Oddly enough, it is the name of a company in Quebec that makes recreational vehicles, including the camper trailer (a “caravan” in European parlance) that we purchased in early 2018.
I had never given much thought to owning an RV. While Airstream trailers looked cool, their shape was too retro for me. I didn’t want to buy a gas car with a big engine just to tow a trailer and I had no interest in a big motorhome. But in late 2016, after three years of Tesla Model S ownership, I got involved in a discussion about lightweight trailers on the Tesla Motors Club forum. I was immediately intrigued by the Safari Condo Alto which was one of the trailers being discussed.
My wife and I had never seen a trailer so sleek and modern, inside and out. And there was a version with a retractable roof that raised up to reveal an astonishing amount of window area! I started researching to see if there was evidence that the “teardrop” shape of the Alto R series and it’s low 83.5” roof height when retracted (allowing it to fit into most garages, a real advantage) would result in a usable towing range when employing a Tesla as a tow vehicle.
Is a “teardrop” trailer shape an advantage?
Safari Condo claims “…the aerodynamic shape of the Alto, developed in a virtual wind tunnel, creates 75% less aerodynamic drag than a traditional travel trailer. This factor, along with its lightweight, makes the Alto readily towable by most compact cars and small SUVs.” And at about 1,800 lbs, the 17 ft Alto is definitely a lightweight compared to other trailers in its size range: the Airstream Sport 16 weighs nearly 2,900 lbs. Many Alto owners tow with 6-cylinder Subarus and other small vehicles.
My conclusion was that while the retractable roof Alto certainly has less drag than a “traditional” box-shaped trailer, and the low weight does make it towable by smaller vehicles with more modest engines than a Ford F-250 for example, the sharply sloping rear roofline is probably not an advantage. An engineer with aerodynamic experience informed me that air flowing across the trailer roof peak would tend to separate from the roof as it sloped sharply downwards and then would interact with the air coming off the sidewalls, creating turbulence and acting like “twin parachutes” that would increase the energy consumption of the tow vehicle compared to a more gradually sloping roof. A Canadian RV dealership with extensive experience towing a variety of trailers, including every version of the Alto, said that the R series trailers offered no noticeable energy savings compared to the 95” tall F1743 fixed roof version. It was also clear to me that the Model X was a suitable tow vehicle, since Canadian Model X owners Rolf and Silke Sommerfeld were towing their Alto across Canada and back!
Why I chose the fixed roof Alto
So I turned my attention to the F1743 model, which still features a generous amount of window area all around while offering more storage and most significantly, an enclosed bathroom. As I compared it to other trailers on the market in the 15 to 19 ft size range, I realized that the 17 ft Alto F1743 had numerous advantages. In a very compact size it provides a queen size sleeping area aft that can be left made up all the time if desired because there is also a very usable two-person dinette table forward which converts to a single bed as needed (with just the two of us, we’ve never had the need for that). The kitchen counter space includes a sink and two-burner stove, lots of storage below and more storage above along with an optional microwave. The 12V 4.3 cu ft refrigerator is positioned below a generously-sized clothes closet. The compact bathroom has a toilet, shower and a small cabinet. Additional storage is available below the sleeping area and dinette seats. Exterior hatches provide easy access to the same storage areas.
Just as importantly, it is clearly made with care and to a high standard, with a very contemporary style. Lightweight materials are used throughout; the trailer frame, exterior walls, and interior walls are all aluminum, as is the floor. There is no wood anywhere; composites are used extensively and the only steel employed is in the axle, suspension components, and tongue. LED lighting is used throughout. The double-wall acrylic windows, made in the Netherlands, include built in adjustable screens and shades. The fresh, grey, and black water waste tanks are located beneath the floor for a low center of gravity. A small exterior hatch next to the freshwater hose connection conceals a shower head and hot/cold water controls for outdoor showering.
The Alto F1743 base dry weight of 1742 lbs is astonishingly light (and slightly lighter than the retractable roof Alto) yet Alto owners with years of towing experience report that the trailer design holds up very well over tens of thousands of miles of travel. In comparison, the 16 ft Airstream Base Camp weighs almost 2,600 lbs, lacks a permanent dinette area, and costs 15% more. The more traditional looking 16 ft Airstream Sport weighs nearly 2,900 lbs and offers a twin size bed (48” wide) instead of the queen size (60” wide) that is standard in the Alto, yet costs about 60% more.
The new 16.6 ft Airstream Nest caught my eye with its modern style, rounded corners, queen-sized sleeping area, and sink in the bathroom (only available in the Alto by special order). But it lacks a permanent dinette table, costs 60% more than the Alto F1743, and despite featuring a fiberglass body shell weighs a shocking 3,400 lbs! How is that possible; are the countertops made of concrete?
By the way… in early 2018 Safari Condo introduced a new model of the Alto, the 101” tall, 21 ft long F2114. At four feet longer than the other Altos, it offers a king size sleeping area, a four person dinette table, more storage, a larger fridge and higher capacity water tanks. Yet it weighs just 2,346 lbs dry and still only uses a single axel.
I would love the larger bed! Unfortunately, it won’t fit in my small driveway. But if you have the space I recommend you take a serious look at it.
And in 2019 an even bigger Alto model was introduced, the 24 ft F2414 with dual axles. That extra length allowed for a separate dedicated indoor shower area, a sink in the toilet area, a longer kitchen counter and even more interior storage. In addition there is also the A2114 model, A for “aerodynamic”. It has a pointed nose and a slightly tapered rear section. Based on owner reports it does not use significantly less energy to tow compared to the F1743; both trailers use about 500Wh/mi at 55mph on a level dry road. Of course it is much larger and heavier, so that pointed nose apparently is a benefit.
Why trailer weight matters to me
My interest in trailer weight was not driven by concerns about the towing capacity of my Tesla Model X; with over 400 ft lbs of torque and a 5,000 lb rated towing capacity it can easily tow any trailer in the size range I was considering. And trailer weight is a minor factor in regards to how much energy the car will consume while towing; the aerodynamic drag produced by the trailer is what matters, so trailer size and shape is important. Towing has a severe impact on vehicle range, whether the car is powered by gas or by electricity; gas cars can take a 50% hit on mileage and EVs definitely do. So when driving electric, careful planning is required for charging stops. Fortunately, the Tesla onboard navigation makes that relatively simple; I also highly recommend the EV Trip Optimizer app which is very good at factoring in the additional drag of the trailer and planning your charging stops; it knows where all the Tesla Superchargers are.
That said, there is another advantage to a low trailer weight; if it is no more than 50% of the weight of the tow vehicle than weight distribution bars at the hitch are not necessary. That makes hitching/unhitching easier and quicker. The Model X100D weighs over 5,300 lbs. Add in the weight of two people and cargo and it gets close to 6,000 lbs. An Alto F1743 fully loaded with cargo and water is still under 2,500 lbs, so no weight distribution bars are needed and the factory Model X hitch (made by Bosal) will work just fine. A Model X owner who tows an Airstream Sport 22 at a weight of nearly 4,000 lbs, using weight distribution bars, had to replace his factory Bosal hitch with a Draw-Tite model: the Bosal was loosening up and he was concerned it was unsafe (the Draw-Tite is working well).
There are many other trailers of similar size of course, from a variety of manufacturers who have been in the business for decades. But from my perspective none of them compared favorably to the Alto; they used standard heavy materials and were styled in a more conventional manner that I did not find appealing (aesthetics are of course subjective!). My choice was clear; we placed our order with Safari Condo in late 2016 and were informed the delivery was planned for early 2018. We elected to use one of their dealers, Get-Away RV in Abbotsford, British Columbia (near Vancouver) . Our delivery occurred in the middle of an extremely cold Canadian winter! The drive home in February was an adventure but our new Model X proved to be an excellent tow vehicle. (Note to US buyers: Safari Condo has no US dealers, so you have to go to Canada for pick up, either at the factory in Quebec or at one of their Canadian dealers. Call them directly to discuss your options.)
The small company has been overwhelmed by the demand ever since introducing the first version of the Alto R-series in 2007. In late 2018 there was about a one year wait (update: the 2020 pandemic has resulted in a huge increase in RV demand so there is still a wait!). But after over two years of ownership and multiple trips I can tell you it was definitely worth it. We are enjoying our trailer trips even more than we imagined!
Next: factory options I recommend, why they’re worth the money (or not), or skip ahead to read about why we went aftermarket to have 1,035W of flexible solar panels installed on the roof, connected to two big lithium ion storage batteries. Camping 100% electric and no propane.
Back home with the new trailer.
24 thoughts on “A “Safari Condo” is not an apartment in the Serengeti…”
Thanks for the informative entry. How far can you pull it with the model X before needing to recharge?
It depends on speed and road conditions. At 55mph (the legal speed for towing in California, and a speed I’m comfortable at) on a level, dry road with no significant headwind, I could conceivably go up to 195 miles before I would have to recharge. In practice I generally do not go over 150 miles because after more than 2 1/2 hours of driving at that speed I want a break so I can walk around a bit, eat, use the restroom.
Hi! I just found you guys and it makes me happy that you have found a way to do this. I’m looking at the 1743 and the 2114, 2022 models since they currently have a wait time of 12-18 months. I’ve got two questions:
1. Do you think my Model Y performance would be a decent tow vehicle for the 2114?
2. Do you think the currently available solar options on the Alto are worth it now? (400 watts with Lithium)
Thanks for the blog and the inspiration!
The Tesla website states that the Model Y Performance version is rated to tow up to 3,500 lbs and any Alto trailer model is far less than that weight. So I don’t see any problem there. Your range while towing will be significantly decreased of course, probably 30-50% less. So you will be stopping at Superchargers more frequently than when you are not towing. But that is no big deal.
I think the 400W solar option with a Lithium battery is definitely worth it. That option did not exist back in 2017 when I ordered my F1743.
Let me know which Alto model you purchase and how the Model Y works out for you!
This is really useful info. Thanks. Great concept. With this as a good ballpark, plan on 300 miles per day with one supercharger rest stop halfway.
Pingback: For Alto enthusiasts: factory options I recommend | Electric Travels
Pingback: Flexible solar panels: how NOT to buy them for your Alto | Electric Travels
Pingback: Improving the already impressive Alto trailer | Electric Travels
Did you pick the 15″ wheels ? what option did you regret taking or not taking ?
We did go with the 15” wheels. Smoother ride, higher quality tires. The factory options we got are described in this post: https://electrictravels.blog/2018/09/06/for-alto-enthusiasts-factory-options-i-recommend/
There were no factory options that we regret not taking. 🙂
Pingback: Towing with a Tesla | Electric Travels
Pingback: Lassen; the Under-Appreciated National Park | Electric Travels
Pingback: The Shasta Trinity Wilderness: Full of Surprises | Electric Travels
I pull our Alto F1743 with my Tesla Model 3. It is fitted with a (pricey) Stealth hitch and so far I haven’t felt the need for weight distribution bars. Acceleration is excellent, so is stability at 100 kmh. Regenerative braking does the job well without the need to use the built-in electric brakes.
I just stumbled on this blog after finding this trailer and thinking it would be a good fit for my Model 3. Glad to hear you have tried it! Any additional updates after a few months of use since you posted?
It’s now been almost three years since we picked up our Alto and we’ve probably towed it over 12,000 miles across multiple states in the Western US. We remain very happy with the trailer and with the modifications we have made to it except for the flexible solar panels. Some of them have failed and in a few months I plan to replace them with more expensive and much higher quality Solar Power M panels. See https://www.emarineinc.com/SOLARA-Power-M-Series for details on those panels. I will update my blog post after than installation.
Hi Richard, thanks for your post! I’m impressed you are towing a trailer with your Model 3. I’m very interested in your Wh/mi energy usage. Do you have a sense of what that number is on a level, dry road with no headwind at about 55mph? With my X I get from 485 to 550Wh/mi. If I go 60mph that figure increased to around 650Wh/mi.
Is this the hitch you installed? https://stealthhitches.com/products/tesla-model-3-2017-2020
Is your trailer level when you tow? It looks like that hitch might result in the trailer being angled down at the front. Which is not necessarily a problem. Do you have the electric fridge in your Alto or the 3-way fridge?
I assume you installed a brake controller in your car to control the trailer brakes. I agree that when the Tesla slows down using regenerative braking that the trailer slows without applying its own brakes, but if you need to brake suddenly you are going to want the trailer brakes to activate as well, for safety.
Barry, thanks for this post. Exactly the info I was looking for – I’ve been looking around at different trailers to tow with my Model 3: I’ve looked at the Escape 17B (older used 15B too, which is almost impossible to find for sale), various Airstream options (my wife loves their inside finish and aesthetic), inTech Sol Dawn/Eclipse, etc. I did see the retractable roof version of the Safari in spring 2019 but didn’t think I wanted the retractable part in the long-run (probably expensive to repair!), and like you I guessed the significant teardrop wouldn’t help aerodynamics, particularly after reviewing Rolf and Silke’s data. The Airstream is slightly better in this regard with the rounded edges at the rear on the sides as well, but as you note the weight difference is very significant and ensures that my 3 can’t cope with it.
Surprisingly I had not gone on Safari’s website to see what (if anything) else they sold. Glad I’ve taken a second look and come across your blog. I’m now off to read your post on the after-market solar, since it sounds like you have done what I hope to do, which is to remove any LPG usage and solely run off plugs/solar. I also would like to retrofit with a urine-separating composting toilet – we have installed one on our sailboat and it has been much better than the ‘porta-potti’ type system – keeping it separate vastly reduces the ‘yuck’ factor. Cheers.
Regarding the idea of towing a trailer with a Model 3, I know that in Europe Tesla sells a towing option for the Model 3 but I don’t know what the max allowed trailer weight and tongue weight numbers are. In the US as you know Tesla does not sell a towing option but owners have installed hitches. See https://teslamotorsclub.com/tmc/threads/retrofit-a-tow-hitch.192885/#post-4681092 There are other threads in that forum about towing with a 3. As to towing an Airstream, given how heavy even the smallest Airstream is I would not attempt it with a 3. The lightest Airstream is a Basecamp which weighs 2,650 empty, which means with water and gear easily over 3,000 lbs. See https://www.airstream.com/travel-trailers/basecamp/specifications/ The 16 ft Bambi is 3,000 lbs empty.
I have had the Stealth hitch installed on my Model 3 for about 18 months, using it extensively to carry 4 bikes (tongue weight around 200lbs), towing utility trailers (dirt, building supplies, my Hobie Tandem Island), and towing our Macgregor 26M water-ballast sail boat (not long distances, and below 50mph!). I wasn’t seriously considering the Airstream Bambi for our 3, only if we bought something like a Rivian… but then the total cost goes through the roof etc.
I was however considering the Basecamp, but my wife doesn’t really like it – so I was happy to see your post on the 1743, as it has the aesthetic my wife would like (I think – for further discussion tonight haha!) and it is much lighter. The weight of the 1743 almost looks too good to be true, but I guess that aluminum-honeycomb construction (stress-skin panel) explains it. Based even on your stated loaded weight of ~2300lbs I’d be comfortable towing it with my 3. Thanks again for your various blog posts and contributions on TMC.
I agree: the 3 should be fine towing any of the 17 foot Altos given that the Stealth hitch manufacturer rates it for up to 4000 lbs tow weight and 300 lbs tongue weight.
The Alto is light weight not only because of the aluminum roof and walls but also the aluminum used in the frame and the interior cabinets and partitions.
Hello, I was curious to know if your Alto came prewired for solar or did you add the wiring harness after you bought the trailer? Would they as an option run the wires to the roof if they are not factory installing the solar panels? Does the dinette cushions come only in the firm foam? Thanks
Hi Kevin; we did not buy the factory solar option so our Alto did not come with any wiring per installed. See my post about my trailer solar install at https://electrictravels.blog/2018/09/09/camping-100-electric-no-propane/
You would need to ask Safari Condo what they will do regarding solar pre-wiring.
I think you can get the cushions with memory foam, that is what we got for the rear area cushions.
Hi Barry, reading your blogs is one of the reason I went down the path of purchasing an used R1723 last year. One of my top priority is to be able to park the trailer inside the garage and I succeeded with some extra effort. It took me this whole year to take delivery of a Model Y and get the tow hitch installed properly by Tesla (this is another long story).
I am very surprised that the R-series is less aerodynamic than the F-series. I thought tear-drop is a good aero shape, all the sports cars and airplane wings have tapered backend. The A-series may be good for towing efficiency but I suspect it does not do too well for stability in high cross wind situation because of the high side profile. I would really like to figure out what improvements can be made to the R-series for better towing efficiency, maybe vertex generators?. I am totally committed to EVs and haven’t bought a gasoline car for the past 8 years. I have 3.5 EVs in my stable, the other half is part of an old Prius!
With the Y LR, my assumption is that I need to stop and charge every 100-120 miles in ideal driving conditions. I doubt I can climb the continental divide and make it to the next charging station. Like you, I am going to do without Weight Distribution, reducing the extra weights and time to drop the trailer at supercharging stations.
Within the next few weeks, I will do a test tow with the Y to validate my range assumptions.