By Lynn Walford
Through advanced technology, recreational vehicle and trailer companies are making their vehicles and customer experiences more sustainable. Winnebago, Thor Industries and Living Vehicle are working on electrifying the recreational vehicle (RV) space.
Advanced technologies include an electric RV, hydrogen extended-range electric RV, self-powered trailer and solar-powered trailers that extract water from the air.
Creative EVs for Hospitals, Schools and Road Trips
Winnebago is famous for making mobile outdoor lifestyle motorhomes and trailers. The company is adding advanced technologies to its RVs.
“We are really focused on advanced technologies which are coming in the next five, seven to ten years,” says Ashis Bhattacharya, Winnebago Industries senior vice president, Business Development and Advanced Technology.
Bhattacharya notes that making an electric RV is not as easy as making an electric car.
He says an electric RV requires energy management that includes many internal systems that generate, store and consume electricity. The systems include battery-systems, inverters, lithium batteries, car batteries and appliances. Appliances in an RV that need electricity are air conditioners, water heaters, induction cooktops, infotainment systems and plumbing systems.
Data and connectivity for smart products are part of the technology development process. Materials, weight, insulations and structural strength are important. The less weight on the vehicle, the more weight is available for the owner, the driver, their family and everything, says Bhattacharya.
In January, Winnebago showed its e-RV electric concept motorhome. In June, the company proved the e-RV could make a successful 1,3000-mile road trip from Washington D.C. to Eden Prairie, Minnesota.
“When we decided to create an e-RV concept – we completely went back to the drawing board. We redesigned the entire interior of the vehicle. We partnered with Lightning eMotors to be able to get access to their high voltage systems, to make sure we were selecting the right sort of appliances,” he says.
The Winnebago e-RV features a 48 Volt air conditioner, water heater, microwave, small refrigerator, induction cooktop, Wi-Fi dual-modem router and a single bottle wine cooler.
“The e-RV has a fold-out bed, which becomes a queen-sized bed. It is a well-designed complete vehicle,” says Bhattacharya about the e-RV.
“We went public with e-RV (that we are not commercially selling) because we want to go through a process of co-creation with our customers and dealers.”
He says about the e-RV road trip, “Is it possible to make an electric 1300- mile trip? Yes. Does it take more time today than an internal combustion engine vehicle? Yes. We were able to find chargers along the way. So for us, it has been a strong proof point which saved 30-40% over gas.”
Some critics did not like the 125-mile battery range of the e-RV.
“The chassis that we ordered in 2019 has a range of 125 miles. Today, if we order the same chassis, the range is more like 200 miles. We are looking at other technologies where we can extend the range. We will continue to work on extending the range.”
He reports that e-RV drivers and riders liked the quiet ride, absence of generator noise, the central control system that can be seen through an app and air conditioning.
Bhattacharya says, in the future, Winnebago plans to develop other size electric vehicles working with OEM partners. The company may also offer autonomous features.
“We believe over time, we will see at least partial autonomy, such as a platooning with a lead RV for increasing fuel economy. Many of our customers travel in groups. It is a very community-oriented activity. I could see situations where a few RVs are travelling together with the lead RV setting the pace and other RVs are platooning.”
Electric Concepts From Thor Industries
Thor Industries is the largest maker of RVs and trailers in the world. In January, they showed two electric concepts at the 2022 Florida RV Supershow. The THOR VISION VEHICLE (TVV) is a concept motorhome. The Airstream eStream is a concept electric trailer.
“The THOR VISION VEHICLE demonstrates a powertrain concept to deliver a 300-mile good experience for the customer,” says MacKay Featherstone, Senior Vice President of Global Innovation, Thor Industries.
“We want customers to have a great experience. We focused on delivering the right range for the weight and size of the vehicle with a fuel cell range extender. We believe it is a critical component,” says Featherstone. He notes the range was also increased by improved aerodynamics.
The other focus of the TVV is the digital experience with Alexa voice integration and apps.
“Our vision is holistic, integrated trip planning. We really brought it to life in the concept vehicle,” says Featherstone.
The integrated trip planner includes campgrounds, charging stations and points of interest with content from Campendium, Roadpass, RoadTrippers, RVillage and ToGo RV.
“We also made sure that all the information you need is easily accessible with multiple screens throughout the vehicle for system control,” says Featherstone.
The concept eStream trailer from Airstream has an electric powertrain and batteries.
“The eStream does what our customers envisioned. It can help you extend the range when you are towing. The trailer is powering itself. It’s pushing itself as it follows behind the tow vehicle. So, you think about all the energy that goes into pulling the trailer. Well, that energy now comes from the trailer itself. So when you are towing you get more range,” says Featherstone.
When the trailer has a motor, it unlocks a new benefit called Mover Mode, low-speed remote control of the trailer.
“With Mover Mode, you never have to back up the trailer. You unhitch it. Turn the system on. Then you can drive the trailer with one finger on an app and back it into the campsite and out of tight space,” says Featherstone.
Electrification simplifies and improves RVing experiences.
“You have more freedom and flexibility. You can camp anywhere. You don’t have to have propane, so you have fewer hassles. Electric RVs are simpler and easier to use overall. Thor is committed to leading in this space. Thor has made a strong sustainability statement. Thor is investing in concept vehicles and developing the technology. All of the brands within Thor aim to lead in this area because we believe it is a better experience for customers,” predicts Featherstone.
Living Vehicle Goes Off-Grid for Water and Electricity
Living Vehicle is a luxury off-grid travel trailer designer and maker in Santa Barbara, California. 2023 Living Vehicle (LV) trailers offer exceptional sustainable amenities. The models have enough solar energy to power electric appliances, a state-of-the-art Apple-based creative studio with large displays and charge an electric vehicle.
The Living Vehicle models have solar energy systems that range from 1.4 kW to 3.4 kW. Living Vehicle uses some of the most efficient and advanced solar cells by SunPower and Maxeon to ensure the best possible solar generation is achieved.
Real-world production can vary depending on many factors such as the angle of the sun, time of the year, cloud cover, and airborne pollution, says Matthew Hofmann, co-founder and CEO of Living Vehicle.
“The highest-powered option, the PRO-EV, comes equipped with enough power capacity to charge electric vehicles using an integrated 240V level 2 charging station,” adds Joanna Hofmann co-founder and Chief Marketing Officer.
She reports that it would be possible for an electric tow vehicle to be charged at a charging station and return to the Living Vehicle to charge the LV’s energy pack.
“With ideal sun conditions and the latest launch with Watergen, our goal with a resource awareness mindset is for LV owners to remain off-grid 365 days a year,” explains Matthew Hofmann.
The Watergen system converts humidity in the air to potable water through an Atmospheric Water Generator (AWG). The water can be used for drinking or plumbing.
“The water generation system fills a primary tank that is used for drinking water. When this water tank is full and the water generation system continues to run, the Living Vehicle freshwater tank pressure rises. The water flows to the entire domestic water system. This includes all sinks, showers, and toilet water,” says Matthew Hofmann.
He says in the future, “It is our ultimate goal to achieve a net-zero offering and each year we will work to get closer to exactly that. We’re working with the leaders in sustainability from around the world to bring the most advanced technology systems to Living Vehicle models.”