By Russ and Tiña De Maris
More and more states are jumping on the zero-emission vehicle bandwagon. California may be the first—and the cursed—but others are following suit. The RV industry can’t ignore which way the wind blows. Zero-emission RVs will at some point have to become a reality if the RV lifestyle is to continue.
Don’t think big
Last week Thor rolled out its own conception of zero-emission RVs. While it’s easy to anticipate that motorhomes would get first place in development, Thor didn’t leave out towables. With their Thor Vision Vehicle motorhome, any visions of a 40’ Class A that recharges outside a burger joint are quickly banished. Large-scale towables likewise seem to vanish like a puff of tailpipe smoke, if Thor’s eStream travel trailer is an accurate future prediction.
Thor rolled out their concept rigs at the Florida RV SuperShow last week. Thor dubbed their release “Welcome to the Future,” with plenty of fanfare. While you could take a close look at these rigs, they weren’t ready to roll down the road. Long on promise, short on useful details, we’ll share what Thor is touting.
But Thor wasn’t alone at the show with a concept motorhome. Winnebago also trotted out its own e-RV Class B campervan. Interestingly, both Winnie and Thor base their concept motorhomes on Ford’s full-size Transit Van. Both companies use electric motors in place of the typical fossil-fueled power plant. But here’s where the difference comes in: Winnebago says it will use batteries to power the house and the drive-wheels, giving an estimated 125-mile range between recharges. Thor plays a high-card, claiming 300 miles of range. Neither company provides information about horsepower.
But how can Thor claim so much more range than Winnebago? Winnie’s 125-mile projected range isn’t a great deal less than the typical zero-emission passenger car. Thor’s “secret sauce” is both batteries and “including integrated fuel cell components,” says a Thor press release. And just what does that fuel cell need for fueling? “A variety of fuel options” said to include hydrogen.
What will Thor’s zero-emission RVs provide, aside from an advanced techno drive system? Don’t look for simplicity. From the driver’s seat you’ll see digital displays that do more than simply tell you how soon you’ll need to plug in for a recharge. Advanced GPS displays will help you navigate to Grandmother’s house, or your favorite RV park. And don’t worry about breaking your neck to check your rear-view mirrors. Just glance at the top corners of the dash board. Video displays show what’s behind you, courtesy of the rear-viewing cameras that replace those pesky, old-fashioned mirrors.
Luxurious-appearing padded comfort is provided in the relaxation area. In the promo videos, you’ll see the happy RV owner, drinking his morning cup of joe as he pushes a button. No, the button-touch doesn’t roll up day and night shades. Rather, it “unfrosts” the window glazing, taking you from privacy mode to full-light exposure.
Drive it. Sleep in it. Cook in it. Clean up in it. Thor’s vision of the future looks comfortable enough, in a cozy, Class B sort of way.
Back in July, Thor demonstrated its intent to position itself in the zero-emission RV towable market. At that time, the company rolled out a demonstration travel trailer, hitched to an Audi electric-powered SUV. The little SUV pulled the travel trailer 240 miles without a need for a charge stop. We say “towed” in a general sense, because the trailer was equipped with its own motive power source. The “concept” trailer shown off at the Florida RV SuperShow looked decidedly different.
What looks a bit like an Airstream, but comes equipped with wheels that push it around? Well, certainly nothing but an eStream. Thor crows that eStream has “the ability to charge much faster than low-voltage alternatives, providing the faster recharging experience electric vehicle consumers demand.”
How does it work? The system that Thor and its partner have developed carefully synchronizes the speed of the trailer’s driving wheels with the speed of the “towing” vehicle. Proof of how this works is shown in a Thor promotional video that shows the happy owners of an eStream trotting their little trailer around the backyard—without the need of a hitched-up tow rig.
Like its motorhome cousin, eStream is equipped with plenty of gadgets and interior luxury. No doubt the price tag will reflect all this appropriately.
“Concept” versus reality—short on details
So Thor has the “concepts” but what will be the reality? Fact in point, if you’re in the market for zero-emission RVs, you might never buy either of these Thor rigs. No mention has been made when—or even if—Thor plans to put these models into production.
What else is missing? Details. Like, just how much power is stored in the batteries of the eStream trailer. What kind of weight is tied up in the battery system, leaving how much load capacity for food, clothing, and other gear? And, of course, that ever-important part of the equation: How much will these rigs set you back? We’d hope it’s not a matter of, “If you have to ask, you can’t afford it.” After all, like it or not, the future of RVing will likely come down to zero-emission RVs. But will you and I be able to hack the price tag?
What do you think? Are you ready for zero-emission RVs? Share your thoughts by filling out the form below. Please include “zero-emission RV” on the subject line.
Update: Corrected gloss that indicated Winnebago as a subsidiary of Thor. Obviously NOT the case. 1/23/2022 0831 MST [Diane messed it up late last night. I’m sorry (not to mention mortified) that I did that! —Diane]