Home » The Airstream eStream Is A Revolutionary EV-Powered Camper That Can Help Tow And Park Itself

The Airstream eStream Is A Revolutionary EV-Powered Camper That Can Help Tow And Park Itself

Estream Top

The RV industry is enjoying an incredible boom as Americans choose to hit the open road as opposed to staying in resorts and hotels. Some manufacturers are using this time to introduce innovative concepts for the future and Airstream’s showing off what is quite possibly the smartest RV/camper of the modern day.

This week, I’m at the RV Open House in Elkhart, Indiana. All kinds of RV manufacturers are here, from the country’s largest conglomerates to tiny independents, and they’re trying to entice dealerships with the best fare that they can put on the road. I’ve found many awesome campers here, including adorable pocket-sized fiberglass trailers and fifth wheels with more than a single story and multiple bedrooms.

20220926 195409

But the majority of the RVs at the Open House are just different flavors of the same thing. They take a box, bolt some wheels to it, and fill it out like a tiny apartment. You might see neat tricks like a power awning, a big bathroom, or a chandelier, but few features will really blow you away.

One trailer stands out as moving the needle on camper innovation the farthest, and it’s the Airstream eStream.

20220927 113431

I wrote about this concept earlier this year, but seeing it in person among literal hundreds of those other campers really illustrates just how much potential Airstream has to change the RV game.

On the surface, the Airstream eStream is just like the company’s other trailers. It’s 22 feet of gorgeous aluminum that sleeps up to four. It looks cute inside, too.

20220927 113336

Airstream wouldn’t let me physically step into its functional eStream prototype, and apparently, the company decided not to do any demonstrations during the Open House. But its rep did let me lean in. I love this interior.

But the interior isn’t the headlining feature here. Instead, it’s what’s below the floor that Airstream wants to talk about.

20220927 113345

Located under the trailer is an 80 kWh battery pack feeding a pair of electric motors. Together, they make a combined 242 horsepower and 132 lb-ft torque. Airstream says that this EV setup has two main benefits.

The first is that the eStream assists the tow vehicle in hauling it. When you punch the accelerator in your tow vehicle, the eStream’s powertrain gives an assist. Airstream’s reps tell me that the goal is to assist, not to push the tow vehicle or even match the tow vehicle’s output. So the tow vehicle will always be doing the towing, but the trailer’s drivetrain will be lending a hand to make things easier.

20220927 113411

This alone is a huge innovation. It doesn’t matter if your tow vehicle is powered by gasoline or by electricity, towing a camper drags down your range. There are now countless EV towing tests out there and each one has roughly the same result: The tow vehicle loses around half of its range towing a boat, cargo trailer, or camper.

Of course, that’s similar to an ICE vehicle, where hauling a camper can put a big dent in fuel economy. Even my little 1,100-lb U-Haul camper takes my Volkswagen Touareg VR6’s normally 18-20 mpg and sends it down to about 11-12 mpg.

Img 7704 1536x1152

The great thing about the eStream is that its EV system is self-contained, so that it can help any tow vehicle get better range, regardless of how that tow vehicle is powered.

This technology has been in development for four years, with German RV company Dethleffs (owned by Airstream parent company Thor Industries) and ZF road testing the E.Home camper.

9c1cb6e289590ce8e8562f4c2f7a901b
Dethleffs

The E.Home has about the same specs as the eStream, and as a test, Dethleffs hooked it up to an Audi e-tron Sportback. This is a vehicle with an EPA range of 218 miles. In testing, it and the E.Home drove 240 miles crossing the Alps, using up 82 kWh of its 95 kWh battery. The E.Home used up 74 kWh of its 80 kWh battery.

9f1e0d7708a0569fffb0f4a423b9d154
Dethleffs

With an EV, this means that a road trip with a camper doesn’t have to stop at a charger nearly as often. And with an ICE, you’ll stop at the pump less, leaving your bank account a little fatter. It’s a win for everyone.

And that’s not all. Another awesome feature of the eStream is that it can park itself.

Estream Remote
Airstream

Parking a travel trailer can really suck. Over the years I’ve learned that parking spots at campgrounds and storage facilities can often require deep focus as you navigate your rig with just small amounts of clearance in just about every direction. I can slip a trailer or bus through spaces so small that I’ve surprised myself. But my parents? Things haven’t gone as smoothly for them.

Earlier this year, my parents bought a 2022 Heartland Mallard M33 (another Thor camper). The lengthy trailer hasn’t been on a single real camping trip yet because my dad damaged it the very first time that he took it out. It was also broken and rusting on delivery, too.

20220820 190425

He was trying to fit the trailer into its storage space when bam, dad dragged the awning across a pole. Because of RV parts shortages, my parents have only gotten it fixed recently, just in time to put it away for the winter.

The eStream solves parking problems by being able to park itself. You disconnect the trailer from your tow vehicle, then pull out your phone. You can then control the trailer like an R/C car with your phone with a full view of the camper’s surroundings. No more constant hopping in and out, no more spotters, and no more damage.

20220927 113359

And perhaps the coolest thing about all of this is that Airstream tells me that this is not just a concept. The company is committed to putting this on American roads, and soon. Airstream tells me that the timeline isn’t “next week,” but “next generation.” Put plainly, expect a wait of at least two years.

20220927 113340

20220926 172914

I just love that this is going into production at all. It used to be said that the technology of a current year luxury car will be the technology an everyday car will have ten years later. I hope that’s the case here, and that a camper that can help its tow vehicle one day becomes a feature that you can have in just about any camper.

Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on whatsapp
WhatsApp
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on linkedin
LinkedIn
Share on reddit
Reddit

53 Responses

  1. If you have an EV towing this, would it not be better to have a specialized cord that connects to the tow vehicle? This way the tow vehicle has major amount of additional kW battery capacity. Maybe even have the option to order the RV without electric motors to reduce weight.

  2. In Europe (NL/DE/UK anyways) the caravan mover is very popular for quite some time now (+15 yrs), especially amongst the older people using caravans. A small motor with rollers in front of each wheel and a 12V battery. You use it for the last meters to park it in the right spot. You put the rollers against the tire and via a remote control you can precisely pin point your caravan on the desired location. When you pull it behind the car, you remove the rollers from the tire.

    1. I know it is not the same thing, but this brings to mind the little generator I had as a kid that ran off of rollers driven by my bicycle tires that powered a headlight. I just remember struggling uphill with that stupid light surging as I peddled. Hahaha.

    2. I have seen these in the USA and I Can see it for trailers (RV, Car trailers, etc). Get it close, use this for the final position. Also useful to line up the hitch. Too many times I have spend more time lining up than towing.

  3. I want a small self-contained generic trailer hub-wheel-motor unit that I can install on any utility or boat trailer.
    Even if it just has power for 10 minutes, I could move my boat around my garage or tuck a utility trailer into just the right spot.

  4. So now people can have a $25K battery sitting in their driveway that they use about a week a year. At the end of 8 years, the battery will be down to half its capacity and they will have made 7 trips to Big Bear with it.

    The only way this makes sense if it’s somehow it has capability of hooking up to the house during an outage, or part of a solar solution.

    Pass.

    1. If prices follow the predicted trajectory, the battery cost ought to be less than $10k, but you’re bigger point is bang on: until there are zero supply constraints, the best use for batteries are not in trailers that spend almost all of their time parked.

    2. It successfully distracted you from the fact that the prospective owner is wastefully dragging tons of shit from place to place for their own selfish purposes to the detriment of everybody around them. So I guess you could say it is doing its job perfectly.

    3. >>So now people can have a $25K battery sitting in their driveway that they use about a week a year. At the end of 8 years, the battery will be down to half its capacity and they will have made 7 trips to Big Bear with it.<<

      Lithium batteries hold their charge pretty well I believe.

      1. unfortunately, they don’t. they degrade with time even if you just park them. if you can get 200K miles on them before they degrade, then it might be worth it. In this case? Not a chance.

        plus a fun fact that I won’t give the answer to because it will just be refuted. how many pounds of earth do you have to strip mine to get a car battery? It’s a shame that more people have never asked that question.

    4. I dunno, I see it as a perfect compliment to a solar array / house backup system, especially at that capacity. Moreso than an electric car that might need to do other duties more often.

      1. Agreed: if the battery in the trailer is grid-tied and cutting your electric costs and potentially powering your house during outages, it makes sense. But as a stand alone trailer battery? Nope.

    5. I have a 8 year old Tesla with about 90,000 miles. It has lost less than 20% of the original battery capacity. Based on the degradation curves I have seen published there is an early period of more rapid degradation then slower after that. Losing 50% in 8 years is not a reasonable estimate.

      1. My 7+ year old S has lost about 4% over 70,000 miles, which puts it about the 50th percentile for cars with similar mileage (according to TeslaFi). 50% loss is nonsense.

        Is a trailer that just sits the best use of a battery? Obviously not. Is a trailer that is actually used, and that makes its tow vehicle more efficient, while also being easier to use and park, a good idea? Absolutely.

    6. I was kind of hoping that the batteries would take the place of a generator for self-contained electricity. That way it CAN be used with a home electrical system.

      It’s great that it will up the mileage of your tow vehicle, but how often do you tow? How about a cost/analysis study?

      I think Airstream missed the mark entirely.

  5. Seems like sway control while towing would be another application of this technology, since the trailer must be able to power each wheel independently if it can turn corners while parking.

  6. It’s undoubtedly cool, but just throwing more batteries (let alone weight and cost) at the problem just doesn’t seem like the right play.

    I’m not mad at it, but in terms of best bang for the buck electrification, this is so far down the list.

    1. certainly seems like it should have solar panels on to roof panels and be charging those batteries to then hook to your Lightning at night. DC fast connection and all. I mean if it is just going to be sitting out there and all.

  7. Can the battery in the Airstream be hooked up to the tow vehicle to increase range that way?

    Can the wheels of the Airstream be used to charge the batteries, which are then hooked up to the tow vehicle to increase range another way?

    1. >>Can the battery in the Airstream be hooked up to the tow vehicle to increase range that way?<>Can the wheels of the Airstream be used to charge the batteries, which are then hooked up to the tow vehicle to increase range another way?<<

      Conservation of Energy says that won't work.

  8. “Located under the trailer is an 80 kWh battery pack feeding a pair of electric motors.”

    While I love the idea of parking the trailer via RC controller, that’s a Model 3 worth of batteries sitting idle 51 weeks out of the year. Given the likely shortages of battery material in the near future, I’m not sure this is a good use of it. :-/

    The fact that they admitted it’s not coming anytime soon makes me think they’re not sure this is viable either. I give it 50-50 odds of ever showing up on a dealer lot.

    1. Well, like most things, the higher the demand goes the more alternatives they will come up with. They are already working on new technology that uses less rare metals. You make a good point though that either way this will be sitting more than being utilized. What if you can plug it into your home and solar charging system to help power your home when not solar charging?

  9. The all electric R5, due in a year or so from Renault will have tech which allows it to discharge into the grid, with the idea being that at peak demand, a couple of thousand of them will boost the grid, possibly enough to avoid firing up a diesel genie or other emergency measure.
    Once the peak has passed you charge it up again. Of course the idea is you get loads of dosh for the peak 10 minutes or however long it takes, and buy the power back later at lower rates…
    A caravan doing the same thing makes a lot of sense — lets hope they are talking to Renault!

  10. The battery position is a super cool and efficient use of what would otherwise be dead space. The towing assistance use of the battery is universally useful and I like that it works regardless of what car you’re towing with. (Let’s be honest, not a lot of EVs are going to be doing regular towing anytime soon)

    The parking assist is a brilliant idea that actually fixes a problem that needs fixing

    1. I would guess that improved stability in crosswinds might be another benefit that comes with a slab of batteries under the floor? It’s not mentioned in the article but I assume you could also use the battery pack to power appliances when you’re not connected to shore power too?

    2. A lot of that “dead space” between frame rails is actually used by holding tanks (potable, gray, and black water), plumbing, and sometimes mechanical equipment. I do wonder where they fit the tanks on this model.

      Getting all of that battery weight down low will help with towing dynamics. Though I didn’t see Mercedes mention how much the battery added to the trailer weight (or a total weight). The power addition does sound like it will essentially make the trailer seem lighter for the tow vehicle. Possibly even integrate with tow-haul mode in a vehicle to assist with traction and stability control.

  11. Multiple observations. First, much like the tow vehicle, the ability to charge where one stores the RV, between trips, will be critical. Having a farm with a solar array would be different than a suburban gravel RV storage lot with no place to plug in. Two, this has the potential to either supplement or replace the backup batteries that can make home solar truly independent from the grid. Three, the prototype doesn’t appear to have any propane tanks, so are cooking and HVAC going “green”/all-electric, as well? Switching to a convection cooktop, electric refrigerator, heat pump for heating and cooling, and a combination microwave/toaster oven? With zero solar panels on the trailer, itself, what I’m mostly seeing are dollar signs and glamping, a lot of pissed-off people at public charging stations, and no real ability to do any extensive boondocking.

    1. If you are bucking up for a massive battery pack, you better be able to ditch the propane tank! Agree that the omission of solar panels is a big miss, if just to keep the thing trickle charging when not in use.

    2. Charging, good points, and even can cause issues with current RVs when/where stored. As for solar, I don’t see a lot of these boondocking. Even so, I park the trailer in the shade and run an extension cord out to a portable array in the sun. Allows me to get the trailer in the best spot for it, and the panels in the best spot/alignment for them.

      Yes, as you and others have said, being able to use this as a house battery when not camping could solve a few issues and I can see that as a future selling point. Also see it as a “home upgrade” tax write-off for some creative accountants.

      If I’m splurging on an electric Airstream, you better bet I’m not dealing with propane anymore! Induction cooktops have become more common in vans and RVs the last couple of years. Need a rather large battery to power them, but this would be no issue here. Similar with the heat pumps.

    3. With an 80KWh battery on board, running a fridge, induction cooktop, and microwave/toaster oven would hardly put a dent in it. Maybe 2-3KWh per day tops, and probably more like 1-2KWh. Climate control is trickier even with something high-efficiency, and I could see 5-10KWh per day if it’s really hot or especially if it’s really cold.

      I’d personally not just add solar panels, but design the layout where possible to maximize panel space. That size trailer normally has maybe 100-200W on the roof, but you could squeeze in more like 2KW with carefully integrated design. Add slide-out solar awnings, and you’re at more like 4-5KW. Or ~25KWh/day in the summer. Enough to run anything you want and still gain range, or in the winter enough to go several days on the 80KWh pack.

  12. I love this so much! I just wish they would easily work up here in Alaska, because of what they are made of and the lack of insulation they just can’t handle the cold here, I’ve always loved them and wanted one though.

  13. Dunno. Not sure many folk as asking the question that is answered here. Speaking as someone the just bought their first RV trailer…. An Ember.

    But this tech is better than “bold new graphics” for a new model year

  14. I didn’t see it in the article but does their trailer use regenerative braking? If you could be adding to the battery charge whenever you are actively decelerating that’d be pretty neat.

  15. A bit late to ask you to keep any eye out for, but a hybrid approach to camping should exist. We use our hybrid vehicles to power our when wehen PG&E shuts off power. An ideal solution for camping is to use that hybrid powertrain plus inverter to provide power to wild camping.

  16. What I see is double the time and triple the effort to charge if you can’t make it to your destination in one charge for at least double the cost. Its an idea that has been kicked around by armchair engineers for a long time, and it may have a place, but wow is this going to be an expensive way to camp in 21 feet.

    1. If you can find two empty chargers, hook the trailer up to one and the tow vehicle up to the other. Then take a 1-ish hour nap in the trailer until both are charged.

      1. “If you can find two empty chargers, hook the trailer up to one and the tow vehicle up to the other. ” That’s the triple effort part. The work it would take to find two charger, back in the trailer and unhook it to charge the car.

  17. The motor in the trailer reminds me of the PTO driven trailer from the Landrover 101. Now combine this with Toyota’s hitch less towing and you’ve either invented a trailer that drives to the camp site while you sight see or you’ve reinvented the motor home in very stupid way

    1. 1 and 1/2 bathroom is a god sent at the track. I personally hate have people use the washroom and have to waltz through the whole unit to get there. The 1/2 bath right there stops that.

    2. On that size camper, it might not be the case, but if you are, in fact, using it for camping, you likely will be spending at least as much time outside it as in it, so making the bathroom easily accessible from outside would be an advantage. Also, since those are usually small bathrooms, I suspect cleaning and airing out the bathroom would be easier with outside access.

    3. The idea is why bring in all the outdoors through the trailer when you just need to use the bathroom? It’s for people who insist on people cleaning up a little before coming into your home but still giving them access to the essentials and minimizing the mess that entails.

Leave a Reply