It Ain’t Easy: Affordable Electric RVing When The Family Wants American Luxury

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One thing I’ve written a fair amount about here is electric RVing. The good news? It’s definitely possible. If you’ve got money for a Tesla Model X and you can find a lighter camper to tow, it’s not a big deal. The same is largely true for electric trucks like the Ford F-150 Lightning or the Rivian R1T.

But, the most affordable truck I’ve mentioned so far (the F-150 Lightning) has gone through some serious price hikes in 2022, now in excess of $50,000 for the base model (assuming you can find a dealer who won’t “adjust” the price). At best, you’re probably in for a $700 monthly payment for that truck, and that’s probably not the one you’d want if you’re towing. Getting the larger battery pack means the price starts at around $80k, which is right up there with the Rivian and the Model X.

Now, some of our European readers are probably rolling their eyes at this point. Our RVs are behemoths compared to their caravans. Even the wimpiest American cars sold in 2022 can probably tow a European RV, but we need trucks because we don’t know how to keep it light and slow down a bit.

And, today, I figured out that they’re absolutely right.

I took the family down to look at some RV dealers, and had in mind to figure out whether a small camper would work for us. If I could keep it under 2,000 lbs (that’s 900 kilos in European talk), any vehicle I own could tow the thing. For trips near the interstate or other zones with good charging infrastructure, the Bolt EUV could tow a small camper (with some patience). For places further from the beaten EV path, my Jetta could do the job and still get 25-30 MPG. For everything else, our older Acura MDX could tow a light trailer like that with absolute ease.

We started by looking at this one:

But, when we took a look at our first tiny camper, my dreams were quickly crushed in the cultural milieu.

Truth be told, the camper isn’t that small. It would barely fit within the weight limit I had in mind (going smaller like this couple did would be better). It still gives most of the creature comforts a big camper does, but by unfolding and opening up to the outdoors. It would also be highly useful for moving not only e-bikes around, but also for doing things like taking metal targets and paper target stands to the range for the safety classes I teach, or for hauling lumber for home improvement projects.

In other words, it does all that a truck does plus most of what a big camper does, and could be pulled with clean electric power without too much hassle.

But, back to the crushed dream here. The family instantly recoiled at the idea of using a little trailer for camping. Things like, “I’m not going to sleep in that,” and “What is this, a camper for ants?” were said. Before I could offer any counterarguments or explain how useful the design was, the wife whisked the kids away to look at heavier things that a much bigger gas-guzzling vehicle would be needed to haul around.

The things the family were very happy with were the stereotypical American camper. They loved the triple-axle fifth-wheel campers that a one-ton truck could tow, because they had three king-size beds, two bathrooms, two small beds, a luxury couch with massagers, a big kitchen, and everything else you’d have at home (including a garage for ATVs). But, if you could hook that up to an electric truck with a 200 kWh battery pack, you’d probably only get 100 miles of range going downhill.

But, those large rigs being pulled by a dually pickup can cost thousands to go across the country, just for fuel. You need to pay big bucks for the trailer and big bucks again for the truck. Then, you’ll want to pay for RV park fees and a variety of other things. So, even the environmentally unfriendly options aren’t cheap.

Can American Luxury RVs Survive In A Cleaner Economy?

Probably not. When you’re moving something as big as a bus or something that resembles a baby semi-truck, you’re talking about a lot of energy. Moving away from fossil fuels does help reduce the amount of wasted energy, but the energy to move is still needed either way. This means either a huge battery pack, frequent charging stops, or maybe even both. In some rare cases, the trip won’t be possible at all.

Big battery packs don’t come cheap, and a 200 kWh battery pack took up scarce battery cell supplies that could have covered the needs of 3-4 normal EVs. So, while they look clean on the surface, they end up contributing to the problem, and that’s probably going to be the case until 2035.

Given all of this, expect the Super Duty Lightning or the Silverado EV HD to cost big, big bucks. It’s big big bucks some people will be able to pay, but most in their shoes wouldn’t be willing to pay. For everyone else, ability will be the limiting factor unless there’s a way to make money with the truck (which is why something like the Tesla Semi will probably succeed while an electric F-350 ain’t happening).

But, This Could Be A Good Outcome For Family Fun

I’m increasingly convinced that the problem won’t be solved by cramming in bigger and bigger battery packs. The reality is that the EV transition may just end up shrinking campers in the United States. Instead of giant self-contained behemoths with more features than your house, the industry will need to find innovative ways to serve EV owners. Lighter weight designs, more folding designs to improve aerodynamic efficiency, and designs that blend with the outdoors more will all have to become the norm.

If this happens, and the industry doesn’t stubbornly cling to burning diesel and gasoline, expect to see things get easier for average and below-average income families. Being able to take affordable EVs and tow an innovative camper could make for a lot more family fun than people can afford today.

But, the bigger challenge might be convincing the family that this is the right way forward.

Featured image by Jayco RV.

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Jennifer Sensiba

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.

Jennifer Sensiba has 1758 posts and counting. See all posts by Jennifer Sensiba