In a previous article, we covered the Stella Vita experimental camper van. Unlike nearly every other camper on the face of the planet (this is the other exception I know of), the Stella Vita runs on sunlight. It doesn’t need to charge from the electrical grid, which still uses fossil fuels. It doesn’t need anything but the sun on its back to move and power its interior amenities.
The student team that built this vehicle made it work in much the same way as Aptera plans to. By making the vehicle super efficient, a lot less energy is needed to move it down the road. This means that the limitations of solar technology don’t get in the way as much. In other words, if you can get by with less, it doesn’t matter that solar technology gives you less.
To make it a workable camper, they had to use the pop-top method. We’ve seen this idea work (and very well) for the better part of a century with things like popup tent campers and Westfalia VW Microbuses, so it’s a proven way to make something small get bigger when you arrive at your camping destination. Even better, this gave the team a way to increase the vehicle’s solar power by 200%, because they also included slide-out solar panels in the pop-top, so the vehicle can charge faster when parked.
As cool as this design is, we couldn’t really see it in action. I found a short video on the team’s YouTube channel, and I found a lot of images. I’d love to see it in person, but a trip to Europe is expensive and I have four kids to take care of, so that just wasn’t in the cards. But now we are able to see what the Fully Charged Show thought of it:
They traveled to The Netherlands to get an in-person look at the vehicle, so now we all get to see what EV enthusiasts think of it!
They started with an interview with two of the student team members who designed and built the car. They told him the story of driving the vehicle not only locally, but on a 3,000 km trip to the southernmost point in Europe (in Spain). They did have to charge the car on grid power in two places on the trip, but only because they had to make some improvements and test them in Paris, and because of lack of sunlight later in the trip.
Like the upcoming Aptera, this shows us that solar power is very important, but having the grid to back you up for those times when you need more power than the sun can give you is also vital. If you’re a diehard solar fanatic and couldn’t bear to use the grid, you could obviously just wait it out and drive when you can with future electric RVs, but that’s not a great option for everyone.
Next, we get to see the process of folding the camper van out from its driving configuration. Honestly, it looks about as difficult as a popup camper (so, not difficult at all). The top cranks up, the solar panels slide out, and you’re good to go! Or, stay and charge, actually. Later, they tell the story of the first time they pulled into a campsite. They said that people were amazed, and the vehicle drew a small crowd that never knew such a thing existed. While that means everyone doesn’t read CleanTechnica (sad face), it does mean that the average camper is impressed by this kind of project and would be interested in any future production version!
We also find out some technical details. The car’s battery is “the same size as a Tesla Model 3” (we aren’t sure which battery size), but can go 600 kilometers (372 miles) on a charge. That’s pretty damned efficient for something big enough to sleep in and relax in. Everything from the battery to the drivetrain was designed for efficiency, so that’s a reasonable and possible number. Even the weight is small for the vehicle’s size (1700 kg, 3850 lb). But it’s not unsafe. It’s built with a safety cage for the occupants and should be very safe in the event of a crash.
It would be nice to know more specifics, but they seem to not want to tell us too much at this point. Later in the video, we do find out that the vehicle’s roof (when folded down) produces 2 kilowatts peak. With the extended roof in camping mode, you get around 4 kilowatts, which is nothing to sneeze at. A complete charge can happen in 3 days, but you can get 200 km of range in a day’s worth of charging.
We get to see the presenter standing in the vehicle and looking around, and this gives us a much better idea of how big it is. The answer is that it’s a whole lot bigger than I thought from the photos. There is a TON of headroom with the top folded up, and there’s good room above the bed. I know a wide-angle lens was used, but still, it’s seriously spacious.
It has a sink (with running water), an induction cooktop, and a refrigerator, so you don’t have to forego the creature comforts, either. I didn’t see a toilet, but you could easily bring along a composting toilet and some peat moss.
Seating seemed to be very comfortable, and things like the mirrors are easy to see. There’s a big display to show the driver remaining range, how much power the roof is producing, and it can be removed to be used in the back for entertainment during camping stops. The removable screen can be used in conjunction with the audio system when stopped, so you get that comfort of home, too.
The vehicle is obviously very far from anything that a company would actually build and sell, but it seems to have a very good fit and finish for a prototype. It has also proven itself on a road trip in the real world, so it’s a viable concept. Hopefully some enterprising RV builder will consider building something like this, assuming a company like Aptera doesn’t beat them to the punch. The team did say that they’re willing to assist any company that wants to do this, so that’s a good start.
There’s a lot more in the video, so be sure to check it out above!
Featured image and other images of Stella Vita by Bart van Overbeeke and Solar Team Eindhoven.
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