Will RV’s Ever Go Electric?

Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors and SpaceX, claims that every mode of transportation will be electric in the next few decades. The only exception the Musk points out is, of course, rockets.

While many people might be asking lofty questions like, “Can you electrify supersonic, jet-propulsion aircraft?” Our minds went somewhere a little less ambitious; electric RV’s. (Also known as Recreational Vehicles)

Starting With a Leg Up

The world of RV’s is already heavily electrified. Most RV enthusiasts have generators, solar panels, or both on their rigs. Also, most RV parks have robust electricity hookups. The industry’s adoption of technology that makes electricity more mobile has been in full force for several decades. Therefore, if electric RV’s hit the market, the infrastructure required to support them would not be starting from zero. However, there are still plenty of hurdles that will need to be overcome.

Everyone’s Biggest Concern: Range

A vehicle meant for cross-country travel requires a range that will not completely interrupt the experience. If this is not solved, the market simply will not adopt the technology. This subject gets somewhat complicated as it’s not as simple as bigger batteries. We’ll break down the variables that play into the range of an electric RV.

Battery Energy Density

The amount of energy a battery can hold relative to its size is still improving every year. So long as this trend continues, the range of electric vehicles will continue to grow.  Along with this trend, we will also continue to see a reduction in charge times. This is important for getting the travel cadence similar to internal combustion vehicles. Electric vehicles will need to go about as far on a single charge as we can currently go on a tank of gas. Similarly, recharging or swapping the battery will need to happen about as fast as filling the tank. Technology is moving consistently toward achieving both of these things.

Regenerative Braking

An electric motor can instantly be turned into an electric generator. Because of this, electric vehicles have the ability to take advantage of regenerative braking. This means that a portion of the stopping power in the braking process is converted back into electricity, and sent to the batteries. An electric vehicle manufacturer not taking advantage of this is needlessly limiting its vehicle’s range.

Solar Panels

Like battery technology, solar panels are also improving at a steady rate. Even today, solar panels have the ability to extend the range of an electric vehicle. However, the exciting point will be when a solar panel has the ability to generate more electricity than is being used by the motor. If this tipping point is ever achieved, you can expect to see electric RV’s flooding the roads.

Why Electric RV’s Will Be a Better Product

Being “green” won’t be the only motivator for RV’s going electric. Once the range issue is solved, an electric RV will simply be a better product. Because of this, it is likely that we will see complete migration to an electric platform.

Maintenance

An electric RV will require a fraction of the maintenance that the market is used to today. This is because an electric powertrain is much simpler than its predecessor. There is no transmission, engine oil, alternator, or radiator. The brake pads will last as long as the vehicle due to the regenerative braking discussed earlier. In fact, in most cases, the RV’s maintenance will consist of replacing the tires once in a while. That’s it.

Power

The weight of an RV needs plenty of torque, especially if you’re on a steep incline. Unlike gasoline, an electric motor has instant torque that remains consistent. This means that slowly rumbling up a mountain in the right lane, getting passed by everyone will be a thing of the past. This fact may even open the market for “off-road” RV’s.

Space

An electric RV will also be more “roomy.” The powertrain will no longer take up the entire engine compartment. In fact, an electric power train will be about the size of a large watermelon. This will fundamentally change the shape of RV’s on the market, adding more room to the cabin. There is also no use of a drive shaft, allowing the floor to move down several inches. The net effect is as much as 15% increase in interior space.

Safety

Electric vehicles are far more safe than internal combustion engines for several reasons. For RV’s, the biggest factor will likely be weight distribution. Currently, many models of RV can be knocked onto their sides during a strong wind or an evasive steering maneuver. However, an electric model will have the floor lined with its heaviest component; lithium ion batteries. This keeps the center of gravity low and all four wheels secured to the ground. The batteries also provide a layer of structural integrity that keeps passengers much safer in a collision in ways standard car frames cannot achieve.

Electric RV’s: A Question of If, not When

As you can see, once key technological hurdles are overcome this will be the obvious next step in RV’s. With battery and solar technology progressing faster than ever, those hurdles will likely be behind us soon. It won’t just be RV’s either, internal combustion in general will likely be replaced completely. Because of this, we can expect to see massive recharging infrastructure being developed all over the world. It is safe to assume that seeing a gasoline RV in the future will be like seeing a covered wagon today, there just won’t be a reason for it.

Kyle Rutten does web design and content creation for B&B RV in Denver, Colorado. He loves travel and adventure, spending most of his free time in the Colorado wilderness.

Not an NMA Member yet?

Join today and get these great benefits!

Leave a Comment

5 Responses to “Will RV’s Ever Go Electric?”

  1. George_C says:

    A small diesel generator powering this ‘electric’ vehicle would be the correct solution. {perhaps a supercharged inline 3 cylinder that makes 50 horsepower}

    Benefits: More then enough range. Heat. Small & quiet. Smaller fuel tank, which allow for more fresh water storage, etc. Quick refilling.

    How to: Take ~20,000 of the new ’21-70′ lithium rechargeable cell. That should give you the ability to “pull” 1,000hp from the large battery pack.

    Have a 450hp motor on each of the rear axle(s), plus “in wheel” 50hp motor on the front {having a driveshaft would reduce steering articulation, and drastically increase turning circle}

    And you can have solar panels on the roof for backup.

    • Al says:

      For a while the IC generator standard on motor homes can be used to extend the electric RV’s range. The roof of a motor home has lots of room for solar roofing but of course it doesn’t work at night. While traveling or parked in daytime the solar roof can help keep the batteries from discharging as fast.

    • Al says:

      In-wheel motors if direct drive are slow turning, which means heavy for their power.
      Front wheel drive today generally means a smaller turning circle than a comparable RWD vehicle.

    • Peter says:

      George, what you describe is called a “series hybrid” in engineer-speak. It’s actually less efficient than what’s found in a Prius, where the engine has the ability to direct-drive the wheels.

      • George_C says:

        It can be, but adding 50 horsepower to 1,000 isn’t much.

        In cold weather it can be rather self defeating to draw power from the batteries, just to make heat.

        And with good integration of navigation system, you could reach your destination with the battery pack nearly topped off (just in case you don’t have an electrical hookup)

        The Prius runs series hybrid for reverse; but the engine never powers the front axle directly, always in concert with an electric motor.

        You aren’t going to find a constant angular velocity joint that will articulate 60 degrees, so it will have to be an in-wheel. Maybe unsprung weight can be trimmed by carbon-ceramic brake rotors or carbon-fiber wheels.