Airstream is testing an electric travel trailer that could go off-grid for weeks at a time, park itself into a camping spot and help propel itself down the road.
The trailer, called the eStream, would be the first electric-powered camper in the U.S., according to the company.
“There’s nothing like it in the industry,” said Bob Wheeler, CEO and president of the Jackson Center, Ohio, company. “We’re really at the start of the electric RV movement.”
Airstream introduced the trailer at an RV show in Tampa two weeks ago.
The 22-foot-long trailer, in Airstream’s singular “silver bullet” design, would include batteries under the floor that would propel the trailer’s two wheels, significantly reducing the power required to tow the trailer. The powered wheels would also provide more traction and more breaking strength.
The batteries would allow an owner to use an app to “drive” the unhitched trailer to the towing vehicle or into a parking spot.
“This eliminates the need to back the thing up, which can be challenging and intimidating for some owners,” Wheeler said. “There’s a joke in the industry that no matter where your marriage is headed, backing a trailer up will get you there faster.”
Charged by a solar array on the trailer’s roof, the batteries would also power lights, appliances and other devices in the trailer, eliminating the need for propane.
The bank of batteries stores 80 kilowatt-hours of power, more than 30 times the storage of batteries now included on many Airstreams, according to the company. The strength of the batteries would allow the trailer to go “off-grid,” without being charged, for extended stays.
“We estimate it could be used two weeks without supplemental power or solar,” Wheeler said. “With sun and much more modest use of air conditioning, you could almost stay out indefinitely.”
The trailer itself, while unmistakably Airstream, is 8 inches narrower than conventional Airstreams and without air conditioner boxes and vents on the roof to make it more streamlined.
Those aerodynamic features and other eStream innovations are likely to be incorporated into other Airstream products, Wheeler said.
Production of the eStream is “at least two years out,” but Wheeler said Airstream definitely plans to manufacture some version of it in the company’s Jackson Center facilities, which were extensively expanded two years ago.
The concept eStream is fully loaded, he noted, and may not be efficient or affordable for the real world.
“We really swung for the fences with this with the 80-kilowatt battery, dual drive trains, electric air conditioning, heat, hot water, cooking, and 900 watts of solar on the roof,” he said. “It may not make sense for all of these features in the market product. … It’s an amazing thing, but not at any price. We need to strike the right balance.”
Wheeler said Airstream hopes to test one or two of the campers in real-world conditions. In addition, the company will solicit feedback from 800 potential customers who have requested information on the trailers, along with the company’s dealers.
The eStream is based on a model developed a few years ago by a sister company in Germany, Dethleffs, and Airstream’s parent company, Thor Industries.
Industry experts said the eStream or similar products could be game-changers.
“This is a momentous development for the industry,” said Jen Young, chief marketing officer for Outdoorsy, which connects RV owners with travelers who want to rent RVs.
“While there are electric campers/RVs out there that have already made strides, these vehicles are not readily available throughout the U.S. Having more eco-friendly options will open RV travel to a wider audience.”
Young said the ability to go disconnect from electrical sources could be a huge attraction for the eStream and other electric campers.
“The greatest real-world advantage electric RVs have is their reported capability to take RV travelers off grid for up to seven days with the ability to still use all of their appliances,” she said.
The RV industry overall has traveled behind the automotive industry in adopting electric power, in part because of the extremely limited range electric power can offer heavy RVs.
At about the same time Airstream introduced the eStream, Winnebago introduced an electric motor coach called the e-RV. The coach, based on the Ford Transit, has a range of about 125 miles. Thor has also introduced an electric RV concept with a 300-mile range called the Thor Vision.
Airstream is piloting the eStream at a time of exceptional demand for RVs, which the industry is struggling to meet due to material and labor shortages.
“We’ve been ramping up but we’re well behind market demand,” Wheeler said.
Nonetheless, he added, “we’re excited to figure out what this thing wants to be and to manufacture it here in Ohio.”