In two previous pieces, CleanTechnica covered two very important pieces of news for cutaway vans. First, Steve Hanley covered Canoo’s recent reveal of a modular electric van. He was very thorough, and I’d definitely recommend reading his piece. Second, I covered Mercedes’ introduction of 10 new electric models, including the new eSprinter. In this article, I’m going to get more specific about how these developments feed the slowly growing electric RV industry.
With both the Canoo and the Sprinter, commercial users get the most attention, and for good reason. You tend to see a lot more UPS, FedEx, and Amazon delivery vehicles than you see RVs on the street. That’s where electric models are going to have the greatest environmental impact, by far. Let’s face it, RVs spend most of their time parked beside the house or at a storage lot for most owners, and even people who live in RVs spend a lot of time parked at their favorite places to be. Delivery and other commercial vehicles run 5-7 days a week for long hours. There’s almost no comparison.
How Commercial Vehicles Lead to RVs
RVs do piggy-back on the success of electric delivery vehicles, though. They don’t appear to have a lot in common at first, but look at little closer.
Here’s a Mercedes-Benz dealer showing off their Sprinter box van:
And here’s a walkaround of a Sprinter-powered RV:
They’re wildly different vehicles in purpose, but really they’re just the same vehicle with different boxes put on the back of the cutaway van chassis. In fact, some people buy used commercial box vans and convert the plain cargo box into an RV. The cost of the RV is definitely going to be higher either way, but opening up one platform for electrification means that the “coach builders” will now have the option to create electric RVs without changing much of what they do today.
If you watch the reveal of the Canoo, the same is true for their commercial/delivery vans and the Adventure Vehicle.
Mercedes-Benz didn’t specifically show us a camper on its eSprinter platform, but the concept is basically the same. Put a different box on the platform, and you can build an RV, adventure vehicle, or overlander.
Unfortunately, Canoo hasn’t talked much about its camper concept yet, but it probably won’t be the only ones using the Canoo platform to build them. The company has a B2B page with information for other companies interested in using the platform. Within reasonable and legal/safe limits, a company could put just about anything on the Canoo skateboard.
The increased flexibility means we are likely to see traditional RV layouts, but we might see new ones, too. Current RVs come in Class A, Class B, and Class C. Class As are the big motorhomes with flat fronts. Class B and C RVs are the ones with a visible van on the front (the C has a bed above the cab). With Canoo and others selling just a skateboard, RVs could come in any size or shape you can imagine, though. We may even see expandable RVs (think a giant tent camper, or one that telescopes into a bigger space).
But How Would Electric RVing Work?
Readers who have driven large vehicles in the backcountry know that fuel is going to be a challenge. At present, decent DC fast charging infrastructure is mostly confined to the interstates, and most of the best adventures happen well off the beaten paths.
There are two ways this will work out going forward.
First, anyone who has taken backcountry adventures in an EV knows that RV parks are a big part of making that happen. It’s a big pain compared to DC fast charging, but if you bring along an EVSE, you can get level 2 charging at almost any RV park. If you have an electric RV, it’s a natural fit. You’re already going to use parks on your journeys, and can charge the vehicle while you sleep. The infrastructure is already there and ready to go.
The second thing that will make electric RVs not be an exercise in masochism will be the increase in fast charging infrastructure. Joe Biden promised 500,000 charging stations, which will likely mostly be Level 2, but should include lots of level 3 stations if we push for that. That’s why I’m working with readers to help the administration come up with a plan that includes a big expansion of rural and interstate charging (read more about that project here).
Advantages to Electric RVing
Big gas and diesel RVs are expensive to operate. Going across the country can cost well over $1000 in fuel. For short regional trips, the fuel cost isn’t such a big deal, but it’s still something you have to be careful to factor in when planning a family trip. Even if you can only get 1 mile per kWh, the cost would be 1/4 to 1/2 of the cost of driving with gas. Yes, stopping to charge is an inconvenience, but you’ve got a bed and/or living room there ready to relax in during those stops.
Like any EV, less maintenance is another advantage.
Costs aside, having a big battery pack helps you avoid needing a generator. You could run the RV’s stove, fridge, and microwave all from the pack. This will negatively impact range (especially the fridge), but this might be at least partially compensated for by adding efficient solar panels to the large roof.
Add Autonomy, And You Have a Disruptor
While it doesn’t have to be an EV, autonomous campers are likely to interrupt a number of travel industries. Assuming it all works out like we hope, RVing could be a dream if the vehicle can drive itself while you sleep. Instead of spending your days driving to and from the destination, you can make the driving happen while you sleep comfortably inside.
For camping trips, that’s going to make it possible to get a lot more out of a weekend. Instead of leaving early Saturday morning, you can leave right after work and let the RV drive to a destination up to 16 hours away and then still enjoy almost the whole weekend at the destination. For people who enjoy the journey, that might not be as appealing, but it definitely would make things easier for family trips. “Are we there yet?” could be a thing of the past.
When you consider the time-sucking inconveniences of air travel, some of it might even get killed by autonomous RVing. A 3-hour flight can eat up much of your day when you consider that you need to get up early, arrive at the airport hours before your flight for security, go through delays, and then get from the airport to your final destination. Add 8 hours of sleeping time before and after the flight, and an autonomous RV could probably go almost 1500 miles in that time.
We don’t know how electric and autonomous RVs will change their own industry yet, but they’re likely to impact many others along with them.
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