Thanks to Power Innovations' mobile charging unit, I never ran out of juice.
Emme HallFormer editor for CNET Cars
I love two-seater, RWD convertibles and own a 2004 Mazdaspeed Miata for pavement fun and a lifted 2001 Miata for pre-running. I race air-cooled Volkswagens in desert races like the Mint 400 and the Baja 1000. I have won the Rebelle Rally, seven-day navigational challenge, twice and I am the only driver to compete in an EV, the Rivian R1T.
Picture it: You're in the middle of the desert in an electric Rivian R1T. It's hot, it's dusty and you need electricity if you want to make it home alive. What's a driver to do? I found myself in this exact situation while on an eight-day adventure in Rivian's new R1T pickup truck. Fortunately, I had a secret weapon: the Mobile Energy Command from Power Innovations.
The MEC is an 80,000-pound semi-truck loaded with six gigantic lead-acid batteries with 250 kilowatt-hours of power, a 175-kW charger and a Tier 4 generator. While traveling from northern California through Nevada and into southern California, I was given the location of the MEC every day to get a shot of midafternoon electrons. I simply drove up the semi's ramp, plugged in and, 30 minutes or so later, the R1T was charged to about 80%. At the end of each day at our camping location, I left the R1T connected to the MEC longer to get a mostly full charge -- remember, batteries charge slower the fuller they are.
Power Innovations' original plan was to use a hydrogen fuel cell to keep those batteries charged. In fact, the company tested the fuel cell technology with Rivian before my trip and everything worked as planned. But getting permits in order can be a hassle. With a compressed timeline and multiple counties in both California and Nevada needing to sign off on a semi-truck full of hydrogen, Power Innovations had to go with plan B.
I'm the first to admit that using a generator to charge batteries that then charge an electric truck is far from ideal. However, a Tier 4 generator complies with the strictest EPA standards, emitting less particulate matter and lower levels of nitrogen oxides. If you're going to have a generator, this is the least-polluting way to do it.