The dream of a truly electric-driven RV thus far has been largely that. A dream. Yes, Thor and Winnebago have made a lot of noise with their “prototype” rigs, and perhaps there’s some promise there. But when will e-RVs trot off either of the two manufacturers’ lines? Who knows? Maybe it’s a problem of an RV manufacturer trying to fit electric drive into an existing RV concept. But this week, a new industry startup says it will become the first electrically driven RV seller when it releases its e-trailer which is “designed like an EV.”
From food truck to RV
Who makes such claims? It’s Lightship (LightshipRV.com), a company thought up and populated by former Tesla workers. Imagine a couple of guys who used to work for Elon Musk. Ben Parker who worked on Tesla battery design, and Toby Kraus. The latter oversaw the Model S program, then later bailed out and worked in management at an electric bus manufacturer. Kraus and Parker kicked around a few ideas and initially thought about building all-electric food trucks. Imagine your favorite carne asada truck slipping into the neighborhood silently, and—well, for at least the wheel-power—odorlessly.
The more the two talked up their idea, the more others said, “Hang on, why not an e-RV?” Neither of the two were RVers, so they decided they’d best research the lifestyle. They rented “the most aerodynamic trailer” they could find and hitched it to a Model X Tesla for a 6,000-mile research tour. Things didn’t go as some EV proponents would like. They recall at one point having to drop the trailer on the shoulder of a freeway off-ramp when the Tesla pooped out. With the extra load of the trailer, the EV couldn’t even make it to the next charge station.
It must have been an interesting series of lessons. Maybe engineers and executives from the RV industry should try taking their own rigs out on the road, and experience the frustration of real RVers—but we digress. In any event, the Lightship guys learned in a hurry that for an e-trailer to be practical, it would need rethinking from the pavement up.
Truly “e” in nature
“Our goal is definitely to create a super satisfying long-range, EV roadtripping experience,” Ben Parker told electrek.co. “As any good Tesla alum would work, we started with going back to the fundamentals and asking, ‘What should a travel trailer be?’”
For Lightship, looking at RV sales statistics, what an “RV should be” turned into an e-trailer. In the fossil-fuel-driven RV industry, a trailer is simply a box on wheels you hitch up to a drive unit. That was the snafu that left the Lightship team stranded by the freeway. The team now envisions their new e-trailer to be truly “e” in nature. An electric drive unit will help to propel their trailer, taking some of the load off the tow unit.
The goal for the EV owner: To keep whatever expected solo range, even when towing. A 300-mile range e-auto would keep its 300 miles between charges, while their e-trailer carries its own load. And no, you wouldn’t need to have an EV to tow their trailer—it could be hitched up to a conventional fossil-fuel vehicle.
The devil is in the details
How does any of this translate into the real world of RVing? That remains to be seen. All the company website says about their e-trailer is this: “We’re on a mission to reimagine the recreational vehicle experience for the electric age, starting with our first Lightship — a seamless, modern, connected, aerodynamic travel trailer.” And in a published quote, Ben Parker said of the new rig, “It is aerodynamic, it is all electric, the inside is modern and connected with a big, beautiful touch display and on the roof, nothing but solar.”
Like the man says, “Talk’s cheap. Show me the money.” Either Lightship’s founders are very fast talkers, or they’ve got something they aren’t showing everyone. It takes a lot of flim-flam, or something somewhat real, to talk your way into $23 million. Not long ago, Lightship gained $23m in “Series A” funding to help them gear up their e-trailer development. Lightship is now looking for a bevy of tech-heavy workers to staff its San Francisco, California, and Boulder, Colorado, facilities.
One of the big financial backers is Prelude Ventures, a venture capital firm that focuses on climate change issues. Prelude’s Victoria Beasley explained her firm’s financial backing. “We’re looking for opportunities to accelerate EV adoption,” she told manufacturing.net. “The recreational vehicle industry is a large market with massive opportunity for innovation; nearly 1 in 10 American households owns an RV, 90% of which are towables. The reality is that clunky RVs on the market will never be reliably towable with an electric vehicle.”
Clunky RVs? Certainly not energy efficient but, at present, the only game in town. If Lightship can, in fact, redesign RVs from the pavement up and bring them in at an affordable level, then the era of “clunky RVs” may come to an end. But that’s a mighty big “if” at this point. We’ll see if and when Lightship’s e-trailer becomes a sellable reality.