Airstream and its parent company Thor Industries surprised and excited RV and EV enthusiasts alike with the eStream electric travel trailer concept, which could essentially go off the grid for days, increase the tow vehicle's range or mpg, and potentially manoeuvre itself into a camping or charging spot.
Now the business has given more information about the project and the concept car, which CEO Bob Wheeler said isn't just a sustainability exercise in a follow-up Q&A session on the project last week.
Wheeler said, “Ultimately if it doesn’t provide a better customer experience it’s going to be a lot of effort for nought”. He also mentioned that a portion of the initiative seeks to get around some of the usual EV pain points, such as charging and route planning. As a result, don't expect the product to be released this year or even next year. The company is still in the early stages of this concept, according to the CEO.
But, as he went on to explain, it's a way of getting feedback from dealers and customers and determining the correct feature sets and value for a model that it plans to develop in the near future.
However, Airstream did not begin with a fully new chassis and technical set. It began with the chassis that its German subsidiary Dethleffs built with ZF in 2018 and 2019, which was showcased last year with an Audi E-Tron Sportback on an Alps route that included high altitude and a lot of ascent and descent. Despite its 218-mile EPA range rating, the E-Tron Sportback managed the 240-mile route with essentially the same system as the eStream, albeit with a lighter trailer.
Airstream eStream Electric Travel Trailer
According to McKay Featherstone, vice president of product development and engineering at Airstream, the company is bringing a platform to the project. One of the drivers, according to Featherstone, was the company's focus on sustainability and a lower carbon footprint for its customers. He did, however, mention that the idea dates back to the debut of the Tesla Model X.
Towing with an electric vehicle is not a new concept; people have been doing it for decades. However, by speaking with real consumers, the company was able to better understand pain areas, challenges, and other integrations. As a result, technology has the capacity to address these issues.
Airstream hopes that buyers will regard the new model as not just more environmentally friendly, but also more luxurious and convenient. Travel trailer owners today must make compromises because they cannot stay off the grid for long periods of time. This system works as if it were plugged in, providing electricity and heating at all times.
The majority of the inside materials were chosen for their sustainability, and a transparent panel allows for a glimpse down onto the motor unit and batteries. The trailer has a heat pump and an induction cooktop, and the front of it is clean because there is no need for a gas tank.
The eStream also boasts a thinner body than a standard Airstream, as well as a clean roof with a look down onto 900 watts of solar cells that charge the battery slowly when cruising or camping. On road trips, the 22-foot travel trailer should be able to fit into a standard vehicle charging place, allowing it and the towing vehicle to fast-charge at the same time. Fast-charging times (to 80%) are expected to be in the range of 30 to 45 minutes, which is similar to most current EVs. They also plan to make its Level 2 onboard charger capable of providing a complete charge overnight using standard camping 30-amp plugs.
Electric Travel Trailer Interior
Despite the fact that this is just a concept, the idea is clearly in the works. Airstream intends to take the trailer out on the road this year for real-world testing, with additional testing and refining to come.
Airstream is currently deciding on the size of the batteries and motors. Understanding the dynamics will also be an important component of the testing process. Dethleffs' trailer was lighter due to the employment of two 90-kw (121-hp) electric motors, each of which provided 40 hp of continuous power.
The eStream has the ability to torque-vector and help steady not just the trailer but also the tow vehicle, allowing for a smooth, stable tow in sway or side winds. It also has the ability to assist with traction, such as on muddy or snow-covered inclines.
One of the concept's standout features is its ability to park itself remotely, using a smartphone app and on its own power. The backup and self-driving system will primarily rely on ultrasonic sensors, both below and above the vehicle, in conjunction with camera systems.
Trip planning is equally vital for getting everything to work and ensuring that the experience is better. Airstream also intends to leverage Amazon Alexa to give how-to content for the new technology.
The sStream does fit into the existing NHTSA regulatory framework, according to the executives, who were startled; therefore, part of the project will be ensuring that it stays in compliance.
And there's a lot more innovation that could make it into a manufacturing paradigm. Airstream is also investigating the prospect of bidirectional charging and using the home's battery to power it. It also needs to perform a better job at problem-solving in the area below.
There will be some clever new solutions to enable getting away from it all, familiar yet different, just as we're seeing with electric trucks. And, for a more traditional form factor, the eStream is a promising start.