Thor Industries presented two all-electric vehicles to the world at the Tampa RV SuperShow, Jan. 19-23. The first, an electric Airstream travel trailer, demonstrated Thor’s partnership with ZF Friedrichshafe AG and provided a trailer that will not lose range for an electric tow vehicle, but possibly extend the range of any tow vehicle.
Bob Martin, Thor president and CEO, said the company tested the concept in July with an Audi etron Sportback, which has a stated range of 244 miles, and were able to achieve 40 miles further than the stated range. The trailer axle regenerates electricity through braking, enabling the system to move energy from the trailer to the tow vehicle.
“When we got here, one of the more exciting things is the big Airstream, or the eStream we called it,” Martin said. “You know, the worry today is that when you hook up to a Ford electric truck, you are going to be able to tow maybe 100 miles. With what we created, that truck that can go 300 miles, it can go over 300 miles. It does not lose anything; it actually gains energy from the system.”
He said Thor was seeking to have additional range in a motorhome or travel trailer, as range anxiety is among the biggest issues cited by electric vehicle owners.
“We are look at what other applications we could do with this — it could go on a fifth wheel,” he said.
Thor has been waiting to unveil the concept vehicles for months. Martin said the original plan was to debut the vehicles for dealers at Elkhart Extravaganza in September. Once the dealer event was canceled, the manufacturer looked for the right time to roll out its electric vehicle progress.
The right time came this week in Tampa, he said. Thor presented the vehicles to dealers first on Tuesday before making the public announcement Wednesday.
Martin said the RV industry has followed the automobile industry’s electrification lead, but added there is still a need for mroe infrastructure to support electric vehicles across the U.S. and Canada.
“We have reached a point where we have to think about it,” he said. “That is why we have a full innovation team…because sustainability, the environment is important to many of our customers. When you look at car companies, it is clear that they are buying products from the companies that are really thinking about things. For the long term of the RV industry, I think it is just a great opportunity for us, because we do make products that can run on electricity and with solar and lithium batteries, there are units that can go weeks.”
Martin said the trailer was built with Airstream due to the customer base, and found that to be the natural place to start.
The motorhome is built in a way to enable almost any of the manufacturers in Thor’s portfolio to use the underbody or shell.
“We just created the platform; now it is up to our companies to see how they want to adopt this and use it,” Martin said. “It has opened a lot of eyes and created a lot of opportunity and ideas.”
Josef Hjelmaker, Thor’s chief innovation officer, said the team used four pillars to build both vehicles.
First is the system used for the trailer and motorhome, which can run on up to 800 volts, versus a low-voltage system, which can be slower to charge and use.
“You can remote control park the unit,” Hjelmaker said, “and because the system actively stabilizes the trailer, the self-propelled wheels and dynamic controls enable a superior towing experience and improves the safety of the road.”
Second, the team sought to ensure the experience is fully connected, with a constant syncing system designed to ensure dealers can proactively provide service or interact with RVs before the customer brings it in.
Third, the team used an aerodynamic design and lightweight materials to extend the range of both vehicles.
“Our teams have working to significantly improve and reduce the drag of our vehicles, which is key to a true electric experience,” Hjelmaker said. “Utilizing our high voltage system, we are developing smaller and more energy efficient components with our partners, such as AC units and kitchen appliances, making our products even more sustainable.”
Finally, the team wanted to create a digital ecosystem to provide RVers less anxiety on the road. Using Thor’s company Roadpass Digital, the team created an interface in the cabin that allows for trip planning. The planning can involve anything from the maps to finding places for recharging.
“We believe our approach is unique,” Hjelmaker said. “We have filed over 50 patents on our journey to create an electrified future. It is more than just creating electric RVs. It is about creating an ecosystem for consumers to own our product in an electrified future.”