Home » I Drove Winnebago’s New Electric Camper Van And It Excites Me About The Future Of RVs

I Drove Winnebago’s New Electric Camper Van And It Excites Me About The Future Of RVs

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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.

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Winnebago

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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This surface converts into a work desk!

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.

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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

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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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31 Responses

  1. The logical solution, is for it to eventually be marketed with a small battery trailer which you hook up behind it. That will allow another 350 kg or so of batteries, and still keep under the 500 kg limit (in Europe) of having to register the trailer and get it inspected every two years.
    Or, given the target customer will probably have some experience towing caravans / boats, go for a larger trailer with a tonne of batteries and enough space for mother in law’s tent…
    In Europe Ford markets the diesel Transit with a 4×4 option, so having that with electric should not be too big and will help with the weight of the trailer.
    It is interesting how battery trailers, which were once seen as the solution to many EV woes, have gone completely away — wonder why?

    1. The answer on this is that they take out 20 year loans to pay for them.

      “The loan term and details for financing a new or used RV or camper are very similar. On average, RV loans range from 10-15 years, but many banks, credit unions and other finance companies will extend the term up to 20 years for loans of $50,000 or more on qualified collateral.”
      https://www.macu.com/loans/vehicle-loans/rv

    2. I’m with you, there! If the attendance at this show is any suggestion, the kinds of buyers for expensive RVs seems to be retirees and people with six figure salaries.

      1. A 72 month loan at 5% for $150,000 is almost $2500 a month. Even a typical 6 figure earner is likely going to question adding what amounts to an extra mortgage payment for a fast-depreciating toy.

        I’m surprised there’s enough people out there willing to do so to keep these RV companies in business.

        1. Good point but you forgot the down payment. Old folks sell a solid brick and mortar house that appreciates every year. To purchase a RV that loses money every year. But they like it and if they die in it they win

  2. This is a good concept and I agree it needs more that 100 miles of range to be a day tripper.

    Give it a few years for the batteries and infrastructure to catch up and these will become good alternatives.

    Unlike a car, I can see this a pull into a charging station, grab a nap, make some food, use the head, etc. Both you and the van are ready to good.

    Still too small to a RV for myself with 3 people to sleep in for extended stays.

    As for the cost. Other than bad decisions (20 year loan, um no). Once you add up a tow vehicle and cost of a trailer that is not a fall apart instantly model, it works out about the same.

    RVing is a travel choice. Some folks like tents and complete disconnects, some like hotels, other like the idea of taking the vacation home on the road with everything they need. It is matter of finding out what you like and what works for you.

  3. I personally love EVs and don’t plan on ever buying a gasoline powered vehicle ever again, but this application just doesn’t make sense with the current battery technology and charging infrastructure. Instead, why not integrate the 48V house-battery system and solar cells into a gasoline powered Transit or other RV platform? You get all the campground benefits of clean, quiet, convenient power, with the travel benefits of being able to get wherever you want to go easily and quickly.

    1. Agreed – seems like a hybrid or plug-in hybrid propulsion setup paired with the house battery and solar panels is the sweet spot. Still crazy efficient, quiet in camp with no generator but with better range options and power backup.

  4. Im a little disappointed that the house battery system is just another off-the shelf setup. A big company like Winnebago should be able to collaborate with Ford more heavily to make the high and low voltage systems work in concert a little more. You’re going to feel pretty stupid, for example, stranded on the side of the road with 15kw of power that can’t get you the last few miles to your campsite or charger. I guess you could always use the inverter to plug it a level 1 charger, but that seems to DYI for what should be a way more complete solution.

    1. With all due respect, if this were a product it would be a really bad idea to tie the propulsion and house batteries together. The average user would either by accident or intent tie the two together, run down the batteries, and then wait a month of sunny days to recharge their now-joined batteries.

      Maybe, MAYBE if the current flow could be limited to flow from the house battery to the propulsion battery AND the system limited this discharge to, oh, I don’t know, 50% of the house battery’s capacity, this might be okay as an emergency-only option.

      1. Is the assumption that someone who would draw down the house batteries for traction wouldn’t also draw down the house batteries? Someone who abuses batteries like that would also do it for AC and other loads. Also, wouldn’t it be beneficial in that case to have some kind tie from the traction battery so that the house loads get some charge everytime you charge the traction battery?

        1. We and other readers of this site more or less understand how automotive systems function. Not fair to say that for the general population. In my experience, put a bunch of kids and dogs in an RV and you will see Murphy’s Law put into practice in inventive and flabbergasting ways. For example, we’re boondocking and came back from a hike to dead house batteries because the AC was on with the windows open. “We’re on battery power?” I could go on.

          Charging is a different story. Charge the propulsion battery first, and then when that’s topped off charge the house battery. The charge controller in my Sprinter does this but reversed. It fills the house batteries, and then tops off the starter battery if needed.

  5. I would be willing to invest large sums of my meager retirement savings that this as written about fails at the level square wheels. A camper RV with 100 miles range? Hey kids hop in the camper we are going to Disney World. Leave house drive 100 miles still in PA. Cant run any appliances need to charge up. Well leave the 2nd day make it to DC and stop to recharge. The 3rd day NC. The 4th day “Sorry kids we need to turn back so dad can get to work on Monday.
    I would bet an ICE Motor moving the RV using solar and regenerating braking to charge batteries to allow our brain dead family to use all kinds of electronic devices when they stop for the night will be the RV King. It is amazing anyone thinks a 100 miles is far enough. In PA many people rent a space year round and park or build a camping homestead they leave on site. Costs about $5k for a cheap mobile or shipping container and $1200 for year round camping space.

  6. God bless Winnie for the effort. Obviously this is not ready for prime time. Way more range is needed.

    At the same time, as a newly minted RVer, it’s amazing and fun how on board solar and battery systems have advanced, and made roughing it much less rough out in the boondocks.

    1. Yeah, you can do a lot with 500-1000W of solar panels, especially if you pair them with battery storage! HVAC and cooking will take a toll on a small system like that, but other than those it’s possible to have pretty much all the comforts of home, especially if your living space is small and efficiently designed.

  7. Definitely a step in the correct direction. But 100 miles of range is a tough pill to swallow.

    I’d love to hear more about the electric HVAC and induction cooktop.

  8. Smart of Winnebago to pitch this as a concept rather than a product.

    I’ve wondered what the range of an eTransit would be kitted-out as an RV. Now we know. 100 miles is under optimum conditions. We like to use our Sprinter in the winter, so we’d be looking at maybe 70 miles of range at 32 degrees F in the eRV2.

    Lots of discussion on the RV forums about the Coleman 48-volt AC and its efficiency claims. Winnebago uses a 48-volt AC in its Travato vans. Supposedly, the gains come from ditching the 12-volt DC-to-120 AC inverter, and running the AC straight from the 48-volt lithium pack.

    900 watts from the solar panels is optimistic. 900 watts may be what they’re rated to produce, but in practice, no. From experience, curved and/or flexible solar panels produce for a short time. Maybe there’s been progress in this area.

    But I get it; the eRV2 is a discussion starter. It needs a breakthrough in battery energy density or some serious consulting from Autopian reader Toecutter to be a viable product.

  9. I like the look of the vertical grain. Newspaper around the window is a nice touch
    We have Transit work vans and they do ride better loaded, but I agree that they don’t like rough pavement. An electric one would at least be quieter, but I suspect it wouldn’t be much fun in long stretches off pavement. I do wonder what their feedback will be like.

    This could be unconscious sour grapes as I’ll never spend six figures on an RV, mind.

  10. I’d think a PHEV would be the way to go here. A small, quiet, high efficiency REX to provide heat and power, ideally with cylinder deactivation so it could be run on 1 cylinder for stationary use and on 2-3 for mobile needs.

  11. The present and near future of electric vans is multi-stop delivery, where relatively few total miles are put on with lots of stops and starts to regen power, lots of idling to eliminate and a return to base, and the product decision made by unsentimental, TCO-focused fleet managers.

    RVs will be the last major van application to electrify.

      1. I don’t see it. That much battery would be insanely expensive, insanely heavy, and eat up a lot of the storage space you normally find in a class A. Class A’s are also about worst-case scenario for an EV since aerodynamics are a huge part of EV efficiency. That’s why almost every EV has a Prius-like teardrop shape.

  12. The ideal RV to me is a hybrid. Gas for the long haul, electric for efficiency, and an inverter for camping power. Without a long-haul capability, it just isn’t enough. However, there is no mention that charging at a campground would be a viable option.

  13. RVs seem like basically the hardest type of vehicle to effectively electrify. Their whole raison d’etre is about traveling long distances and living off-grid for long stretches of time. I get that not all RVers are doing multiple thousand-mile days in a row and sleeping at primitive campgrounds, but even so, the average use-case is a lot closer to that than what your typical daily-driver car has to contend with. If the typical defense of limited-range EVs involves asking the question, “How often do you really go on long road trips, anyway?” the answer for RVs is, “Basically every time I leave the driveway.”

    Meanwhile, RVs are heavy, boxy, and have huge frontal cross sections, none of which helps with the range problem. They’re also expensive to the point that few people can afford to buy one new, and as we’ve seen time and time again, electrifying vehicles doesn’t exactly reduce their up-front cost. You can make it back in reduced fuel and maintenance bills if you drive a lot, but RVs typically just sit stationary most of the year, in between the one or two big trips that they get taken out on. Full-time RVers can certainly rack up the miles, but this clearly isn’t aimed at that set.

    It’s not that I don’t think an electric RV would be cool—it totally would be. I just think that when you look at what RVs are and how they’re used, there’s a lot working against them here. As others have suggested, I think a hybrid drivetrain would make way more sense given current technology. There’d be no need to separate the house and traction batteries, you could run an inverter that would enable you to have a house-style 240/120 AC system (which is more efficient and would give access to a wider set of appliances), and with bidirectional charging you could get some value out of your dormant RV by using it as a battery backup system whenever you’re not on the road. (It would be more useful than the same system in e.g. an F-150 Lightning, as you wouldn’t have to power your house down to go get groceries, and the tradeoff between household backup and vehicle range would be much less of an issue.) And, of course, you could dramatically improve the vehicle’s range and mileage.

    Hybrid RVs make a ton of sense. BEV RVs just don’t, yet. I’m sure they will eventually, but the technology just isn’t there yet. What we’re looking at here is a neat concept that explores the possibilities that might be available in the future, but I have a hard time believing that it’s anywhere close to being ready for prime time.

    1. The idea of the F150s power system is a good one. You could link it to a relatively small turbocharged petrol engine (or a rotary if you want to go full Mazda-by-way-of-a-locomotive) and keep the battery reasonably small. That compromises the battery backup potential a bit but what if you linked it to the solar panels? With a South facing driveway in a bright place you could add some generation capacity to your house as well.

  14. I do a lot of RV/TT camping and most people I meet live within 45-60 minutes of the campground/RV park. Cost doesn’t seem to be a factor either, as it’s common for popular campgrounds to be booked years in advance, and are filled with new trucks/trailers and RVs (not junky old stuff).

  15. As someone who has daily driven an EV for the last 3 years and has had a camper trailer (and the pickup to tow it with) for the last 12 years – and actually used that camper 2 weeks a year off grid most of those years…

    …this EV camper van is DOA for the vast majority of RV buyers at this range and price.

    For comparison – with no external hookups or battery charging whatsoever my well kept $16,000 17 year old Dodge pickup pulling a well kept $4000 20 year old 23′ camper trailer with a pair of $1000 Honda EU2000 suitcase generators, a BBQ tank of propane and ten gallons of regular gas will run the roof A/C for 5 hours a day wide open, max blast in the 100 degree desert heat for 2 straight weeks, and run the furnace for heat every night down to 30 degrees for that same 2 weeks while using that propane to cook two meals a day, every day and run the refrigerator freezer and hot water heater as well.

    $150k-$200k for 100 miles of range between charges and ~24 hours of A/C use is pointless for literally everyone I know who actually uses their campers to go places beyond day trips – and the range is so short on this that it couldn’t even handle many of those day trips without a recharge, which really limits where you can take it.

  16. I am all for not having to listen to generators in campgrounds. I think with the nature of those who buy campers, EVs will be a difficult sell for a long time. I wish them all the luck.

    1. If it was a hybrid RV with an oh, let’s say 25kW battery pack that both provided propulsion/regenerative braking and also powered the house systems, with a 120V inverter (perhaps upgradeable to 240V if you wanted to be able to run your actual house off of it in a power outage) to take the place of a generator, you could have that quiet campground experience, significantly improve the RV’s gas mileage, and keep everything charged up off of the gas tank with zero hassle. I’m no engineer, but I feel like there are a lot of advantages to that kind of setup.

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