On Monday this week, April Fool’s Day, Land Rover put out a report that it had installed an electric vehicle charging station on the Isle of Skye in Scotland some 15 miles from the nearest road. The idea being that drivers of the brand’s Range Rover Sport P400e plug-in hybrid would be able to access the station by utilizing their vehicle’s world-renown 4×4 system powered solely by electricity.
The joke is that Land Rover did no such thing. Funny, I guess.
Over the last few days, however, I’ve been thinking about it. And I’ve come to the conclusion that this ‘joke’ was actually a really good idea.
I am a hobbyist off-roader. I spend weekends traversing trails in my Toyota Land Cruiser. I am also a big proponent of electrified vehicles, especially ones that can do more than quietly whiz around urban streets. Specifically, all-electric trucks and SUVs designed specifically for going off road, like those from upstart Rivian, have me rather excited about the future of eco-friendly off-roading.
Rivian’s R1S SUV and R1T pickup models offer anywhere from 230 to 410 miles of range per charge, depending on the battery size. Electric motors could prove incredibly capable drive trains for off-road vehicles. That’s because not only can an electric motor put out 100% of its torque at zero RPM, they can also make nanoscale adjustments forward or backward. This sort of precise power delivery would be hugely useful for retaining traction on a slick trail, as shifting power between wheels with traction is key.
However, off-road EVs’ biggest issue, like with all other electric vehicles, is range and recharging infrastructure.
When I show EVs like Rivian’s to my off-road enthusiast friends, they scoff. They worry they’ll run out of juice on the trail in their $80,000 electric 4×4, look like huge fools, and get stuck with a massive towing bill. These are the kinds of guys who carry jerry cans of gasoline with them wherever they go. So, rolling into the wilderness without a planned power source is incomprehensible for them.
Why should automakers want to appeal to the off-road set with EV offerings? Ignoring the kinds of off-road enthusiasts who run jalopies through the woods at full throttle, there’s a lot of money to be made with off-road vehicle enthusiast market, specifically the crowd who subscribe to the ‘overlanding’ lifestyle.
Overlanding, for those who aren’t aware, is like backpacking … but with a 4×4. You drive across the wilderness — sometimes without trails — and camp self-sufficiently for days or weeks at a time, relying on no one and nothing but yourself and what you have in your rig.
These overlander folks spend big money on their 4x4s. They buy top-end trucks and then bolt tens of thousands of dollars worth of accessories to them. They do this not only to make their rigs more specialized but also more capable. These are the buyers plunking down $83,000 for a brand-new Toyota Land Cruiser then dropping another $20,000 outfitting it. And since most dealers make most of their profit off accessories, every brand should be salivating at the opportunity to sell to overlanders.
If brands want to get overlanders into EVs, though, they would have to support them with charging stations, which brings me back to Land Rover’s April Fool’s joke.
Yes, I know. It’s not fully feasible to dot charging stations around the world’s wilderness areas in the hopes that off-roaders and overlanders find and use them. That said, a lot of great off-road trails are near, or intersect, high-tension power lines. Why not tap into those? List the chargers on the PlugShare app and off-roaders could deviate from their trails to grab some electrons if they need to. That’s a lot easier than running lines into the middle of nowhere.
Short of installing remote charging stations with the hopes that they’ll actually ever be used, a carmaker like Land Rover could build some, make a big fuss about it, and chalk it up to a branding exercise. Would Land Rover actually care if these remote charge stations were ever used? No. They’d exist to prove that they haven’t forsaken their off-road heritage in order to embrace the electrified future.