Building A Lightweight, Aerodynamic Cargo Trailer For More “Boots On The Ground” Coverage

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Back in March, I ran a successful fundraiser to help gather more “boots on the ground” coverage, including everything from events and companies to product reviews in awesome locations. I didn’t meet my overall goal, but I did get enough raised to get a very solid start. Since then, I’ve been putting any money I could together to get the last few things together.

Unfortunately, all of that camping and other gear is taking up a bunch of space around my house. Because I focused on more of a glamping setup, with insulated Shiftpod shelters, we’re talking about a pretty significant part of my living room! I had originally planned to just buy a small cargo trailer to keep it all in, and to pull behind the Bolt EAV (It’s an EUV, but I take it on adventures, so it’s now my “Electric Adventure Vehicle”), but I needed to save money and I figured I could build something smaller and lighter to minimize range loss.

The Trailer

To save money and weight, I started out looking for a Harbor Freight trailer. They’re not the greatest and they can’t handle a lot of weight, but their lightweight modular construction (a bunch of aluminum extrusions bolted together) makes for a great platform upon which to build a lightweight trailer. But, they’re out of stock almost everywhere, and even used ones were difficult to come by.

Sadly, the only thing I could find was parts. Some came from a damaged trailer with no title I found for cheap. Others came used. A few parts even came from Harbor Freight itself. But, after a couple months of scraping things together, I managed to piece a trailer together.

Now, the next steps will be to build my cargo and camping box on top of it. I’ll be expanding the frame out a few inches on each side to increase the interior room a bit. Then, I’ll put on some relatively thin plywood decking on top to hold it all together and beef the structure up a bit. Then, I’ll be building a very thin wood frame to hold it all up and bolt things like doors and a slide-out kitchen onto.

Finally, I’ll build the outer shell with “poor man’s fiberglass,” which is a composite of foam and canvas or window screen, glued together to make for a very light but rigid and strong exoskeleton. Many people have built trailers of various sizes using this method, so it’s a proven way to save on weight without losing strength.

This will then be coated with Raptor Liner to keep the weather out.

Efficiency has been factored in at every step. I’ve planned the overall shape to tuck nicely behind my Bolt and minimize aerodynamic drag. Weight should be below 1,000 pounds loaded. It’s also riding on some very skinny tires that should get low rolling resistance.

I’ll do some update articles over the next couple weeks as I get the whole thing put together!

The First Trip

I don’t want to rush into a long journey with iffy charging infrastructure when I haven’t figured out what my energy consumption looks like, so I’m going to start with a carefully-planned shakedown cruise. I don’t like to tell people about travel plans ahead of time for security reasons, but I’ve chosen a stretch of road with plentiful charging opportunities where I’ll be able to test the vehicle at different speeds.

On this trip, I’m going to try to load things about like I would for the longest trips. I’ll have 2 or 3 e-bikes securely locked up, all camping gear, a solar generator I’m about to review, tent HVAC, and even a small fridge. I may even take a couple dogs and other pets along for good measure.

I’ll use the OBD-II connector and have A Better Routeplanner monitor the CAN bus for energy usage, so I’ll not only have a great picture of my energy efficiency, but I’ll be able to plug my future trips in and get accurate trip plans in the future.

Another Thing I Hope To Accomplish Here

If you read my articles here a lot, you probably notice that I talk about towing a lot. But, as I pointed out in another article, we can’t just throw the idea of efficiency away just because towing happens. We simply do not have the battery supply available to put a 200+ kWh battery in every driveway, and the economics of even trying to do that just don’t work out.

But, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t ever tow. In fact, using smaller and more efficient EVs to tow on occasion means that we don’t need to be driving trucks and large SUVs the rest of the time. But, making that approach work the way it needs to work will require efficient trailers, which will be a very different approach than most of the industry is taking right now.

It’s my hope that by building an efficient cargo trailer, we’ll be able to prove that we don’t need giant, heavy trailers to do real work and have real fun. By getting the weight down and getting the shape right, it’s possible to do a lot of things with a smaller battery pack. For me, it’s going to be a 65 kWh pack, which is more than 3 times smaller than many people think is absolutely needed.

Reviews Are A Big Part Of This

We’ll probably get into this more in another article, but reviews are an important part of what we do here at CleanTechnica. While many reviews can happen locally, there are many cleantech products, especially e-bikes, that deserve a much more in-depth test away from home.

If you work for a company that sells e-bikes, solar generators, or any other product that you’d like to have tested out there away from the city (including some beautiful scenic locales), be sure to reach out to us! We’re putting together some great options for companies to get an objective review without breaking the bank to get that done.

Featured image: The Trailer of Theseus by Jennifer Sensiba.


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