The Self-Powered RV Future: It’s Coming

RV trailer owners who tow with an EV know that their driving range is severely curtailed; my experience is that instead of 450km/280m of range with nothing hitched up, when towing at 55mph on a level, dry road I can only drive about 140m/225km (of course gas cars suffer from similar range loss!).

But what if my RV trailer had its own big battery pack that powered electric motors that drove the trailer wheels and reduced or eliminated the extra drain on my EV battery?

What if, while towing I could adjust the trailer motors to extend my towing range as needed?

That scenario could soon be reality. In 2018 the German company Dethleff’s introduced the concept “e.Coco” powered trailer with dual motors. With a claimed empty weight of just 1550lbs/708kg the company showed off the prototype in 2021 by using an Audi e-Tron to tow it through the Alps for 240m/386km without recharging. That Audi EV has a US EPA range rating of 241m on level ground, meaning that the e.Coco trailer battery pack powered the trailer without effecting the Audi range at all. And that was in the mountains! The e.Coco trailer is not yet in production but Dethleff’s seems to be moving towards making it available for purchase. Whether it will ever be offered in North America is unknown.

Just like an EV, the e.Coco trailer uses disc brakes that incorporate regenerative braking to feed energy back into the battery. A force sensor on the trailer allows the tow vehicle driver to adjust the amount of horizontal force the vehicle perceives on the hitch, so that in effect the trailer weight can be decreased to near zero if desired. Two 90kW motors in the trailer power the wheels (battery capacity is not specified but it appears to be at least 74kWh). Software stability algorithms to control yaw eliminate the need for a weight distribution hitch so that even lightweight cars could serve as tow vehicles.

The e.Coco looks to be about 17 ft/5m long and has a full kitchen, small table for two, sleeps two, and a bathroom that unfortunately does not include a shower (there is a shower hose attachment point on the exterior wall of the trailer) so somewhat less capability than what my Safari Condo Alto F1743 provides in the same size. I’m not convinced the e.Coco shape is particularly aerodynamic.

Dethleff’s is owned by Thor Industries, which also owns Airstream. And in January 2022 Airstream revealed their prototype “eStream” trailer which incorporates quite likely the same battery- powered technology as the e.Coco including (I assume) the hitch design by ZF Friedrichshafen that senses force and adjusts the trailer motor output. A report from the January 2022 Florida RV Show (post #45 by @YellyYeti) states that the battery pack is 80kWh and there is L3 charging capability (CSS?), which is encouraging.

The eStream is the familiar Airstream shape, with its signature rounded corners making it more aerodynamic than the e.Coco. To further reduce drag, the air conditioning unit has been integrated into the bottom of the trailer and even the extendable shade appears tighter and smoother than on other Airstreams. The roof is covered with solar panels that are flush-mounted; I like it!

An Airstream video about the eStream, and photos on their website, make it clear what their target audience is.

There are few details available for the eStream beyond the fact that it is 22 ft long, can sleep up to 4, and based on the videos has a full kitchen (with built-in 2 burner induction cooktop, yay!), bathroom including sink and shower, and what appears to be a king size bed. That’s all good. The interior decor and color scheme is, to my eyes, atrocious, but at this point it’s just a flashy concept vehicle designed to capture attention and I hope the decor will change or at least there will be a few style choices available. Control over trailer functions is through a touch screen and Alexa; count me out on letting Amazon into my trailer!

But there is a new kid in town. A recent TechCrunch article alerted me to a start-up company in California called Lightship, founded by two ex-Tesla employees, that is developing an all-electric aerodynamic travel trailer with a large onboard battery which can power the trailer while in motion so the EV tow vehicle’s range is not adversely effected, just like the e.Coco and eStream. The Lightship company mission statement is:

To reimagine the recreational vehicle experience for the electric age, starting with our first Lightship — a seamless, modern, connected, aerodynamic travel trailer.

The Lightship website does not have any information about the trailer. The company apparently is still in stealth mode, sort of, as they are obviously talking to journalists. In the video on the homepage the two founders talk about their motivation for starting the company (EV range hit while towing), they mention there will be solar on the trailer roof, and there is a rendering of a trailer connected to a pickup truck but you can’t make out much and its just a render.

It would be terrific to see a new company take a fresh look at RV trailer design, an area that is desperately in need of innovation based on modern technology.

So it appears that the EV revolution could be about to trigger an RV revolution! Stay tuned…

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