The electrification of recreational vehicles (RV) is one of the ongoing revolutionary trends that is bound to shape the future of the industry. According to a recent survey conducted by account and consulting firm KPMG, auto executives believe that more than half of their sales will be electric vehicles (EVs) by 2030.
The industry may see major changes with EVs, leading to a rigorous adjustment period. While some are still questioning the range of the vehicles and some are worried about when the battery will drain, innovators are charging up for an exciting future.
Once people get over that mental hurdle, they can see the stress and anxiety just melt away, Nick Davis, a program manager in Winnebago Industries’s advanced technology group, said during the 2022 Outdoor Hospitality Conference and Expo’s session about the future of EVs.
During the session, Davis shared the experience he had when the company started to dabble in electrifying RVs.
“One of our areas of focus is around electrification. Over the past few years, we launched a series of projects focused around electrification, most notably our e-RV,” he said. “We took a [non-electrified] vehicle, we made it electric, and then we built an RV on that.”
Davis and his team’s goal in electrifying a non-electric vehicle were to understand as much as they could about electrification and how it can blend perfectly with RV technology.
He said that he and his team then took that vehicle on a road trip around the east and midwest coasts, with the most notable thing about it being how they completed the trip using only DC fast chargers.
He further explained that EVs require infrastructure for charging and maintaining them, while RVs have “this quiet backup network” to help keep them moving.
“We wanted to have a little bit of an experiment to see how much we could really push those bounds and how lean we could be and how we operate. So, it was great that we were able to use fast charges the entire way, which is just a kind of an anecdotal indicator that there is some infrastructure,” said Davis.
One of his realizations when working on the project was the range of the electrified RV. Today’s technology allows EV users to cover around 300-400 mph. However, Davis said he was surprised that his team was able to go on a coast-to-coast road trip in a vehicle that can only cover around 125 miles, using only DC fast chargers.
He also learned during that time that the slower the driver goes, the sooner they might arrive at their destination.
“I know it’s slightly counterintuitive. Basically, we drove just a little bit slower, and I’m not saying we need to go 20 miles an hour, 25 miles an hour, [anything] like that. But even going from 70, dropping down to 65, we were able to be much more efficient with the energy,” said Davis.
“I think the range is something that we have to work through as well, both on the technology side as well on the perception side of how much range is actually needed. But at the end of the day, our customers are gonna dictate what type of product they need to have, what type of experience they have.”
The slowed trip also allowed them to meet people with genuine curiosity about their vehicle. Davis said it was exciting for them to see many people interested in understanding their project and learning more about it themselves.
“What people were shocked to see was how the experiences of electrification and RV were blending together,” he said. “Outside of being completely electric, it basically looks and functions the same way as an RV we’re used to seeing on the road.”
While most campground owners usually worry about giving the perfect experience possible for EV drivers, Davis said that the one good thing about driving an EV is that the experience does not have to be perfect.
“I don’t know if I’ve got, you know, the fastest charging available. I don’t know if I can score X number of vehicles, all that stuff. These early adopters are very forgiving. They’re excited about going on this journey, excited about the challenges,” he said.
“There’s a lot of planning that goes into both of them. There’s a lot of mindfulness that goes into them. But some of these early adopters, the majority of them, are excited about having a little bit of that uncertain nature of the trip and working their way through it.”
Davis said that electrification takes on multiple forms. It could be an EV towing an RV or an EV with a tent. It spreads the spectrum of what the experience looks like, but people are interested and excited about it.
“EVs and RVs can utilize our existing infrastructure,” he said. “We have a lot of great things in place today, whether it’s fast chargers, whether it’s public level two charging, or whether it’s your lovely campgrounds to bring that into the fold as well.”
He said this trend is coming with many great opportunities that owners and RVers can leverage, bringing a lot of excitement.