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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Why would you buy a camper with 100 mile range? Realistically that’s going to be 80 miles before you need to be at a charger and if you stay somewhere over night you better be close to one there too. This is a complete waste of money.
When you drive one, would you please take it across some scales for us?
I guess for some the range will be sufficient. But really, the more terrifying part is that you may be relying on some degree on an app.
How is this workable with the range? You couldnt even plan a day trip with that. LA to Palm Springs isn’t even possible and thats with NICE weather. Imagine it was cold and you’re running a bunch of stuff, you’re probably into the 60-70 range. I’ve always thought RV’s are good hybrid/PHEV candidates rather than full EV’s so the range is supplemented by EV rather than generated by it.
I agree. It also seems like a simple way to integrate a genset and large house battery.
I’m making over $13k a month working part time. I kept hearing other people tell me how much money they can make online so I decided to look into it. Well, it was all true and has totally changed my life.
That is what I do… https://c2d.in/joblive76
Are there enough E-Transits being produced for all these RV builders? I know the gas Transit has been impossible to get since Covid.
I like the concept of a modular, customizable interior. I dislike the idea of subscriptions and apps.
I am sure they will have their app and payment systems well-sorted. I also feel like the guy who wants to change a module will have a very difficult time finding them. If I were an RV dealer, I’d rather put another van or a few other trailers on my lot than filling an indoor storage space with expensive optional modules for a single low-volume conversion van.
They also claim your subscription won’t offset the purchase price. Although it may not apply directly to the price, the depreciation of a van that comes off lease stinking of influencer feet and hummus farts will be a real thing. More desirable newer models will also hit the resale on these. I can’t imagine they’ll be able to unload the returns for $100k. They may as well just apply some of the lease payments towards the purchase, hoping the current renter / resident chooses to keep it.
I was pretty interested until I saw the range. That is pretty sad and would never do for me. These guys have a nice little rig, but are seriously missing the boat without an ICE powered unit also.
I can’t see why they can’t do a version based on a gas Transit, without the app on top of being sold outright.
It would probably sell well – there has to be a market for an RV less pricey than Sportsmobile but not made in Elkhart out of scrap cardboard and chewing gum/designed to look like the Golden Girls’ living room.
My best guess is all of that is possible, even easy, but just not buzzwordy enough to get the venture capital they needed to get off the ground, but if you ask at the side door and don’t tell Sequoia Partners…
Perhaps they went for the Hopes and Dreams at Tesla, and then discovering reality, are chasing those elsewhere in different formats with VC funding (which is also chasing Hopes and Dreams).
68 kWh (usable) isn’t enough for a camper… plain and simple. Decent for last mile delivery (which is what eTransit was intended for) but way out of scope for this. I’ve heard rumors that the eTransit will get a larger battery option (~90kWh usable) probably borrowed from another platform. However…. this brings another problem. All eTransits top out at ~9500lbs GVWR to keep it Class 2. That doesn’t leave a lot of useable headroom if the larger pack weighs more and you want to load this camper with equipment, gear, tanks of water, etc…
that is a penalty box. as other commenters have mentioned, the vertical walls steal a ton of interior space, and lack of windows make this a cave in anything but fantastic weather. no way would i want to live in a tiny pod like that if there was a week of rain or cold and i couldn’t open those doors give me windows and a skylight.
100 mile range chassis is set up for package delivery. If you’re gonna run a camper with a/c in the summer or heat in the winter you better bring a good gen set and fuel reserves.
Yep! And this would 100% happen… probably to one of the first customers of this…
I didn’t know what a dry flush toilet was so I read up on it.
A litter genie for humans? Sounds like a upgraded Homer Bucket with a trash bag. No thanks.
The concept is there. For me the issues are the range (tech will catch up) and the size.
Class B looks good on paper, but considering the cargo capacity (remember driver passengers are cargo) tops out around 600 lbs. So the spouse and a box of tissues.
Then there is the size. Want to move back to front with both people using it? Someone is going outside first. Not to mention a rolling divorce waiting to happen.
Granted you should get the camper that matches your style, this one doesn’t match mine. I can see this a day tripper or you just want tent that is always setup and you don’t spend time in it beyond sleeping.
How do these costs stack up against hotel rooms within 100 miles of your house?
I can’t imagine ever using one of these. When I’m in the wood mountain biking all day if I’m only 100 miles from home that’s where I’ll be sleeping. If I’m 200 miles from home I rent a cabin in the woods.
I guess these things aren’t for me.
“…seating for anywhere from two to eight occupants…”
Well that settles it, I go mountain biking on my own, so I’d have nowhere to sit.
Who stays in a hotel room 100 miles from home? That’s a day trip, why waste money staying staying overnight when you can be back in your own bed in a couple hours or less?
I guess if it’s for work and they scheduled a meeting for 7am and you don’t want to get up early enough to drive that first thing
Who stays in a van 100 miles from home?
So like, what do you do with a camper with 108 miles of range?
I’m not a seasoned RVer but I’ve gone along on a couple of RV trips with friends, and I get that RVs aren’t as good to drive as cars, so maybe you tend to go slower in an RV and do fewer miles per day…but stopping to charge every hundred miles?!
And maybe the charging situation is vastly improving, but it feels like there are plenty of outdoorsy spots that just wouldn’t be accessible at all with that range. I just looked at ChargeHub and at one point the chargers along I-70 in Utah are 107 miles apart, between Salina and Green River. Good thing this’ll have an extra one mile of charge left in the tank as you coast into the next charging station. Ok, so it does look like there’s a charger up in Castle Dale, but going off the interstate and way up there will add 50 miles and an hour of driving.
I dunno, I guess maybe these will find a niche on islands where people want to try the #vanlife but aren’t going long distances? Prince Edward Island? Oahu?
Yeah, the 108-mile range is a dealbreaker in this application.
Ford likely expects most E-Transits to be used either for city delivery with lots of idle time to cut out and lots of starts-and-stops for opportunites to pick up regen, or as rolling toolboxes that go to a jobsite and stay there for the day. In those use cases, the decision to go electric will be made by unsentimental TCO-focused fleet managers. Essentially it’s the opposite of the RV market and application, which I fully expect to be the last van-chassis job to electrify.
The pricing shows how much of a markup there is on campers at present.
108 miles is still a bit low. Even in the Northeast and New England there are places the house battery would need to limp it along to a charger. The next iteration should be much better.
“Interior pieces are crafted out of Baltic Birch”
I get that the manufacturer wants a warm-looking and sustainable interior, and the G1’s does look great, but how much weight could be saved if they replaced all that wood (phrasing) with carbon fiber and/or other lightweight materials?
Given the existing power constraints, it seems like they should be making a concerted effort to reduce weight while including the features buyers want. A lighter vehicle should allow increased range with the same batteries. The weight reduction might not be dramatic, but every little bit helps – and they could position the carbon fiber version as the high-end option.
Remember the acid dipped roofs in Nascar back in the day? We could apply the same concept and let some termites have a go at the wood. After they have reduced the mass by the desired amount, throw some pesticides in there!
$2300 is less than the median rent in the US????
Depending on who you get for news, apparently it was $2,305 at the end of last year. We aren’t a housing site, but that seems high!?
Even at today’s elevated rates, that’s almost a $400,000 mortgage. Shocking to this Midwesterner, but maybe everyone living on a coast is laughing at my surprise.
$400k gets a 1800 sf new build with zero options on a quarter acre in my area of western NY. Housing is nuts now.
$400k around Boston will maybe get you a 0.08 – 0.1 acre lot (last time I saw one go for that was 4-5 years ago though and the market has only shot way up) but more than likely you will be buying a $750k+ house just to demo it to build new. If someone is building something as “small” as 1,800 sq ft, it is going to be a 55+ condo development and those in town are sitting at $1.6 million, plus nearly $1k a month in fees. An average, somewhat remodeled early 1930’s-’50s home that is maybe 1,800 sq ft, 3/4 beds 1.5 baths (likely no garage, or at least one that will even fit a modern car) on less than 0.1 acres will set you back at least $800k and if in good neighborhood and condition, likely over $1m, and they still sell very fast.
True. The only local sales near $400k in the past few years have either been tear-downs or torn down to the studs for interior remodels.
What really blows my mind is how the people outside Boston pay $800K for a teardown then build an enormous, hideous, gable-encrusted turd in its place.
I am a coaster, and can tell you that the rent out here is atrocious. $2300 is sadly median where I am. I write this from a shared living situation due to the costs.
Having never lived outside the Midwest, not paid rent since 2008 and been in my current home since 2015, I have to repeat my shock at some of these numbers.
There are 44 million renters in the US. It beggars belief that 22 million of them pay over $2300 for rent a month, but I guess that’s the country we live in. It does make one regret not buying some rental property a few years ago though.
There’s not much undeveloped land near east coast cities, so new apartment units aren’t being built. There’s also a fair amount of tourism, so existing stock is often scooped up by Airbnb landlords.
In my small town in central California the cheapest house we’ve seen come on the market is $600k. Most are $800k+. Our rent is $1900 and it is considered an absolute deal. We’ll probably move back to the Midwest in a couple years, it’s ridiculous that as an engineer my take-home wouldn’t cover a mortgage.
There are four active single family listings in my town. Average listing price is $1,180,000. This is not in a terribly desirable area.
I rented out my townhouse (1000sf, 2br) when I moved out of it in 2015 for about $2000/month plus utilities. That was more than my mortgage and WAY more than the mortgage would be if you bought in that down market. Rents have only gone up since then.
Sportsmobile and Field Vans ( https://fieldvan.com/ ) have been doing van conversions for decades. If you brought them a Ford E-van, they would upfit it. The difference with this startup is a cleaner, more-contemporary aesthetic and their proprietary software and subscription service (not necessarily a positive/improvement).
Bigger picture, with all EV RVs, remains the use case where they end up being stored for weeks or months, at a time. To the challenges with mice and other critters, you now have to keep multiple batteries charged up, often in a remote storage lot (Google “RV storage”). Much like how charging at home makes EV ownership more realistic, storing an ERV at home would be “simpler”, but comes with physical, governmental, and, often, HOA “hurdles” that may prove insurmountable..
If any of these come with a solar panel, it could essentially work as a trickle charger, no? That way it keeps things topped off when it starts to go down.
Lithiums have a pretty low self-discharge. Assuming 5%/mo (on the high side, but sane for LFP+BMS that’s not necessarily designed to minimize self-discharge), you’d need about a 25W panel to generally keep up. Or maybe more like 50W to have some extra margin.
Of course, at 5%/mo it’s also fine to just leave it for a year as long as it’s not stored too far from a charging source.
Subscription? Doesn’t RV America already rent campers?
It does! Though, renting one of those long-term gets ridiculous. Just checked pricing, and a Cruise America camper in my area runs $156 a night, or $4,680 a month.
Then again, this thing locks you into a 12 month contract, so as long as your time with the other rental is under $27k you technically come out “on top”… if that’s something you could even say about rentals.
Come to think of it, this concept would work way better if it used a box truck as the base vehicle.
It isn’t that impressive.
The ‘modularity’ comes from having walls that are plumb. Easy to manufacture the modules because most panels are perpendicular to each other, but it looks like you lose a lot of interior volume for storage and sense of space. Examples: the recess the East/West bed fits in on both sides of the van and in the first picture, at the sliding door, it looks like the wall is 4-5″ inboard of the van wall and looking from the rear, you see how the walls are inboard so that they are purely vertical. Not to mention, there are no windows in the rear, except in the doors. Of the 3 full sized vans, the Promaster is the widest and has the most vertical walls, it seems to be better suited for this concept… I believe and electric version is on the horizon.
Why did Shapiro struggle so much with issues in an ICE powered van? Vans use the same technology as all the other cars and trucks on the road. I won’t buy a van from a guy who couldn’t dial in his own vehicle.
So many places seem to laud ex-Tesla and ex-SpaceX engineers. There are a lot of them and at varying calibers. Both companies work the tails off their engineers without overtime. So many go there with hopes and dreams and end up jaded and with just another line on their resume.
Personally, the thing that fascinated me is that there are apparently a number of those engineers who quit Tesla/SpaceX then eventually came to the conclusion that there should be a Tesla-inspired camper out there. Though, perhaps I shouldn’t be fascinated, people leave their jobs and start a business all of the time.
I will hopefully see next month if what these engineers have cooked up is worth a spot in the driveway.
“I will hopefully see next month if what these engineers have cooked up is worth a spot in the driveway. ”