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Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Are Electric 4WD Vehicles Ready for Serious Overlanding?

Photo by Wes Hicks on Unsplash (license)

The auto industry has made electric vehicles (EVs) its future, with manufacturers investing significant sums into technology without fossil fuels. This electric transition means overlanding will look different as the decade progresses, making you wonder if EVs are ready for overlanding and the heavy toll it can take on them.

Yet, EVs have been on the market for over a decade and their improvements make them suitable for the outdoors. Let’s discuss five reasons electric 4WD vehicles may be getting ready for serious overlanding, as well as the hindrances they must still overcome.

Table of Contents

Electric 4WD Vehicles Have Improved Battery Range

Electric Truck driving on a dirt road

Photo by Leo_Visions on Unsplash (license)

Overlanding can take weeks or months, so you’ll need some serious power. Fortunately, technology has improved battery range over the past few years to support your trips. Data from the International Energy Agency shows battery-electric vehicles have increased their range from 127 to 217 miles since 2010.

Even larger overland vehicles needing more power have benefited from improved battery technology. Researchers have found ways to optimize them while continuing to use lithium-ion for power. For example, manufacturers are working on solid-state batteries to replace devices with liquid electrolytes, which will make electric 4WD vehicles more efficient and ready for overlanding.

There are More Market Options for Electric 4WD Vehicles

Lightning Taillight

Photo by Cyrus Crossan on Unsplash (license)

In the 2010s, most automakers focused on electric sedans because their batteries could support a limited range. Now, the market has opened up to trucks and SUVs.

The Ford F-150 Lightning debuted in 2022 and has been an industry leader in electric overland trucks. Rivian’s R1T and the Jeep Grand Cherokee 4xe also joined the market around this time. Expect to see more overland-capable electric 4WD vehicles debut soon, such as the Chevrolet Silverado EV and the Ram 1500 REV. 

These Vehicles off Spacious Cargo Areas

Electric BMW

Photo by Ruvim Kerimov on Unsplash (license)

If you’re overlanding for a few weeks, you’ll need adequate supplies to keep yourself and your family fed and safe. Electric 4WD vehicles have a significant advantage over gas-powered machines because they have more room for cargo.

Most manufacturers place a 4WD vehicle’s battery under the floor, meaning you get space where the engine would fit in gas-powered cars. This area can include your essentials like repair kits, spare parts and food for the trip. Automakers have also used the extra space to prepare their vehicles for overlanding — for instance, the Rivian R1T has a camp kitchen sliding out from the truck’s side.

Convenient Power is a Plus

If you take electric devices on your overlanding trips, you’ll need extra power to charge them for the days ahead. Electric 4WD vehicles make this task easier because their batteries contain multiple ports. Mini fridges, electric stoves and cell phones are easier to power simultaneously with an EV because of their battery capacity. Thus, these overland machines have a leg up on gas-powered ones.

Another advantage of electric 4WD machines is their ability to power your devices without turning on the car. Plug in your generator to keep power running through the night as you watch a movie or warm up with a heater.

The Charging Infrastructure is Growing for Electric 4WD Vehicles

Electric vehicle charging

Photo by CHUTTERSNAP on Unsplash (license)

Finding a public charging station has been a problem for EV owners, but the infrastructure outlook is promising for this decade. The executive branch plans to build over 500,000 publicly available chargers by 2030, making overlanding more accessible nationwide if you have a big electric rig.

While charging stations still await construction, federal projects have already built charging facilities at national parks. The National Park Service built 100 electric charging stations between 2016 and 2019 to mitigate air pollution at these sites. Overlanding at national parks will become easier as more stations appear. 

What Challenges Do Electric 4WD Vehicles Face in Overlanding?

Electric Truck on a dirt road.

Photo by Leo_Visions on Unsplash (license)

While electric 4WD machines have progressed, you might hesitate to drive one on your next big trip. Here are three challenges these vehicles face in modern overlanding.

Reliability Concerns

Taking a vehicle overlanding means relying on it for your entire trip. A breakdown would be detrimental, as your remote location isn’t ideal for calling a tow truck. EVs face a significant challenge because of their reliability, with owners reporting faulty seals, battery issues and electronics failure.

In 2023, Consumer Reports said EVs from the past three years have 79% more problems than gas-powered vehicles. EV technology is still evolving, which is a concern if you want to go overlanding. Research and development should improve these machines, but they can be a liability — for instance, the Rivian R1T landed at No. 5 in Consumer Report’s list of unreliable vehicles.

Weather Performance

Electric 4WD vehicles also face scrutiny for their performance in varying conditions. Cold weather significantly taxes the batteries because they must work harder to produce power. While ranges have improved, freezing temperatures can make them less efficient. Research shows EVs only perform about 70% as well as they should once the temperatures turn freezing.

Overlanders should also be concerned about what happens to their batteries if their trips happen during hot weather. Similar issues arise when the battery works harder to produce more power, thus straining the vehicle. Multiple overlanding adventures can wear the car faster than you’d like.

Carrying the Load

Range anxiety is a fear for outdoors enthusiasts who want to buy EVs but are concerned with the battery power. While weather is concerning, electric 4WD vehicles’ payload and towing capacity are another major factor. The machines will pull and carry with few issues, but the weight will negatively impact the range because you’re stressing the battery.

You can take a minimalist approach and only pack your essentials while bringing a maximum of one partner. However, people often like to bring their families and friends, meaning extra weight will be in the car. Hauling trailers with ATVs and bikes will add strain to the EV’s towing responsibilities.

Can You Bring Electric 4WDs on Overlanding Trips?

Electric truck in the woods

Photo by Wes Hicks on Unsplash (license)

EVs are exciting because they’re more eco-conscious than gas-powered cars. Eliminating tailpipe emissions means you leave the environment as you found it, emphasizing sustainability on your outdoor excursions. However, electric 4WDs induce skepticism for overlanding due to their reliability and range concerns.

Increased charging infrastructure and improved battery range suit overlanding in the right conditions. For example, it’s more doable in a national or state park with an EV charging station nearby — you may have trouble lasting the trip otherwise. As technology improves, electric 4WD vehicles will become better options for overlanding.

Author Bio

Jack Shaw is an accomplished automotive writer with a flair for adventure and a passion for all things offroad. Having written for notable sites such as Modded, Ford Muscle, Offroad Xtreme, and more, his articles are a testament to his knowledge and love for the automotive industry.

Disclaimer: Just so you know, some of the cool stuff we mention comes with affiliate links, meaning we earn a commission if you buy (no extra charge to you!). Plus, we occasionally feature sponsored content, but rest assured, we only shout out products we genuinely stand behind.

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