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Airstream parent company Thor signs MOU with ZF to build electric RV

Leading RV manufacturer Thor Industries, the parent company of the iconic Airstream brand, announced that it had signed a binding memorandum of understanding (MOU) with German auto supplier ZF to give Thor companies exclusive rights to ZF’s eTrailer System in a travel trailer RV. The goal is a new kind of camper that would maintain – and possibly extend – the nominal range of an electric vehicle while towing.

The basic idea is this: you put batteries into the space between a travel trailer’s frame rails, and replace one of the dummy axles with an electric drive axle. The trailer is now, basically, an EV that can power itself forward. It communicates with the car through the 4-pin connector in the same way RVs do now to engage brake lights and ABS, simply applying torque to the axle when the driver of the tow vehicle presses on the “go” pedal.

“THOR is thrilled to enter into this partnership with ZF, a global technology company enabling next generation mobility. The eTrailer System, which THOR, Erwin Hymer Group (EHG), and ZF have jointly developed over the last several years, is the only high voltage solution available in the RV space,” said Bob Martin, THOR President and Chief Executive Officer. “The significance of this technology, compared to other solutions in the space, is the dramatic effect it has on range and the potential for charge and power to both the tow vehicle and appliances in an RV.”

If adding high-capacity li-ion batteries and a compact drive system could eliminate – or even just effectively mitigate the range penalties suffered by electric vehicles towing heavy loads, it could be a game-changer for the RV camping, recreational boating, and motorsports towing crowds that have, until now, been watching the EV revolution from the sidelines with a great-than-usual sense of range anxiety.

The good news? It seems to work. In July 2021, a test conducted by Thor companies Erwin Hymer Group and Dethleffs demonstrated the eTrailer System’s potential by towing an eTrailer-equipped camper with an Audi e-tron Sportback from Germany to Italy… over the Alps. The Audi was able to successfully tow the eTrailer RV the full distance, 386 km (approximately 240 miles), on a single charge – arriving at its destination with power still remaining in both the eTrailer System batteries and the e-tron. Note that Audi’s stated range for the vehicle, by itself, is 393 km.

Who gets it first?

Thor owns several RV brands – Keystone, Dutchmen, and Jayco, just to name a few – but the crown jewel in its brand portfolio is Airstream. The aircraft-inspired, aluminum-skinned, mid-century modern Airstream is the most iconic travel trailer out there. It’s the one that’s in all the movies. All the brochures. It’s the high-end poster child of the RV industry, and, as such, we have plenty of reason to believe that Thor will launch its new eTrailer tech under the Airstream banner.

The fact that McKay Featherstone, Airstream’s Vice President of Product Development and Engineering already confirmed that the company was working on something exactly like this during a CNET Road Show interview last February also seems like pretty solid evidence, if you ask me.

Expect an announcement from Airstream somewhat sooner than later.

Electrek’s Take

This is one of those great ideas – like Ford ProPower – that transcends the EV space and basically applies to all vehicles. A trailer that can propel itself with powered wheels would greatly increase the fuel efficiency of an ICE truck/trailer rig, allow smaller, more efficient vehicles to safely haul and stop heavier loads, and make recreational camping a bit more accessible to new audiences.

Thor definitely has a winner in the electrified Airstream concept. It remains to be seen which RV company will be second.

Source | Images: Thor Industries / ZF.

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