Looking to head out camping but want to do it in an environmentally friendly manner? Seems the RV industry is getting caught up in the shift to battery power.
Winnebago is stepping into the EV game with the new e-RV electric camper that is making its debut at the annual massive Florida RV SuperShow this week. Not to be outdone, Airstream has partnered with Thor to roll out a self-propelled concept version of one of its classic, windswept camper vans.
The Winnebago e-RV will be the first of these to hit the road, though potential buyers will have to either stick close to home or expect to make plenty of stops along the way, the concept version on display in Florida delivering a mere 125 miles per charge.
The basic look of the Winnebago e-RV should be familiar, as it starts out as a Ford Transit van. Rather than wait for the all-electric version Ford is working up, the RV maker decided to use the existing Transit platform and swap out its gas drivetrain for an all-electric package developed by Lightning eMotors.
For close-to-home travel
Winnebago isn’t offering pricing, yet, nor details about that drivetrain. We don’t yet know horsepower and torque specs, for one thing, though the company did reveal it found room for an 86-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack.
Going just 125 miles on a charge might seem a bit limiting. After all, the image the RV industry likes to project is one of complete freedom, owners wandering across country without any worries. Building a trip around plugging in every couple hours could put some constraints on one’s wanderlust.
But Winnebago quoted its own data during the SuperShow unveiling, pointing out that 54% of its owners prefer traveling less than 200 miles. In fact, only about a third will pilot their RVs for more than 300 miles. A sizable share of Winnebago buyers, it seems, wind up using their vehicles as a “base camp” when they head off to the beach or some other nearby destination.
The e-RV sticks to the environmentally friendly theme inside. The cabin uses sustainable materials like rubberized cork and wool for flooring and insulation. And it’s fitted with high-efficiency appliances that minimize energy demands that could further reduce range. But it retains classic RV features, such as a bed, kitchenette and shower, as well as the now-essential onboard streaming WiFi network.
Winnebago says owners will be able to plug in pretty much anywhere they can find power, whether at home, a campsite – or at a high-speed charging station where an 80% top-off would take as little as 45 minutes.
Others enter the game
The well-known brand isn’t the only one getting into the electric game. Mercedes-Benz Switzerland this week showed off a prototype version of its all-electric EQV van transformed into an electric camper that could go for around $75,600.
The carmaker says it sees the future of the motorhome market going electric. Volkswagen could turn in a similar direction when it reveals the long-wheelbase American version of its ID.Buzz van next year. It’s expected to come up with a variety of variants for the battery-powered revival of its classic Microbus.
More immediately, Bowlus is offering a version of its own high-line Road Chief camper that is fitted with an onboard battery pack, rather than requiring either a generator or an electrical hook-up.
And Airstream partner Thor this week ventured into the emerging market with a sort of hybrid EV RV approach. The eStream starts out as a classic Airstream camper but adds twin electric motors drawing power from either one or two lithium-ion packs. The concept is described as “self-propelled,” but you can’t drive it independently, as you would with Winnebago’s e-RV. Instead, the Airstream eStream concept provides additional traction when being trailered. The approach, it seems, helps improve the fuel-efficiency of the tow vehicle.
A smartphone remote control app does let an owner maneuver the van independently once you reach a camping site and unhitch – much like the new remote self-parking apps offered on new passenger vehicles.
Neither Thor nor Airstream have released tech specs, nor have they indicated whether they actually have production plans at the ready.
But with all these concepts coming forward, it appears that the motorhome world really is preparing to go electric.