Buyers have embraced electric trucks and SUVs faster than analysts predicted. Ford, Chevrolet, and Rivian have joined Tesla with new, all-electric, torque-heavy trucks and SUVs capable of hauling a wide range of campers. While range is still an issue, a major benefit of using electric vehicles to tow is saving money on fuel. It can cost hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars to travel throughout the U.S. in a gasoline or diesel tow vehicle. With an EV, not only do RV owners cut back on fuel costs, but they also lower their carbon footprint.
The RV market isn’t far behind auto manufacturers on the path toward electrification. While fully electric motorhomes are still in their concept phase or remain custom builds, there are some electric and fuel-efficient features that RV consumers can look forward to seeing in 2023.
From electric campervans to solar power upgrades, here are the electrified features and RV trends you can expect to see at RV shows this coming year.
Transition from Lead-Acid to Lithium-Ion Batteries
Most RVs are powered by 12-volt lead-acid batteries, but many companies are switching to lithium-ion batteries. These battery packs are more power dense and offer longer boondocking time off the grid. While this change may come with a higher upfront cost, the new battery technologies are capable of more cycles that will last longer, possibly saving owners money and maintenance in the long run.
Currently, lithium-ion batteries only provide power to the house side of the rig, but soon they could also play a role with propulsion. Earlier this year, RV manufacturer THOR Industries and its subsidiary Airstream debuted Airstream’s eStream trailer concept, equipped with a high-voltage electric drivetrain. This new system would help power the RV’s axles and wheels, which means the tow vehicle—whether it’s gasoline, diesel, or electric—won’t require as much power to tow the trailer.
Improved Aerodynamics for Better Fuel Economy
Reducing wind resistance may not seem like an advancement in electrification, but the more aerodynamic an RV is, the less power it will need to be propelled or towed. While Airstream is long known for its classic aerodynamic designs, several other RV manufacturers, like Bowlus, Forest River, and Winnebago, as well as THOR Industries brands, are coming to the table with lighter, aerodynamic rigs engineered for better towability and improved fuel economy.
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More Solar Capacity for Off-Grid Living
While solar panels aren’t a new idea to the RV market, larger solar and battery packages are becoming standard on trailers, making it easier to take the road less traveled and set up camp without electric hookups for longer periods of time. Overlanding-ready rigs like inTech’s OVR lineup, Palomino’s Pause, and the Winnebago HIKE 100 series all come with impressive solar power systems and optional upgrades for off-grid camping and boondocking.
Other solar innovations include the thin, curved sheet-like solar panels that can be found on Airstream’s eStream concept—providing more available surface area on the roof for larger capacity solar panel systems.
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Today, the closest thing to an all-electric towable is the 2023 Bowlus Volterra travel trailer. This rig, which is currently on the market, offers a zero-carbon footprint and can operate off-grid for extended periods of time. The hand-crafted luxury trailer is outfitted with marine-grade finishes that you’d normally find in a bespoke yacht, and gets its power from a 480-watt solar system that provides continuous solar charging and stores energy in a 17-kWh lithium iron phosphate battery. Although it weighs only 4,000 pounds, it doesn’t skimp on features and includes an induction cooktop, heated floors, hot water, air conditioning, and is StarLink RV Satellite-ready. While the $310,000 starting price for this customizable trailer may seem out of reach for most shoppers, financing is available, according to Bowlus CEO Geneva Long.
Low Power Air Conditioning
RVs equipped with air conditioning typically require power hookups or use generators to keep cool. However, advanced lithium batteries can now provide enough power output to support low-wattage cooling systems, like the ultra-efficient cooled air circulation system found in Bowlus’s Volterra trailer. Similar low-energy A/C systems are likely on the horizon. Winnebego says it’s developing a proprietary prototype 48-volt air conditioning system to be launched in the “near future,” but representatives didn’t say when it will be available or on which products.
While most RVs on the market are WiFi-ready, next-generation rigs are integrating connectivity similar to that of a smart home. Electrification of RV systems coupled with cellular or satellite broadband means owners can network appliances and infrastructure, empowering them to operate things like lights, awnings, slide-outs, and more, all through smartphone apps. From LP tank sensors to battery and generator monitoring, connectivity between components can help owners better manage their power usage. Combine that with the convenience of app-based monitoring, and RVers can easily increase energy efficiency inside their rigs and enable longer off-grid living. Taking it one step further, connectivity inside smart RVs will enable over-the-air-updates that can improve or add features and optimize battery technology—a process that’s currently used in the automotive market.
More Pull-Through EV Charging Stations
For RVers hoping to tow trailers using their electric truck or SUV, finding a charging station that doesn’t require them to unhitch can be a challenge. However, Electrify America says that it currently has 100 electric “pull-through” charging stations near highways that can accommodate hitched trailers and large motorhomes. “As we continue to expand our coast-to-coast network of DC Fast Chargers, we are working to add more pull-through lanes where space allows and demand is high,” says an Electrify America spokesperson.
Electric Campervan Concepts
With a smaller footprint and lighter weight chassis than motorhomes, it’s easier to convert campervans to all-electric powertrains, but consumers are still at least a year away from seeing these camping EVs on the market. Volkswagen has revealed its production-ready ID.Buzz—the new nameplate for the manufacturer’s iconic Type 2 Microbus—with a long wheelbase, sliding doors, and an estimated 300-mile electric driving range that’s expected to go on sale in 2024. Aftermarketers, such as Ququq, are already gearing up conversion kits to make the ID.Buzz more suitable for life on the road, and VW is reportedly working on a sleeper kit for the seven-seater that will also offer advanced driver assistance systems to give drivers more confidence on long drives.
Winnebago and THOR both debuted all-electric campervan concepts at the Florida RV SuperShow earlier in 2022, but both rigs have yet to hit the production line. Winnebago’s e-RV prototype is expected to provide a 125-mile range, while THOR’s Vision Vehicle is said to have a 300-mile range that’s powered by a high-capacity battery pack and an integrated fuel cell. Mercedes-Benz has also introduced the EQV all-electric van concept based on the mid-size Metris V-Class platform that will be available with a driving range of up to 260 miles—but only for the European market.
Togo RV is part of a joint venture, partially owned by THOR Industries, Inc., of which Airstream is a subsidiary.