By Russ and Tiña De Maris
While the possibility of smaller electric-powered motorhomes moves closer to reality, travel trailers are a different story. But industry gorilla Thor is making a move to dominate EV RVing in the towable market. How so? They’ve just signed an agreement with a German manufacturer to develop an electric drive system for towables.
Electric SUV tows RV over the Alps
This isn’t the first we’ve heard about Thor exploring the realm of EV RVing. Back in July, Thor’s Erwin Hymer Group and Dethleffs all went together to show how an EV could successfully tow a travel trailer. They hitched up an Audi e-tron® Sportback, a Belgian-made SUV, to a travel trailer equipped with a system called e-trailer. Picture a smallish travel trailer equipped with electric motors and batteries. While the SUV technically “towed” the trailer, the e-trailer system actually provided most of its own motive power, taking the load off the SUV.
In the July demonstration run, the Audi SUV “pulled” the trailer out of Germany and into Italy, right over the Alps. The whole trip was about 240 miles – just shy of the Audi’s estimated range. The Audi-combo made the trip without any need for a recharge stop.
New deal puts Thor in driver seat
Now Thor has announced it has signed on the dotted line with with ZF Friedrichshafen AG (ZF), which developed the eTrailer System along with Thor and Erwin Hymer Group (EHG) over the last several years. What that means is that Thor now has “exclusive rights” to the system, “in the RV space for a certain period and perpetual rights in key aspects of the intellectual property supporting the development.” It would look as though it puts Thor in the driver seat for future EV RVing – at least with the ZF technology.
It’s more than just the “wheels on the bus go round and round.” In order to keep their wagon hitched up properly, the drive system has to detect just how fast the tow vehicle is going and keep the proper pace. Without that sort of clever sensoring, one could image all manner of difficulties. On the flat, or heading upgrade, too slow would mean the tow vehicle could be hit with an excruciating load. On the downgrade, without smart monitoring, an overspeed trailer could become a major safety hazard, shoving the lead vehicle down the road. Evidently ZF’s technology overcomes these issues.
Still some bugs to work out
For practical use, it looks as though Thor still has a bit of work ahead before we see a future for EV RVing. In the prototype, the batteries and propulsion units scaled in at 1,320 pounds. That’s a considerable loss of net cargo capacity for an RVer. Certainly the system would need to be scaled up for larger trailers. Developers say they should be able to scale down the weight of the batteries and propulsion to something like 800 pounds for a trailer the size of the prototype.
Boondockers may not think much of the whole idea. Where do you find a 50-kilowatt DC fast charger in the middle of nowhere?
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