Winnebago takes his e-RV electric motorhome on a 1400 km long car trip

Electric motorhomes are really starting to have a life of their own in Europe, where recent debuts have included the Volkswagen Flowcamper Volt and Peugeot e-Rifter Vanderer. In North America, electric motorhomes remain parked in the concept stage, pushing themselves slowly but steadily forward. Winnebago has just returned from an extended test spin of 1,400 km in its e-RV. The company is quick to point to the trip as proof of the feasibility of electric motorhomes, but experience as well confirms the great uphill battle that all-electric motorhomes face in the American market.

Against a backdrop of record-high gas prices in the United States, Winnebago announced last Thursday that a 1380-mile (2221 km) ride began in Washington DC after “RVs Move America Week” earlier this month and ended at Winnebago HQ in Eden. Prairie, Minnesota. The journey wound through West Virginia, Pittsburgh, Ohio, Detroit, Chicago and a few other stops before landing Winnebago back at home.

Winnebago says that it was the longest continuous trip it has so far taken with the e-RV and defines it as the first known trip over 1600 miles (1600 km) in an electric motorhome. We assume that it may depend on how you define “all-electric motorhome”, but Winnebagos was not the first well-publicized electric motorhome trip to hit that mark. In 2020, Frank Eusterholz took a trip of 7500 km in a Volkswagen e-Crafter equipped with a PlugVan camper-in-a-van. Eusterholz stopped to charge almost 100 times on his return flight to Europe’s northernmost point.

With an estimated range of 125 miles, the e-RV will take some time to tackle a trip of 1000+ miles

Winnebago

Perhaps Winnebago can claim the first 1,000-plus-mile trip in the United States, as the e-RV concept is one of the first electric motorhomes to be unveiled on the other side of the Atlantic. Members of Winnebago’s Advanced Technology Group, which developed the e-RV, took turns driving the leg of the tour with the goal of documenting real-world performance and using data to refine the design. They also chatted with owners of motorhomes and electric cars along the way to gather feedback.

Using e-RV’s estimated range of 125 miles (201 km), the trip must have involved at least 11 charging stops along the way. With an average of just over an hour of charging per stop, there is over 11 hours of charging time to 26 hours of reported rear-wheel drive time. Some of these stops certainly coincided with accommodation or meal breaks, but with an average speed of 85 km / h, the team definitely did not have to stop every 2 hours and 21 minutes to sleep or eat.

Winnebago spent an average of 1 hour and 2 minutes charging the e-RV

Winnebago spent an average of 1 hour and 2 minutes charging the e-RV

Winnebago

Winnebago’s figures illustrate more precisely what we already knew: 125 miles is simply too small a range for the type of long car journey that motorhomes are designed for. These figures also suggest that Winnebago competitor Thor Industries, at least in the short term, may be on the right track with its Vision Vehicle, a Class B + electrified motorhome with a range of 483 km from both a high-capacity battery and a fuel cell. Replace that fuel cell with a low-range gas engine that will be easier to fill here and now, and RVers can immediately enjoy a combination of solid driving range, fast and easy filling and significant distances with zero-emission driving.

Winnebago would probably oppose citing internal research that suggests that more than half of new buyers prefer trips under 322 km. But Thor Industries focuses on another part of the story, noting that in its recently published North American Motorized Electric RV Study, it found that 45 percent of consumers expect to drive for five to six hours on a single charge. The study further showed that only 3 percent of consumers expect to charge after two hours or less.

Unless it runs at home speeds, the Winnebago e-RV will come in well under five or six hours. In fact, at typical highway speeds of 60 to 65 mph (97 to 105 km / h), it would instead fall into the two-hour window. Thors Vision Vehicle range extender would come close to five hours of driving at the same highway speeds, and fall short at higher speeds.

We tend to see things more as the consumers quoted in Thor’s study. If we are going to buy a full size van or a larger motorhome, we do not expect to be held back by a limited selection. Although we can sometimes use such a vehicle for short trips of approx. 100 miles, we spend that kind of money specifically on something that can handle longer trips. Mandatory stops every two to three hours are just not possible for long-distance trips with a targeted destination and time frame, and we are not even sure that they work for a calmer “journey is the destination”.

Along with saving money on gas, Winnebago's e-RV crew had the opportunity to save money on food and lodging

Along with saving money on gas, Winnebago’s e-RV crew had the opportunity to save money on food and lodging

Winnebago

In the “pros” column, Winnebago’s tour called up a total charge of $ 275 for charging fees. It does not necessarily sound cheap at first, but when AAA average US gas prices fluctuate around $ 5 per gallon, it becomes much cheaper. Winnebago estimates savings of more than $ 400, but it’s based on a comparison with a 10 mpg gas-powered vehicle, which seems awfully low for anything other than a larger motorhome – not a fair comparison with a Ford Transit e-camper van.

2022 Transit with 3.5-liter V6 gets an EPA-estimated 17 mpg combined, which will translate to $ 406 gas, a saving of $ 131 for e-RV. The weight of the motorhome equipment can knock that gas car down a few mpgs and up that saving to around $ 200 or so, but it should not drop it to 10 mpg.

Winnebago does not currently have any Transit-based motorhomes in class B to compare with, but it previously published a test report on the pre-production Ekko which identified a fuel economy average of 12 mpg. That model is a larger class B + motorhome based on the less efficient 16 mpg Ford Transit AWD, so 10 mpg definitely seems too low to compare a 2WD gas Transit motorhome with an electric one. We estimate the actual savings at close to $ 200.

Winnebago has done a great job of developing its concept camper and getting the conversation around all-electric motorhomes rolling in the US, but e-vans need to offer longer range to really make practical motorhomes

Winnebago has done a great job of developing its concept camper and getting the conversation around all-electric motorhomes rolling in the US, but e-vans need to offer longer range to really make practical motorhomes

Winnebago

“We are excited to apply the lessons learned from the road trip as we continue to refine, explore and innovate future iterations of the vehicle,” summed up Ashis Bhattacharya, Winnebago’s senior VP of business development, advanced technology and enterprise marketing.

The first of these lessons should be that 125 miles is not going to cut it without some kind of range-expanding solution.

Sources: Winnebago, Thor Industries