AA hails freewheeling hub technology as part of EV focus
25 February 2021
Author: Sean Keywood
New technology for towing EVs forms part of an effort by the AA to address needs brought about by electrification.
The AA's freewheeling hub has been developed to solve the problem of broken-down EVs, and also four-wheel drive vehicles, not being able to be towed on two wheels, meaning they had to be recovered using a flatbed truck, rather than just towed behind a van.
It features a high-speed bearing which allows the wheel, once fitted to the vehicle being recovered, to turn independently of that vehicle's drivetrain.
The freewheeling hub was first introduced to a pilot group of 100 AA patrols in January 2020, before the trial was expanded in June.
It has now been rolled out to more than 1,800 patrols, and is due to be rolled out to the entire fleets by early March.
The weight of vehicle that can be recovered with the equipment is however limited to two tonnes, due to the towing capacity of the AA's vans.
AA chief engineer Steve Ives, speaking during an online webinar about the hub, said: "There is a big operational benefit - we don't need to deploy a £110,000 truck to move a vehicle, so that's a cost saving.
"Also it has less impact on the environment, because we are not going to be burning so much fuel per job."
AA president Edmund King said: "The freewheeling hub is part of the innovation that we are doing at the AA to ensure that on those occasions when we need to, we can recover EVs, and indeed SUVs and other vehicles, very quickly and efficiently."
If an EV breakdown is because of a flat battery - something the AA says is a very rare occurrence - the organisation says it is not planning to offer mobile charging. Instead, it will recover the vehicle to a charging point and provide a small amount of free charge to allow the driver to continue on their journey, in a similar way to the free fuel it would provide to a driver who had run dry in a petrol or diesel vehicle.
King said: "As an EV driver, if I did run out of charge, normally it might be on a road where I wouldn't really want to hang around for too long, because you wouldn't choose where you run out of charge.
"So, what we believe the solution at the moment is, is to get to that car as quickly as possible, and to move that car as quickly as possible to an EV charging point.
"Currently with the mobile chargers that are on the market, if you turn up, the car could be parked in a dangerous place, it then takes half an hour or longer to get a small amount of charge - maybe six, seven, eight miles - into that car, and then the customer has to go to a charging point anyway and recharge. So, in terms of safety, efficiency, and customer satisfaction, and with the innovation of the freewheeling hub, we genuinely believe our solution is the best for the customer and for us."
King said that the freewheeling hub sat alongside other EV-related initiatives from the AA, such as its new Smart Lease programme.
He added: "This is a really, really exciting time, and the things that were the stumbling blocks to adopting EVs are changing all the time. The range is getting better, the affordability is getting better, the choice of models is getting better.
"I think at this point at the AA, we are well equipped, we want to take the business with us, and we want to take drivers with us too."