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Auto Show:  2014 Alt Car Expo And Conference

AAA Mobile Charging Vehicle: Santa Monica AltCar Expo

author photo by Josh Sadlier September 2014

What Is It?

The AAA mobile charging vehicle fleet has been around for a few years now, but we're guessing that most folks don't even know it exists -- including AAA members who actually have access to it. It's such a great idea, though, that it's surprising that more insurance providers haven't followed AAA's lead.

How It Works

Each mobile charging vehicle is a gasoline-powered pickup truck that is, for the most part, like any other AAA roadside-assistance vehicle. The trucks are equipped to resolve issues with dead batteries, flat tires, lockouts and so forth. However, they're also equipped with what's essentially a mobile powerplant that offers Level 2 (240 volts AC) or Level 3 (up to 500 volts DC) charging for depleted electric cars. The AAA charging vehicles can provide enough juice to reach a safe recharging location. The original truck utilized a removable lithium-ion battery pack for charging duty, but other trucks in the fleet employ generators powered by gasoline or alternative fuels. There's also a variant with a generator that runs directly off the truck's engine, which is a relationship known as "power takeoff" or PTO.

Of course, the AAA mobile charging vehicle fleet won't solve the problem of the limited driving range that many electric vehicle (EV) owners grapple with. Unless you spring for a Tesla Model S, you still won't be taking your EV on a road trip. But the fleet should certainly help alleviate the anxiety that EV drivers feel when the range approaches zero miles and there's still driving left to be done. It's not ideal to call AAA and wait for the truck to show up, obviously, but it's a lot better than having a tow truck deposit you and your dead car at the nearest dealership.

Why It's Important

Perhaps the primary knock against electric vehicles is that their modest range could leave you stranded, and that possibility has convinced many would-be EV drivers to buy something else instead. But what if they'd known that AAA provided its members with roadside recharging when needed? The paucity of public EV charging stations makes these mobile charging trucks a very valuable service. Folks might be more willing to give an EV a try if they knew that their assistance company was so supportive.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
AAA Mobile Charging Vehicle: Santa Monica AltCar Expo - Autotrader