“Think of it as an electric jerrycan”, says Stefano Sarti, patting a large square box at the back of a roadside assistance van. ARC Europe Group is installing these mobile EV chargers in its vans throughout Europe – finally answering the question: “If I get an electric car, who’ll help me when it runs out of charge?”
Newer electric vehicles (EVs) may have greater ranges and the recharging infrastructure may be getting denser across Europe, but range anxiety is retreating only slowly. It remains the Achilles heel of the drive to electrify our mobility.
And yet, nobody driving a petrol or diesel car worries about running out of fuel. Why? Not just because there’s plenty of fuel stations in Europe. Drivers also know that roadside assistance vans are stocked with enough juice to get them to the nearest fuel station.
But you can’t put electricity in a jerrycan, can you? Well, ARC Europe Group has – sort of. “Together with charging solutions specialist CLS, we’ve developed mobile charging units like this one. They hold about eight charges that can give an EV enough spark to cover a 15 to 20 km distance, so they can get home or to the nearest charging station”, says Mr Stefano Sarti (pictured), Managing Director of ARC Europe Group.
ARC Europe Group is the largest supplier of roadside assistance services in Europe, consisting of a network of 42 partner organisations across 40 countries, covering 46 million vehicles with a fleet of 60,000 patrol vehicles and assistance vans. The mobile charging units are already available in 16 countries; the aim is to get at least one mobile charging unit installed in the fleet of each partner organisation.
Each mobile charging unit consists of three separate boxes for easy installation. Two hold eight lithium cells each, the third has the control panel. The units come provided with all the different jacks for the various charging systems currently in operation. “The recharging takes about 1 minute per km of range. So, in 20 minutes you’ll be good to go 20 km”, Mr Sarti explains.
The battery pack can recharge from the service vehicle’s power as it drives between calls. Thanks to their limited weight and dimensions, the units are easy to redeploy in other service vehicles or even, if necessary, to be moved from the van to a remote location. “Each unit weighs 125 kg, but we’re working on even smaller, lighter versions,” says Mr Sarti.
As these mobile charging units become widespread, EV drivers can drive, safe in the knowledge that professional equipment (and specifically trained personnel) is out there to help them. And that will rip the heart out of what remains of range anxiety. But ARC Europe Group is already thinking one step ahead. “EV assistance is not about the battery only, but also about native connected cars. By collecting real-time data, we want to be able to prevent and predict breakdowns, and make electric driving a zero-breakdown experience”.
Using connected technology, ARC Europe aims to discern patterns and algorithms that will be able to alert EV drivers when the charge is too low for the journey planned. “We call this form of preventive breakdown remediation ‘positive assistance’. It’s the first time in history this is being done”, says Mr Sarti. One example: “Range anxiety focuses on the EV’s main battery, but there is also the 12- or 24-volt starter battery, which needs to be monitored!”
ARC Europe’s ambitious and holistic EV assistance programme has caught the attention of some OEMs, with which the group is in talks for the provision of white-label EV breakdown services: “This will allow them to offer their customers a seamless brand experience”. Further on ARC’s horizon: a presence in (fixed) charging stations, and assistance for e-bikes. “We’re moving from car assistance to mobility assistance”, says Mr Sarti. “That’s the future!”