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Buckminster Fuller's Dymaxion car. Image by Starysatyr, CC-BY-SA 3.0 license.

Clean Transport

Help Me Develop Ideas For An Electric Or Hybrid RV

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In a previous article, I discussed the economic and practical challenges a future electric RV faces. Unlike commercial vehicles (especially semi-trucks), which bring in a lot of money transporting goods, it’s pretty rare for someone to pay someone else to drive an RV around. On top of that, their large sizes, weights, and aerodynamic inefficiency makes their electrification difficult and expensive. Finally, because most people drive them so little, it’s tough to justify using limited battery supplies on them instead of vehicles that are used regularly. The environmental impact of electrifying most RVs just doesn’t justify the money and opportunity costs.

So, Why Even Bother With This? There Are Several Answers.

First off, battery supplies and costs won’t be as high as they are forever, and both charging and infrastructure will improve. When that time comes, we need people to generally be aware that an electric RV is even an option. Like the automakers, the coachbuilders will likely want to continue business as usual for as long as they can. Unless there’s something out there to play the role of Tesla in that industry (a disruptor), then nothing will change.

Fundamentally, a custom electric RV in 2021-22 would be more equivalent to a pre-Tesla EV, perhaps like the Tzero electric car that inspired Tesla to get started. By showing not only that it can be done, but how it can be done, the industry can be stimulated to move beyond the rare and very expensive offerings available today.

Second, my use for such an RV wouldn’t be typical. For the Untold EV & Cleantech Stories project, I’m planning on doing a lot more traveling than the typical RV does to get a lot more boots-on-the-ground journalism done. It also wouldn’t make a lot of sense to drive around burning gas or diesel when working on this kind of project, and it would give people opposed to cleantech the perfect excuse to call us hypocrites, plus, why damage the environment if it’s avoidable at all?

For that reason, I’m putting together plans to crowdfund for the construction of a custom electric or hybrid RV.

Design Ideas I’ve Been Working On

Trailers & Class A Motorhomes Aren’t Really A Good Option

My first thought was to just pull a trailer with an EV, but I kept running into dead ends on that. To be remotely feasible, the trailer would need to be very small and light, and that would still cut an EV’s range about in half. For travel only along Interstates, that’s workable, but going out into the rural areas I want to concentrate on would be a tough slog of short trips from RV park to RV park. Given that I have a maximum of about 2 weeks per month to dedicate to this (generally when my ex has time with the kids), getting slowed down to that extent would make it hard to get anything meaningful done.

The other problem with pulling a trailer is that it would be hard to safely boondock, or use the RV to sleep in places other than RV parks, which is something that can help save a lot of money on trips. Many businesses, especially Walmart stores and Cracker Barrel restaurants, allow RVers to camp overnight in their lots, so the opportunities for this are widespread. Having the ability to walk between the camper portion of the vehicle and the driver’s seat without going outside would provide a lot more security for that kind of suburban camping.

Class A motorhomes (the ones shaped like a bus) are awesome, and very luxurious in many cases, but they’re simply too big and heavy to be a good candidate for electrification unless I were to build a custom one that’s shaped roughly like Buckminster Fuller’s Dymaxion car.

Given the inherent danger of the design (a rear wheel that steers is a big problem, as is the excessive lift), this seems like a bad idea. But, one with four wheels, front-wheel steering, rear-drive, and a bunch of used Model S battery modules down in the bottom between heavy frame rails would probably be fairly nice. It wouldn’t be a true Dymaxion, but it would take the good of that design (aerodynamics), and make something safe and spacious out of it even if it looked like a giant adult toy with wheels driving down the road.

If there’s enough reader support, I might build something like that, but it doesn’t seem like something you all would take seriously.

Small Class C RVs & Truck Campers Are More Realistic

I have two ideas other than a modern take on the Dymaxion. Well, actually three, but the last two are very similar so I’m lumping them together.

The first idea would be to take something like a Toyota Class C motorhome and electrify it. Here’s what one of those looks like:

The advantage to using one of these is the relatively small size and low weight compared to just about everything else out there. There are also many kits and adapter plates out there to electrify an older Toyota pickup, which is what this is based on. There’s room to place battery cells, at least 40 kWh worth, in the floor between the frame rails. To avoid overloading it and having too little range, and because there’s no real way to add DC fast charging to a DIY EV conversion, it would be necessary to install a small range extender under the hood.

This kind of a setup would run on electric for shorter trips, but would get somewhere around 30 MPG on longer cross-country hauls while still having similar power to the original V6 or 4-cylinder inline engine. Emissions would be pretty low, some solar power would be used, and it would show people that an electric RV is at least possible and desirable.

The second idea would be to use a pickup truck to either haul a truck camper (this would be a lot easier), or remove the bed entirely to build a custom camper with a little more room.

2022 Ford F-150 Lightning semi-transparent frame image. Image provided by Ford.

For several reasons, it would be best to use a Ford pickup for both of these options because the bed can actually be removed from it for a custom build, and it’s already all set up to provide power to the camper with Pro Power Onboard.

If I were to use a truck camper, like the Lance 650 or Olympic Scout, it would be easy to switch between hybrid and full-electric Ford pickups for different trips. For those with good charging availability, a Lightning would do the job strictly on electrons, but for rural trips, it would be easier to use a hybrid version of the truck. Plus, I could start out using the hybrid truck while waiting for the electric version to actually be available.

A custom build, basically a smaller version of what you see in the below video, would give more room, but moving it from truck to truck would be a lot harder.

Before anyone asks, I did consider the Cybertruck, despite really not liking how it looks. It’s really not possible to use a truck camper or build a custom camper on it. The unibody design, while theoretically great for production and weight, just doesn’t provide the flexibility I’d be looking for.

What Do You Think?

At this point, I’d like to hand it back to readers and get some opinions and ideas. Which of these do you think is the best idea, and Why? If you’re thinking none of the above, what else do you like better, and why?

The only opinions I’m not interested in hearing are the negative zealots who think the entire idea of traveling and using RVs is bad. Feel free to chime in, but keep in mind that I might feature your stupidity in an article, as I have in the past. You’ve been fairly warned LOL.

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Written By

Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to get off the beaten path in her "Bolt EAV" and any other EVs she can get behind the wheel or handlebars of with her wife and kids. You can find her on Twitter here, Facebook here, and YouTube here.


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