large car company yourself, but not that the idea is fundamentally bad from an engineering or usability point of view.

As Colin Porter pointed out, trailer driving is a hassle on more than one level, which really is a serious mark against the practicality of a range-extending trailer; but since there's already a considerable amount of trailer driving at present it may not be a fatal one. (Having low, gasoline-filled vehicles tumbling about the roads in the event of a crash is far from ideal either, though we already have a good number of such vehicles out there in the form of motorcycles. It's not as if any vehicle already on the road is exactly ideal from a safety point of view in the event of a bad crash.) It may be that series hybrids end up being the thing that really renders this concept unnecessary: if the burden of a small turbine motor and a gasoline tank built into in the electric car is small enough even when they're only occasionally used, then it may not be worth the hassle of putting them onto a separate trailer instead.

Mar 9, 2016 at 9:27 AM | Unregistered Commenteranonym

Matt: Apparently the EP Tender does partly adopt this idea: it can pick itself up off the ground and hang from its attachment when the car is reversing.

Mar 9, 2016 at 10:49 AM | Unregistered Commenteranonym

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