Home » Camper Producers Are Finally Coming Up With A Solution To The Problem Of Charging An Electric RV

Camper Producers Are Finally Coming Up With A Solution To The Problem Of Charging An Electric RV

Tesla Airstreamtop
ADVERTISEMENT

A handful of startup companies and large conglomerates are steadily cranking out concepts and prototypes for a future of electric RVs. Pebble, Lightship, Airstream, and Dethleffs are all developing travel trailers with their own propulsion systems that help their tow vehicles retain range. Winnebago, Grounded, Thor, Harbinger, and others are conjuring up all-electric motorhomes to hit the road with. There’s one big problem that few people talk about. How do you charge a large RV when most charging spots are parking spaces meant for regular cars? Thor Industries, the second largest name in RVs in America, thinks it has the solution with its eRV pull-through charging station concept. If these could be made, it would solve a major pain point in electrifying RVs.

If you’re a fan of recreational vehicles, you’re probably just as excited as I am to see manufacturers stepping up to the plate with real innovations. It feels as if campers have been more or less the same flimsy things for decades. Now, we’re seeing some really good ideas. As Car and Driver wrote in 2022, if you were to hitch a 6,100-pound camper to the back of your Ford F-150 Lightning or Rivian R1T, you could expect to see yourself at a charger roughly every 100 miles. That makes EV camping road trips a drag.

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

At least four companies want to solve the problem of range loss from towing by putting EV propulsion systems in travel trailers. Even cooler is how those trailers should help ICE tow vehicles, too, which means less fuel burn and fewer stops. Everyone wins!

Mercedes Streeter

Something I’ve wondered about for the past couple of years is just how are you supposed to charge these campers. If you go to most charging stations right now, you’ll find that they are single parking stalls. If you need to charge both the camper and the tow vehicle, you’ll have to decouple the trailer from the tow vehicle, charge them separately, and then put them back together. That’s not going to be easy or fun. I suppose you could be a jerk and block multiple stalls to charge your two batteries.

Either way, it’s messy and a number of manufacturers don’t really have a solution. When I saw the Airstream eStream in person last year, I asked Airstream’s representatives how a production version of the camper would charge on the road. They admitted that would be a challenge with the current charging infrastructure. I asked the same question to the executives of Lightship when the L1 camper was revealed. They too, admitted that current EV infrastructure doesn’t really work for electric campers. Lightship is considering charging ideas such as oversized alternators for ICE tow vehicles or allowing their trailer’s motors to be used as generators.

ADVERTISEMENT

Harbinger was the first to give me a proposed charging station solution, and that company would love to see pull-through charging stations showing up at KOAs and other campgrounds. Now, Thor Industries is presenting a concept rendering for its idea to solve this problem. As I noted before, Thor is the second-largest RV conglomerate in America. It owns Airstream and is currently working with Harbinger to bring EV motorhomes to market.

Thor’s eRV Charging Station

79262fae D37f 4e4b 91bc 7cae43cc
Thor Industries

Thor’s solution to this problem would be to construct what looks like a large highway rest area. In the center of the station sits a bunch of charging stations arranged into rows. You would just pull up and then hook up both your tow vehicle and your camper without having to separate them. Those charging stations have canopies on top for shade, but they also have solar panels on them, too. Services at the station would include air pumps for tires, a dump station, and facilities to fill water tanks and water bottles.

While you’re charging your rig, you can hop out and enjoy the greenspace, which includes a playground, grass, plants, and a picnic area. There’s also a building, which would feature restrooms inside and gym equipment under another canopy outside. Of course, there’s also a pet area so your dog can stretch its legs. Thor’s concept also calls for a rain harvesting system alongside some recycling measures.

Thor says these charging stations would be placed in cities, along interstates, and in rural America. After all, when you’re pulling a trailer to a sweet remote camping spot, you may be nowhere near a signed interstate. Thor says the infrastructure could be hosted by rural retailers, campgrounds, or local governments. Thor also appears to agree with partner Harbinger’s idea of having these stations planted down at existing private campgrounds.

D4db49c9 Dd26 427e Ac08 8d2086ad
Thor Industries

Thor says charging infrastructure is going to be important for electric RVs, from its CEO:

ADVERTISEMENT

“Electrified transportation will play a central role in the future of RVing as eRVs become available for purchase, and more people opt to pull a traditional or electrified travel trailer with an EV tow vehicle,” said THOR Industries President and CEO Bob Martin. “A charging station ecosystem that can accommodate eRVs and EV tow vehicles is essential to this transformation, which is why THOR is actively exploring options to support the effort. We designed this concept to provide states and rural communities a better understanding of the infrastructure needed near parks, destination towns and other popular destinations to retain the tremendous economic benefits future RV travelers will offer.

The Catch

C4b2c0d7 Ec5d 49cb B8c2 524b8107
Thor Industries

Alright, is Thor about to plant a bunch of stations down across America? The company says these renders are just a concept for now, but they are being used in an effort to convince state and tribal governments to use federal funds to build RV charging stations. From Thor:

The charging station concept is based on best practices developed by the engineering firm Black & Veatch (B&V), a leader in EV charging infrastructure design. The ideas were first outlined in a recent white paper commissioned by the RV Industry Association detailing the economic case for states to use some of the $7.5 billion federal EV funding currently available to the state and tribal governments to build eRV-compatible pull-through charging stations. That paper is now being presented to state policymakers as part of an RV Industry Association lobbying effort.

I read that RVIA white paper and it repeats the same concerns I’ve been talking about for a while. Electric RVs and commercial vehicles are coming, yet America’s charging infrastructure lets them down even harder than it does for regular electric cars. Ignoring this issue is not a good solution, as the RVIA notes EV tow vehicles can lose 50 percent of their range just trying to haul a 6,500-pound trailer.

The RVIA says that as of May 2023, pull-through stations are scarce. Electrify America had just one spot with pull-through chargers in Baker, California. However, Electrify America does plan on adding a couple of pull-through stalls at stations as part of its future expansion plans. The Rivian Adventure Network has just one pull-through charger in Salida, Colorado. Adding more pull-through chargers is also in Rivian’s plans. Finally, we have TeraWatt Infrastructure, which wants to create a pull-through charging network along I-10 from California to Texas. Aside from weird one-offs here and there, the RVIA says that’s it, which means the vast majority of owners of EVs towing trailers are sort of screwed.

Screenshot (680)
RVIA

Thor says the benefits extend past just allowing electric RVs to charge. Stations planted in rural areas could help draw camper owners to a town, people who may spend money while they’re waiting, helping the town’s economy. A private campground with charging stations could draw in tired road-trippers ready to shut down for the night before juicing up and starting the next leg.

Unfortunately, it’s unclear when charging station concepts like these will ever see reality. Electrified campers are beginning to hit the road, from the Bowlus Volterra to the Airstream Trade Wind. Pebble says its trailer will be on the market at the end of last year. So, these campers are coming whether the infrastructure is there or not.

ADVERTISEMENT

Thus, until pull-through stations start becoming more common, the difficulty in getting a charge will be something you’ll want to keep in mind before you buy an EV for towing or before you buy an electrified camper. At the very least, concepts like Thor’s are a step in the right direction.

Relatedbar

Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on whatsapp
WhatsApp
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on linkedin
LinkedIn
Share on reddit
Reddit
Subscribe
Notify of
23 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Doctor Nine
Doctor Nine
4 months ago

I’m going with a motorcycle and a tent. Or just drive to the trail head and backpack in. Also with a tent. Or a bivvy bag. If I need to stay someplace off grid for a work site or something, then the camper will have a generator. Or the tow vehicle will be one, like the new RamCharger.

Expecting charging infrastructure anyplace I’d want to camp is not really reasonable. If they’ve got all that, like say a national park, I’ll probably just stay at the lodge.

Space
Space
4 months ago

Regen braking to turn an ICE towing setup into a hybrid sounds neat. Otherwise hmm…

Ben
Ben
4 months ago

Thor says the infrastructure could be hosted by rural retailers, campgrounds, or local governments.

So once again they’re expecting Someone Else to do the hard part. All they’ve done is suggested the blindingly obvious solution to EV camper charging, but haven’t actually committed to spending the money to implement it. Until someone commits to building (and maintaining!) these things this is meaningless.

They’re putting the trailer before the tow vehicle building these gigantic wastes of battery resources before they’re actually usable. By the time the infrastructure to support them exists the batteries in these first gen trailers will probably have degraded to uselessness. Timing is everything, and the timing for these is wrong.

Taargus Taargus
Taargus Taargus
4 months ago

Again, I’m not so excited at the premise of stuffing massive batteries into trucks and campers for them to still be compromised. Look at all the potential resources that would go into these sorts of charging stations!

I get that this is a concept and we’ll probably get there someday, but we could do so, so much more with the resources available by getting these batteries into commuters as a mix of hybrids and EVs. Towing a small house with an EV is nuts to me.

Ed Friese
Ed Friese
4 months ago

As a owner of an EV6, the only ‘camper’ I’d ever consider would be something small and/or lightweight – but in that class, you’re just barely above a tent.
Pop-ups present a smaller frontal area, but getting one with a kitchen and toilet puts you in the 1800 lb range
I think Scamp trailers are among the lightest towables, but even a 16-ft Scamp (at $25K) weights about 2,500 lbs

By the time you price all this out, a better option is to tow a smaller EV with maybe a Class B motorhome.

Or better yet (as a former Boy Scout leader), just go with a tent (or use all the money you’d spend an just stay in a motel)

Oldskool
Oldskool
4 months ago

A pusher trailer goes against the physics of safe towing. Better to just take the trailer battery power and use it as extra power for the tow vehicle. Though it would help to have wheel motors for regen braking.

I’m surprised that charging stations are not pull through by default. Like gas stations.

Last edited 4 months ago by Oldskool
Harmanx
Harmanx
4 months ago
Reply to  Oldskool

Most charging areas are in existing parking lots. Some locations are just for charging — and those should definitely try to put in some pull-through chargers — but those are a relative minority of locations.

Ivan256
Ivan256
4 months ago
Reply to  Oldskool

Some charging areas seem willfully poorly designed.

However when you look them in the context of parking lot design in general it stops being surprising.

Von Baldy
Von Baldy
4 months ago

Why not have a plug in on the back of the camper that is essentially an extension cord that runs up to the front, and then when charging, you just take the other end on the trailer and pop it in to the car.
When not needed, you unhook from the car and it stows onto the camper

JunkInTheFrunk
JunkInTheFrunk
4 months ago

Electric powered “pusher” RVs will never take off, because it’s the wrong solution to a niche problem. The problem is enough range with an EV towing an RV. The solution will be greater range on EV tow vehicles and lighter, more aerodynamic trailers.

For the small cohort of people who have $90k+ to spend on an EV capable of towing and $100k+ to spend on a high end RV, I suspect the answer near term will be bringing along a large generator, or planning a route where they can charge their tow vehicle every 150 miles.

Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
4 months ago

Pull-through chargers under canopies? Like gas stations? Ridiculous, what’s next, paying for electricity with credit cards or cash instead of a proprietary mobile app? As if.

Fuzz
Fuzz
4 months ago

Towing camping trailers with EV’s and putting giant batteries in them is about the least useful thing we can do with our limited resources right now.

That, and the nightmare coming to RV parks having to supply multi-MW levels of power draw when they used to only have to deal with intermittent use.

Just take a pause for a few years on this stuff.

Sklooner
Sklooner
4 months ago
Reply to  Fuzz

Yeah I borrowed an RV for a weekend and it needed a 50amp plugin, hate to think how much it would need with a charger

Defenestrator
Defenestrator
4 months ago
Reply to  Sklooner

The same 50A plugin, really. That part’s fine and basically already solved. The challenge is further upstream – what happens when a whole park full of RVs start averaging 4KW+ from their 9.6KW plug instead of <2KW? I’ve seen more remote places struggle to maintain 120V on hot summer days sometimes. Solar will help where it’s practical, but a lot of parks are going to need a significant upgrade to their grid connection.

Sklooner
Sklooner
4 months ago
Reply to  Defenestrator

Most places I go have max 30amp, I can run my motorhome off 15 being more remote some parks may have to close or only allow older units

Defenestrator
Defenestrator
4 months ago
Reply to  Sklooner

Yeah, 30’s pretty common in older parks and more remote places like state and national parks that only have electric at the site and a sewer dump at the entrance. At 2.9KW sustained even those are enough to pick up a decent (if slow for something that size) charge. But they probably have the same issue with the overall campground grid not being ready for the constant full draw.

Last edited 4 months ago by Defenestrator
Ben
Ben
4 months ago
Reply to  Defenestrator

Exactly this. Campground electrical systems aren’t exactly renowned for their robustness and aside from some very expensive places like fancy KOAs I doubt most of them make enough money to justify spending mondo dollars to upgrade.

Harmanx
Harmanx
4 months ago
Reply to  Fuzz

A dozen years ago, people said just pause on EVs due to various challenges. If companies don’t try to solve things with R&D and bringing products to market now (and instead just wait while doing little or nothing), important progress and innovation doesn’t happen.

Last edited 4 months ago by Harmanx
Ben
Ben
4 months ago
Reply to  Harmanx

To be fair, the infrastructure still isn’t there for non-Tesla EVs even a dozen years later. Those people were not wrong. A lot of Tesla’s success has come from their investment in the infrastructure to support their cars, and no one else seems willing to do that. This feels like the same old story we keep seeing play out in the car industry.

Harmanx
Harmanx
4 months ago
Reply to  Ben

It would have been great if companies felt compelled to set up charging infrastructure before there were cars to use it, but it I don’t think it could have worked that way. When ICE cars were just hitting the scene, early adopters had to find gasoline at the few pharmacies that stocked it. As the cars became abundant/affordable, demand motivated the creation of gas stations. I suspect drivers often didn’t find conveniently located stations when running out of gas during their excursions back then. I think demand will motivate more and better charging stations — as well as more pull-through stations. It won’t be without frustrations for a while — but will get there pretty quickly. (The good news is that most potential locations have much of the infrastructure already in place thanks to the grid — and not requiring a relationship with any companies to bring them fuel via truck shipments, etc.)

Ben
Ben
4 months ago
Reply to  Harmanx

The big difference is that there was no real alternative when ICE cars started out. If you wanted a car you dealt with the limited infrastructure. These days people don’t _have_ to buy EVs and increasingly the sentiment is that you shouldn’t because of all the charging network problems. This is the one area where I think Tesla was indisputably smart – they started selling the cars, but in parallel they also built out the infrastructure. Everyone else has been sitting around waiting for someone else to do it, and so far that’s been a disaster.

Harmanx
Harmanx
4 months ago
Reply to  Ben

good points

Manwich Sandwich
Manwich Sandwich
4 months ago

I hope they’re planning on using NACS charging plugs on their campers and charging stations.

23
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x