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

Leading recreational vehicle maker Thor Industries, the parent company of the popular Airstream brand, has announced that it has signed a binding Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with German auto supplier ZF to give Thor companies exclusive rights to ZF’s eTrailer system in an RV travel trailer. The goal is a new type of camper that will maintain – and possibly extend – the electric vehicle’s nominal range while towing.

The basic idea is this: put the batteries in the space between the rails of the travel wagon frame, and replace one of the dummy axles with an electric drive axle. The trailer is now, essentially, an electric vehicle that can boost itself forward. It connects to the vehicle through a 4-pin connector in the same way RVs now do to engage the brake lights and ABS system, simply applying torque to the axle when the towing vehicle’s driver depresses the “go” pedal.

“THOR is pleased to enter into this partnership with ZF, a global technology company that enables the next generation of mobility. The eTrailer system, jointly developed by THOR, Erwin Hymer Group (EHG) and ZF over the past several years, is the only high voltage solution available in recreational vehicles,” said Bob Martin, President and CEO of THOR. “The importance of this technology, compared to other solutions in space, is the significant impact it has on the range, chargeability and power of both the towing and the hardware in an RV.”

If adding high-capacity lithium-ion batteries and a compact drive system can eliminate—or even effectively mitigate the range penalties of electric vehicles that tow heavy loads, it could be a game-changer for RV camping, recreational boating, and sports. Cars pulling crowds who, until now, have been watching the electric car revolution from the sidelines with a greater than usual sense of range anxiety.

The good news? It seems to be working. In July 2021, a test by Thor Erwin Hymer Group and Dethleffs demonstrated the capabilities of the eTrailer system by towing an eTrailer-equipped wagon with an Audi e-tron Sportback from Germany to Italy… over the Alps. Audi was able to successfully tow the eTrailer RV for a full distance, 386 km (about 240 miles), on a single charge—it arrived at its destination with power still on both the eTrailer and e-tron system batteries. Note that the specific range of Audi for the car, by herself, 393 km.

Who gets it first?

Thor owns several RV brands — Keystone, Dutchmen and Jayco, to name a few — but the crown jewel in her brand portfolio is Airstream. The modern, aluminum-clad, mid-century Airstream is the most popular of the travel trailers. It’s the movie that’s in all movies. All brochures. It’s the high-end label sticker of the recreational vehicle industry, and as such, we have plenty of reason to believe Thor will launch its new eTrailer technology under the Airstream banner.

The fact that McKay Featherstone, Vice President of Product Development and Engineering at Airstream actually confirmed that the company was working on something exactly like this during CNET road signs last february interview Also Seems like pretty solid evidence, if you ask me.

Expect an announcement from Airstream somewhat sooner rather than later.

Take Electric

This is one of those great ideas – like the Ford ProPower – that goes beyond EV space and applies to basically all vehicles. A trailer that can propel itself with powered wheels will greatly increase the fuel efficiency of an ICE truck/trailer platform, allow smaller, more efficient vehicles to safely tow and park heavy loads, and make recreational camping more accessible to new audiences.

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

source | Photos: Thor Industries / ZF.

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