Electric cars have finally made their way into the mass markets, and for good reason. They are no longer just environmentalists’ cars. In fact, many realize they are far superior to carbon-fuel vehicles in some ways. So what else can we electrify? How about RVs?
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 for 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 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.
What Are The Benefits of an Electric RV?
There are so many benefits to electric vehicles, from smoother operation to more torque (Perfect for RVs) and long and minimal maintenance intervals. Also, the ability to charge from almost any power source is a huge benefit, as an RV’s already plug in everywhere they go.
In addition, RVs already have big batteries to run their appliances when on the move. Combining the existing power system needs with the vehicle power system could far improve the usability of the RV. Many RV’s also have generators and solar panels that could act as range extenders to recharge the vehicle’s batteries. This all would just make the vehicle that much more flexible and user-friendly.
We think these benefits will first be realized in the electric car markets, but there is no reason that RVs will not see them at some point.
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 any way, 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.
One of the most exciting potential RV platforms comes in the form of a class B RV. Mercedes Sprinter conversions are among some of the most popular RV options, and this year, Mercedes is opening the door to electric versions. The 2024 eSprinter should be hitting the roadways soon and is designed on the same sprinter platform as all of their other models. This is brilliant because upfitters will be able to use the same designs and products on this van.
While this van is targeted for the commercial market (as are their gas and diesel models), we have no doubt that we will see RV conversions made from them in short order.
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, it’s 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.
Range Extending Trailers
There are a few companies in 2023 like Colorado Teardrop Trailers working on travel trailers with range-extending capabilities for electric cars. Even Tesla showed off a concept of this type of trailer. Range-extending trailers are devices that can be attached to electric cars to provide additional power and extend their driving range. Essentially, they are equipped with a battery pack or a generator that can charge the battery as it is being towed or once parked.
The idea behind range-extending trailers is to address the issue of range loss when towing, which is a common concern for drivers of electric vehicles. While electric cars are becoming more popular and their driving ranges are increasing, many people are still hesitant to adopt them because they have limited range when towing.
Range-extending trailers offer a solution to this problem by providing an extra source of power that can be used to recharge the electric car’s battery on the go.
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 or build 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 it’s 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.
Let’s assume a midsize RV might have a 200Kwh battery pack. (The Iridium 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 RVs don’t 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
As our automotive industry slowly adopts EVs as a part of our transportation system, we have no doubt that the electric RV is right around the corner. While we may not see them on dealer lots this year, it’s just a matter of time.
We’re 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!
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Wednesday 3rd of May 2023
Let me get this straight. The same RV industry that can’t put enough battery power into my new motorhome to power a coffee pot, has taken 5 years to embrace LiFePO4 technology, has the worst reputation for service availability since the Wankel engine, is going to start making electric vehicles ? Oh yea.
Thursday 16th of June 2022
1) Your tow car concept is an interesting one, but at the end of the day it's ability to be a helper will be limited by its own range. I see it more as negating the losses associated with having a tow car vs. actually pushing the RV, but the RV mpg benefits would still be real. I would also imagine the range of the tow car would increase significantly tucked into the slipstream of the RV. 2) I see the range limit of an electric RV as a tough sell but a hybrid RV has some potential. Hybrid powertrains offer no real advantage on the highway, but they are great for stop and go, or similarly up and down which could provide some advantage for driving in the mountains. A big plus for off-grid living would be the generously sized hybrid battery onboard, and one with its own generator (RV engine) at that. I don't consider a parallel hybrid as all that much more complicated either. It certainly requires some additional electric stuff, but a trade-off on our Toyota hybrid is that the transmission consists of only a single stage differential gearbox that is mechanically way simpler than a conventional automatic transmission.
Sunday 8th of January 2023
@Fred, If Tesla can build a tractor trailer with a 500 mile range you should be able to utilize this concept on an RV and make it work out . There is also room for improvement with battery tech improving and design improvement say all wheel drive/generation of power but independent wheel motor combination maybe turbine style roter stator that could be placed in a diameter that could increase torq to the center like a traditional gear drive large gear pushing a much smaller one also each wheel could act as a flywheel .there are many things that could be designed different to over produce power generation compared to power consumed power weight is another area tire and wheel is another air filled wheel is a drag on anything of you had a solid tire design of course you would design a better suspension to stop the added vibration of rough roadway .
Thursday 7th of April 2022
Why can't the on board generator Keep the batteries charged????
Mortons on the Move
Saturday 23rd of April 2022
With regard to an electric RV. That would be considered a series hybrid and it's possible it could be built. We have a chevy volt that is the only car that operates that way using the engine as a generator. Its a complicated task to get it right handling that much power tho and would be need to be built by the chassis manufacturer, thus will need to see it in busses or trucks first.
Sunday 6th of March 2022
Vent scoops on roof of RV that tunnel wind power generator while driving at highway speeds to help charge batteries. This is the opposit of what regenerative braking does
Friday 15th of October 2021
If tesla superchargers are utilized on the way to your destination a 24 hr stay at the rv park would do the job of charging. I think it's an awesome idea, My wife wouldn't like to not have a permanent address but I wouldn't care! I love the thought of roaming around in my only home... Although I probably wouldnt spend $400k for an rv for pleasure, a lot of people probably could and would. I have not heard anyone talk about the battery storage benefit you would have with the built in inverter of the rv you could plug into your rv and run your house if the power was out! and I bet there would be opportunities to work with the power companies to smooth out power demands charging and discharging at the optimum times!