One of the most common questions we get asked is, “what kind of fuel economy does your RV get”? It’s pretty easy to tell that RVs burn a lot of fuel. They are very heavy, rolling houses. However, because they do so poorly on fuel, this raises the next question by many: “Why are there no hybrid or electric RVs?”
While no mass-produced hybrid or electric RV models have come and stayed on the market, we firmly believe they are in our future. As an electrical engineer, I (Tom) have always felt that we can still improve much of our world by further electrification, but does it always make sense? This article will take a closer look at hybrid and electric RVs’ past, present, and future.
What is a Hybrid Vehicle?
Before we talk about RVs, let’s take a quick look at hybrid vehicles in general. Hybrid cars use a combination of both electric components and traditional internal combustion engines to propel them. There are two primary types of hybrid vehicles.
You are probably familiar with the Prius, one of the most popular hybrid vehicles ever made. This hybrid type is a parallel hybrid design as it utilizes an electric motor to assist the gasoline engine in parallel. This design is excellent for low-speed electric operation while the engine still is needed to operate the vehicle at higher speeds and take on the hills. It’s a reliable design and does very well at increasing the efficiency of the engine.
A series Hybrid vehicle is one in which the engine does not turn the wheels but a generator. Not many series hybrid passenger cars have been built, with the most notable being the Chevy Volt. (This happens to be the vehicle we drive and use to absorb extra solar power.)
A series hybrid design can include a battery or not. It relies strictly on the generator to run an electric motor. Series hybrid designs can significantly improve efficiencies, especially in larger vehicles, and are very common in freight trains and cargo ships.
A series hybrid design with a battery can also make use of a smaller, more efficient engine and operate it at its most efficient RPM. The hybrid then relies on stored battery power for the extra boost for acceleration and hills. This battery series hybrid design is also sometimes called a range-extended electric vehicle.
Overall, both series and parallel hybrid designs improve a vehicle’s efficiency by allowing the engine to operate more efficiently and recapture otherwise lost energy. They can do this by storing electricity from slowing down or going downhill.
Are There Any Hybrid RVs?
At this time, there are no hybrid RVs on the market. The reason is that hybrid RVs will suffer the same challenges as any other hybrid vehicle design.
Hybrid vehicles are inherently more complicated than straight engine-driven vehicles as they include an engine, electric drivetrains, and a battery. This complexity sometimes impacts both reliability as well as cost.
For mass-produced parallel hybrid vehicles, a price premium of 10% is not uncommon to see. While a series hybrid design offers more benefits, the premium is even greater. Because of this, GM never actually made money on the Chevy Volt. So, they turned away from the hybrid design in favor of all-electric vehicles. All-electric vehicles are less complicated than internal combustion engine vehicles and should eventually be cheaper to manufacture.
While cost premiums for mass-produced hybrids are only 10-20%, they would be much higher for RVs because the volume would be so much lower. Engineering and design costs would be so high that we are unlikely to see the Prius of RVs any time soon, if ever.
Are There Any Electric RVs?
While a complicated hybrid RV design is probably not in the books, electric RVs are on the horizon. For the same reason that GM stopped making the Chevy Volt in favor of all-electric vehicles, an all-electric RV could be more cost-effective and have many benefits.
Imagine driving to your next RV park plugging your RV in for your stay, and never having to fill up on fuel. We always have to plug our RV in anyway, so why not charge it up to drive? An all-electric RV would also have a huge battery bank that could enable all appliances to be electrically powered.
Most of the electric RVs are in the concept stage and are not ready for mass production. We expect electric RVs to be available soon but probably not until electric cars are more widely adopted.
Lordstown Motors & Camping World Announce Electric RV Partnership
In December 2020, Lordstown Motors and Camping World held a joint press conference to announce their partnership on the first marketable “Class E” recreational vehicles. They anticipate starting to sell vehicles in 2022.
Winnebago Electric RV Concept
Winnebago has already partnered with Motiv Power Systems to produce a concept electric RV that they released at the 2018 RVX RV Expo in Salt Lake City. We had the opportunity to take a look at this vehicle. While it was a neat concept, it was very bare-bones in design with a simplified drive train.
In 2021 Winnebago showcased a working model the E-RV from their advanced technology group. While these are still concepts its neat to see a large manufacturer taking steps toward building a salable product.
European RV Manufacturers Making Electric Motorhomes
In Europe, a couple of RV manufacturers have started rolling out concept electric motorhomes as well. The Iridium EV by WOF seems to be the furthest along, with a motorhome design that can go 249 miles on a charge on a 108Kwh battery pack.
Will Tesla Build An RV?
After Tesla announced its Tesla Semi, we weren’t the only ones who thought of the opportunity of using it to pull an RV. While we don’t think Tesla will come out with their own RV, we fully expect that RV manufacturers will spring up to start using the Tesla Semi when this vehicle becomes available.
There has also been a lot of private interest in building an RV that will work with the Tesla cybertruck. Some have even gone so far as to mock up design concepts. None of these are real yet but its fun to see the excitement.
Larger commercial vehicle electrification like this will indeed help pave the way for electric RVs and even RV tow vehicles.
How Will An Electric RV Charge?
As big as RVs are, they will surely take longer to charge than a car. If electric semi-trucks have rapid charging technology, perhaps an RV could utilize the same charger. In most circumstances, however, an electric RV would probably charge at an RV park or home.
The great thing about an electric RV is that we already plug them in, so not much would change. However, RV parks may start charging more for electric RVs as they will draw much more power. The RV will most likely have many charging speed options and work with both rapid chargers and standard wall outlets.
Lets assume a midsize RV might have a 200Kwh battery pack. (The Iridum EV motorhome has a 108Kwh). Using a 50 amp circuit, it would take 17 hours to get a full charge maxing out the circuit. Considering we would be using power for other things and cannot wholly max out a 50 amp service, the electric RV would most likely require 24-hour charging.
Even with this long charge time, most people stay at least a day at an RV park. And if going park to park with the occasional rapid charge, an electric RV may never need to visit a fueling station.
Another neat option for an electrically driven RV to charge is solar power. While limited by how much solar can be installed on an RV’s roof, a few thousand watts can add up to many miles of driving. In fact, we charge our Volt off our RV’s excess solar power. We have driven thousands of miles in the sun in our car, so why couldn’t an RV? The neat thing about having a large battery for driving is that oversized solar systems on RV’s dont go to waste because there is so much battery to charge up.
The Electric Tow Car Hybrid Concept
An idea I have toyed with for a while is turning any standard RV into a hybrid vehicle by using a modern electric car. The electric car would be towed behind the RV and connected with a special tow hitch that will allow the car to push the RV.
At the time of this article, no electric vehicle can do this, but we have heard that the new Rivian truck may be able to. The electric vehicle would need to be programmed to a special controller in the RV and would have three primary modes you could select.
Hybrid Mode – Concept Mode 1
In this mode, the car would retain a mid-level battery charge and assist the RV when accelerating and regen when slowing down. This mode would essentially turn an RV into a parallel hybrid vehicle and should significantly improve fuel economy.
This mode would also improve braking performance and reduce wear on the RV.
Battery Deplete Mode – Concept Mode 2
In this mode, the car would start with a charged battery from the previous destination. You would set a trip length, and the car would deplete its battery over the course of the trip, giving an assist to the RV the entire time. It would end with the battery depleted. This mode would provide the RV max fuel economy, but the car would need charging at the destination.
Battery Charge Mode – Concept Mode 3
In this mode, the electric car would start with a low battery level that needs recharging. The car could regen slowly throughout a trip to end with more charge for driving around. This setup would decrease the RV fuel economy, but there may be circumstances when you need to have the car charged up at the destination.
At the time of this article, no vehicle is capable of doing this. We’ve heard that the electric truck manufacturer Rivian is making their trucks to be 4-wheel-down towable and capable of tow charging. This mode could be promising to utilize an electric vehicle to “hybridize” an RV.
Endless Possibilities in the Future Of Electric RVs
There are so many benefits to electric vehicles, smoother operation, more torque (Perfect for RV’s) long and minimal maintenance intervals and the ability to charge from almost any power source. We think these benefits will first be realized in the electric car markets but there is no reason that RV’s will not see them at some point.
Were staying plugged in (pun intended) to the RV industry and will share any further developments we hear about here on our website so be sure to subscribe to our newsletter to be the first to know about these futuristic vehicles!
Become a Mortons on the Move Insider:
Join our newsletter for the latest updates on RV Travel, RV Gear, RV Solar & Electrical Mods, and more!
Read More from the Mortons: