Winnebago believes the future of RVs, at some level, will involve electrification. The latest version of Winnebago’s experimental, Ford Transit-based camper is out and I got to drive it. The Winnebago eRV2 gave me a glimpse into what the future of RVing could look like and I love it.
RV manufacturers have been joining automotive manufacturers in trying to find ways to electrify the future. Airstream has a concept for a travel trailer with EV gear that assists its tow vehicle. Thor has an electric Transit camper concept. Bowlus has a camper that’s all-electric, and we’ve even seen plenty of concepts for trucks like the Rivian R1T or the Tesla Cybertruck. Last year, Winnebago presented its own concept for an electric camper van. During the 2022 Florida RV SuperShow, Winnebago showed off the eRV, a concept van created by the company’s Advanced Technology Group subsidiary.
That van (above) started life as a regular gas-powered Transit before eLightning Motors converted it to electric power. The first eRV had an estimated 125-mile range thanks to an 86-kWh battery pack, bigger than the 68-kWh pack found in Ford’s own E-Transit.
This year, Winnebago has announced a new version of the eRV. Dubbed the eRV2, this camper van is an evolution of the original. It’s not a camper that will be sold to the public. Instead, these vans are a part of a pilot program that will allow Winnebago to use public input to figure out the optimal van to sell to the public. I got to speak with the President of Winnebago Huw Bower as well as a company researcher and an engineer. You’ll see more of this later, but I’ve learned that the company is trying to reach that perfect balance between range, price, and features.
Winnebago’s Pilot Vehicle For A Future Van
The eRV2 is a huge overhaul from the original van. For starters, instead of going with a third-party converter, this van is built out of a Ford E-Transit. Unfortunately, this means that the range dropped from 125 miles to 108 miles. However, it does mean that it now has backing from Ford itself. Winnebago’s people also tell me that they are aware that 108 miles aren’t much, but remember, this is a prototype. Part of this pilot program involves figuring out what kind of range to eventually offer to the public.
The Ford E-Transit comes equipped with a 68-kWh 400V lithium-ion battery. Again, this is only good for about 108 miles of range in this 148-inch wheelbase and high roof configuration. Propelling the van is a motor providing 266 HP and 317 lb-ft torque. Winnebago’s reps tell me that the van weighs in at around 9,000 pounds. There’s a trick to this power system: it has a second battery. Housed in the van is a 15 kWh 48V battery from Lithionics Battery called the IonBlade.
The IonBlade has one job, and it’s a giant house battery. The camper portion of the van is fully electric from heating to cooking. Winnebago tells me that this battery is good for up to seven days of living off-grid.
The IonBlade, is thin and sits under the van’s floor. Winnebago says that the van’s main battery can charge from 15 percent to 80 percent in about 35 minutes, or the same as stock. The rep didn’t mention how fast the house battery charges.
The company had the engineer who designed the van’s electrical system on hand, and I asked him a few questions about the seven-day claim.
Are those seven days using just a morsel of power? Or could you actually be comfortable? The engineer informed me that to reach seven days you would have to be somewhat conservative. Seven days is based on you using the air-conditioner for no more than roughly two hours a day.
The calculation also assumes that you’ll be using the lower-power ceiling fan or having the windows open. Winnebago’s engineer further explained that it’s up to seven days assuming that your campsite is in a place that isn’t too hot or too cold, as either of those would likely see you using more power. The Winnebago eRV2 also comes with 900 watts of solar capacity thanks to curved panels on its roof. That seven-day figure assumes that you’ll get at least four hours of sunlight charging the battery each day.
As an example of how much power is in the house battery, the engineer told me that it could run the air-conditioner for 24 hours straight. He doesn’t mean 24 hours of the air-conditioner cycling on and off like normal, but the air-conditioner running for 24 hours. Part of that is due to the van’s 48-volt air-conditioner, which Winnebago says is 30 percent more efficient than the typical unit.
I love this. So long as you avoid power-hungry devices like that air-conditioner, you could sit in one place and not worry too much about power. Even better is the fact that this battery is separate, so driving to your campsite does not impact your boondocking time.
More Than Just A Giant House Battery
The interior is pretty awesome, too. Winnebago says that it’s inspired by modern Japandi, a fusion of Japanese and Scandinavian design. That’s to say that the interior is supposed to be clean, calming, and with multi-functional parts. Sure enough, there’s a five-way lounge on board that could be used for sleeping.
The interior also has hidden deployable work surfaces and a WiFi router for remote work. The multi-functional approach even applies to the wet bath. Normally, you have a cassette toilet and the shower in one.
However, Winnebago’s researcher tells me that a feature that they’re touting is the ability to remove the toilet completely so that you have a larger shower. Of course, since this is a toilet with its own black tank, you’ll be doing manual dumps. I think some of you called these types of toilets a “blackwater suitcase” and “the devil’s carry-on,” which is too funny.
Winnebago says that the interior is built out of recyclable and biodegradable materials:
Recycled materials are used extensively throughout the interior, including in the flooring, removable floor mats, WinnSleep mattress system, and trimming around the window frames. Cab seat coverings are made with renewable plant-based materials. Acrylic countertops are made from biodegradable materials. Unique broad color-spectrum lighting allows users to customize the interior lights from white to red, which helps to reduce light pollution and negative effects on native flora and fauna.
Personally, I found the interior roomy enough, and the surfaces felt pretty solid. I wouldn’t say that anything felt “luxurious,” but nothing felt like it was going to fall off after one good hit from a pothole. While the pictures don’t show it, there is an induction cooktop hidden in a drawer and a refrigerator. I’m told that the van holds about 25 gallons of fresh water and 18 gallons of gray water.
I should also note that while this is a prototype, it’s a fully-functional camper. Winnebago’s goal is to get people driving these things, then take the feedback to eventually create a production version. The company felt that the only way to do that is to build real campers and put them on the road.
Driving The eRV2
After I took a thorough tour of the eRV2, I hopped into the driver seat. I’ve piloted gas-powered Transits before and have enjoyed how they drive for commercial vans. The experience of driving an electric Transit was actually pretty delightful. My first observation was with the lack of an engine rumbling just in front of you. The van just silently powers on and awaits your departure.
From there, driving it is a mix of familiar and something new. Since it’s an EV, you get a mountain of torque from the jump. Remember, the 266 HP motor is moving 9,000 pounds of camper, so don’t expect a pull so hard that your cookware will become projectiles.
Instead, you get an initial kick followed by easy, controllable acceleration. A regular E-Transit accelerates to 60 mph in 6.4 seconds. I wasn’t able to time acceleration in this, but it’s definitely faster than you’d expect a commercial vehicle to be. That’s the part that felt new to me. I was used to how an ICE Transit drives, so it was wonderful to feel it as an EV. I also enjoyed the regenerative braking. You don’t quite get one-pedal driving, but in my test, it slowed itself down enough that I didn’t need to touch the brake pedal until the final moments before a stop.
What was familiar was the suspension. The Transit has long felt bouncy to me, especially when unloaded. That’s not surprising given that these vans are workhorses. The E-Transit underneath features MacPherson struts up front and coil springs and a semi-trailing arm suspension in the back. This van’s batteries help soften the ride, and it does tackle lighter bumps with some grace. However, give the van a sizable pothole and the eRV2 will remind you that you’re still driving a Transit. On potholes, it felt just a little bit like driving an unloaded pickup truck. Thankfully, the eRV2’s cabinetry locks closed so nobody is going to get smacked by a “world’s greatest dad” mug.
For me, there’s a lot of potential in this drivetrain. It was a quiet and peaceful drive. I could imagine putting in thousands of tranquil miles from that driver seat. Plus, there’s the benefit of not having to maintain an engine. Driving this Transit was about as easy as pointing a computer mouse and clicking. Add in the lack of a generator and you could quietly lay back and tune out the world.
However, with just 108 miles on tap, this isn’t a van for cross-country trips. Currently, the eRV2 is really for local trips to the beach or to your favorite town campground. Winnebago wouldn’t say what this van would cost as-is, but you can conclude that it would be very expensive. Camper vans equipped like this one would already set you back about $150,000. Add in the electric tech and you’re looking at closer to $200,000. That’s not a great proposition.
I spoke with Winnebago’s President Huw Bower as well as the engineer and the company’s researcher. Bower is proud of what the company has achieved already and is looking forward to what’s next. This pilot program is a huge part of that. Part of the researcher’s job is taking feedback from the public and using it to figure out the optimal van. Winnebago is expecting that the production version will have more miles of range. How many depends on what the public wants and is willing to pay for.
The company says that with current battery technology, adding more range means making the camper more expensive.
Sure, they could make a camper van that goes 250 miles on a charge, but would you be willing to pay more than $250,000 for it? Would you pay $300,000? Winnebago is trying to figure out the most miles it can provide without pricing too many buyers out. The engineer told me that an additional hurdle is the Ford E-Transit itself since the 108-mile range is due to the Ford part of the rig. Winnebago is waiting to see where Ford takes the next-generation E-Transit.
The eRV2’s True Potential
After I hopped out of the driver seat, I was excited. Sure, the drive was fairly straightforward. It drove like the big van that it is, just with electric power. What made me excited is the idea of being able to park somewhere and have days of power. No generators, no fuel, and no noise. You can also get to your destination in peace and quiet. I like the idea of that kind of future of RVing. But that may have to wait.
Winnebago says that it expects to have an idea of what the final configuration will look like later this year. Pricing has not been announced, but expect the production version to be more expensive than a regular gas-powered van. However, Winnebago’s people also stressed that there is no firm date on when that will be or even when production will begin. The company wants to make sure that the van will be a hit with its customers before sending it into the wild. Thus, more testing will be needed. Of course, Winnebago is also aware that charging infrastructure will be a factor, but it expects charging to improve.
All of that said, if our future is going to be electric, I like what it’s doing for RVs.
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