Another team of former Tesla engineers has brewed up an idea for the camper of the future. Grounded, a company filled with Tesla and SpaceX alumni has revealed this, the G1: It’s a Ford E-Transit electric camper van built around a modular floorplan with tons of flexibility. And to make the cost hurt a little less, you can get it through a subscription that also ensures you always have the latest version.
Earlier this month, I wrote about the Lightship L1, a Hi-Lo-style travel trailer designed to beat the problem of towing range losses by being able to pull itself along behind the tow rig. That camper is the brainchild of Tesla, Proterra, and Rivian engineers. Well, as it turns out, the Lightship crew aren’t the only engineers to jump ship from Tesla and other companies to get into the RV space. Founded just last year, Grounded has its own ideas for the camping future. However, this company’s approach is completely different. If you looked at the top image, the main difference is obvious. Lightship’s camper is a self-propelled travel trailer, while the Grounded G1 is firmly in the sizzling hot Class B camper van space.
Grounded is one of many designs intended to electrify our camping future. Lightship’s biggest competition will be Airstream, which has its own concept for a travel trailer with EV gear that assists its tow vehicle. Bowlus has an aluminum travel trailer powered entirely by electricity, and we’ve even seen plenty of concepts for trucks like the Rivian R1T or the Tesla Cybertruck. Even the adorable Volkswagen ID.Buzz has a camping box kit already.
Grounded is entering a market with stiff competition. One of the largest camper conglomerates in America, Thor Industries, has its Thor Vision Vehicle concept. Conversion companies like Maxwell Vehicles will take your Ram ProMaster and turn it into an electric camper van. Grounded’s stiffest competition might be from Winnebago and its eRV2, which is based on the same Ford E-Transit van the Grounded G1 is. I got to drive that van and, while it’s just a prototype, Winnebago plans on getting it on the market soon. However, Grounded will be beating Winnebago to the market with the G1. The first examples will be reaching customers next month. So let’s see what Grounded has to offer.
Riding On A Familiar Platform, Built In Detroit
Grounded’s debut camper is the G1 campervan. The company calls it the world’s first fully customizable smart electric RV.
At its heart, this camper isn’t any different under the sheet metal than the Winnebago eRV2. Both campers ride on the Ford E-Transit platform. That means you’re getting a 68-kWh 400V lithium-ion battery paired to a motor providing 266 HP and 317 lb-ft torque. Grounded’s range figures also aren’t any different than Winnebago’s. Unfortunately, that means road trips are limited to up to 108 miles at a time between charging. However, Grounded’s CEO does tell me that the company is working on getting EV range up to 250 miles later this year.
This makes sense. Grounded is a startup and doesn’t have the funds to build an electric van from the ground up. Thus, it chose an existing platform and instead builds its camper out of it. The company also has some help thanks to Ford, Michigan Central, and Newlab. If you haven’t heard of Newlab before, I’ll give you a quick rundown. Newlab is a startup that provides platforms and manufacturing space to other startup companies. The outfit provides research labs, prototyping and fabrication, and more to resident companies. Detroit’s historic Book Depository building serves as Newlab’s Detroit headquarters and inside of Michigan Central Station is where you’ll find Newlab’s Mobility Studio. That’s where these vans are built. Additional good news comes from the fact that since these are campers built out of the Ford E-Transit, they benefit from Ford backing and Ford service. If the van part breaks, it shouldn’t be a nightmare to get it fixed.
With all of this in mind, the exterior is that of your standard camper van. Grounded isn’t changing the E-Transit that it’s riding on. Instead, the magic happens inside.
An Interior Of Almost Endless Possibilities
One of Grounded’s trick features is its modular interior. Now, we’ve seen these before with a variety of campers from the Happier Camper HC1 to the Winnebago + Adventure Wagon van with its interior on tracks. Grounded is taking an approach that appears to be somewhat similar to the modular camper conversion pieces drawn up by our Daydreaming Designer. Like the Bishop’s idea, these vans are filled out with cubes that contain everything from the bed you’ll sleep on to a rack to hang your bicycle.
Interior pieces are crafted out of Baltic Birch and supported using aluminum structures. One goal of this camper is sustainability, and Grounded says that the wood is sustainably-sourced and adds a warm, modern feel to the interior.
Former SpaceX engineer and CEO of Grounded Sam Shapiro says:
“We’ve worked to create something new that’s inspired by Scandinavian simplicity and function,” said Shapiro. “Optional components include a queen-sized bed, kitchen with a convection oven, dry-flush toilet, seating for anywhere from two to eight occupants, an outdoor shower, and more.”
In terms of water storage, Shapiro tells me that you’ll have a 16-gallon tank for your water. Since the toilet would be a dry-flush unit and the shower would be outside, there are no other tanks.
While the company wasn’t able to show me its catalog of parts, it did provide me with some renders showing example interior layouts. Shapiro says that there are so many different modular parts and ways to place them that there are almost endless layout configurations.
Aside from the modular floorplan, Grounded is giving its first vans–rolling out next month–a 5 kWh lithium house battery. This is a third of the size of the battery found in the Winnebago eRV2 and Grounded wasn’t able to give me an estimate for how long this would last. That said, I’m told that this battery size is also customizable, so you could get larger ones fitted. Whichever battery you have, it can feed off of 640 Watts of solar power. Shapiro also tells me that the van’s traction battery can charge the house battery and should it need to, the house battery can charge the van’s battery to get it the last mile to a charger.
Tying the modular interior together is another Grounded trick. All electronics in the van are connected together by Grounded’s proprietary software. The system utilizes sensors to help monitor the camper’s electronics. From there, you can control everything electronic through the Grounded+ app. You have control of the lights, temperature, and entertainment systems in your camper, as well as water and charge level monitoring. The app can also be used to monitor your driving habits and the van’s location. Over time, the system is trained to learn your habits and offer ways for you to maximize the power that you have.
Grounded says that it’s able to build all of this in just a handful of days. Originally, building just one prototype took a couple of months. Over time, Grounded was able to figure out how to streamline the build process, even when accounting for the fact that no two vans may be similar. Shapiro tells me that when you get in line for one of these, you get to use a design tool that allows you to design your interior as if you were placing Lego pieces. Then, the company will build it out. Unfortunately, once the layout is set you cannot move it around yourself. However, you can bring it back to Grounded and the company will be happy to change it for you.
The Minds Behind Grounded
Grounded CEO Sam Shapiro tells me that the company is filled with former Tesla and SpaceX engineers. The Grounded G1 is built in response to the growing demand for Class B RVs. Last year, towables and motorhomes took a hit in sales, yet camper vans saw double-digit growth. It seems that there is a shift in RV buying preferences. Grounded also believed that EV infrastructure is in a place to make this van possible and will only get better.
For Shapiro, the Grounded G1 is more than just something to make money with. As he told me, back in 2020 he started traveling the country in an internal combustion-powered camper van rental. He found traveling in it to be awesome, but just keeping it going was a nightmare. Shapiro told me that the van constantly broke down and on one breakdown he was stuck working at a restaurant while the van was broken. Add in the cost of fuel, the fumes, and the pollution and he figured that there had to be a better way to go camping with a van.
Shapiro recognizes that a van with a 108-mile range isn’t the ideal cross-country road-tripper, but like Winnebago, he is, for now, limited to whatever the Ford E-Transit can do. The company hopes to up the range as soon as it can.
How To Get A Grounded G1
Grounded also wants to change the way that you buy this van. Sure, you could just give Grounded $125,000 and drive away in your van free and clear. I’m actually somewhat amazed by that price. Remember, the cheapest possible vans from Airstream and Winnebago are both at least $10,000 more than this and neither of those are hauling around lithium batteries. Winnebago didn’t reveal a set price range for its eRV2, but hinted that a possible price for it could be closer to $200,000. So, color me impressed.
If you don’t have $125,000 laying in the walls of your home or at the bank, Grounded also offers a subscription model. For $2,300 a month (which Grounded says is “less than the median cost of rent across the U.S.”) and a 12-month contract, you can rent a Grounded G1. Grounded’s median rent claim seems to be based on 2022 data and the van is just $5 cheaper a month than median rent for the end of 2022.
That adds up to $27,600 a year. Sadly, the money you pay does not go towards the purchase of the van. Should you decide to purchase the van, the 12 months of payments do not pay down the purchase price.
However, Shapiro told me that if you stick with the subscription, you’ll benefit from always having the most updated van. So, when that 250-mile version comes out? Subscription holders will be able to get the new version while those who purchased outright will be stuck with what they have. Shapiro’s idea here is to make the camper van experience cheaper. You may not have $125,000, but maybe you could afford $2,300 a month for a year.
Another thing that I’m impressed by is the fact that despite opening up just last year, it’s already beating Winnebago to the market. The first Grounded G1 vans hit the road next month and if you want one, Grounded is taking $100 reservations right now. Perhaps even better is the fact that enough of them will exist next month that I will get to drive and play with a production example. I’m excited to be able to tell you all about it.
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