Over the next few months and years, the first electric pickups in history will start making their entrance on the market. Among buyers, though, one concern lords it over all other, and that has to with range. And they’re not necessarily seduced by figures given on paper. What will range be like in real-world situations, for instance when towing heavy weights?
Ford, which is developing an electric variant of its F-150 model, may have a solution for to address those concerns: a modular range extender that fits inside the truck bed.
The website The Drive spotted the patent showing just such a range extender, filed in April 2018, but published on September 15. The illustrations referring to it show a removable extension that is placed in the bed, similar to a toolbox integrated to it. The system contains a small motor, fuel tank, exhaust system and the electronics needed to connect it to the vehicle's electrical system.
Here’s what the patent specifies:
“This disclosure details electrified vehicles that are equipped with removable generators for increasing the electric range of the vehicles. An exemplary electrified vehicle includes a cargo space, such as a truck bed, and a generator removably positioned within the cargo space. The generator is adapted to selectively supply power for either charging a battery pack of the electrified vehicle or for propelling one or more vehicle drive wheels. In some embodiments, the generator is shaped like, and therefore disguised as, a toolbox.”
The system would work in the same way as the extension cord found in the BMW i3. A small motor acts as a generator to recharge the vehicle's battery, limiting the need for charging at a station. It would also keep the vehicle on the road via a simple stop at the gas station if need be, while waiting for the next recharge opportunity.
The system would be particularly useful in areas where the electrical grid is less developed. The fact that it’s removable means that when it isn’t in use, the owner can reclaim the cargo space. Of course, it would make more sense to sell an electric truck with an integrated range extender under the hood instead of asking customers to sacrifice some of their cargo space. It’s possible Ford is looking at this system in order to give consumers more options, especially in terms of price.
As The Drive points out, the small motor needed for this type of system is not currently available at Ford. BMW uses a 650cc two-cylinder engine for its small i3. For Ford's extension to be truly modular, it would have to be light enough for two people to easily remove it. Ford will either have to use another manufacturer's engine or build its own.
A patent doesn’t necessarily mean that we’ll see it made available commercially. But at least it demonstrates like Ford is thinking about how it can woo potential electric truck buyers concerned with range issues when it comes to the future electric F-150.