An Airstream concept designed for the age of electric vehicles
Camping trailers are all the rage as more people have sought an outdoor retreat during the pandemic. But while many might like the idea of towing a campervan to the boondocks, in reality some speed bumps may present themselves along the way.
Art-deco icon Airstream has a new camper concept, designed to avoid multiple problems. The 22-foot eStream RV concept features an integrated 80-kilowatt-hour battery and two 40-horsepower (30 kW) electric motors that allow the trailer to pull its own weight en route to the great outdoors.
The idea is that electric pickup trucks like the Rivian R1T and Ford F-150 Lightning will need trailers that power themselves, because otherwise the trucks’ range would be decimated when towing trailers. It’s hard to get into the backcountry if your EV battery is only halfway dead.
But along the way to solving this EV tow vehicle problem, Airstream has knocked down obstacles that may intimidate newcomers. When the trailer gained the ability to move under its own power, it also allowed customers to drive it to the tow vehicle hitch using an app on a tablet.
Afraid to support a trailer? No worries, the eStream can return to its place, also using the tablet app. Worried about loading the trailer for proper balance and stability? “Supporting a trailer is one of the most intimidating things for new customers,” Airstream Vice President of Product Development and Engineering McKay Featherstone observed during a media roundtable. through Zoom. “With one finger you can drive the trailer to a place.”
Are you scratching your head at the thought of installing a weight-distributing hitch to keep the trailer nice and stable on the highway? (It’s a hitch with torsion bars connected to the A-frame at the front of the trailer leading to the hitch. These torsion bars need to be set to the correct height and tension to work properly.) I don’t want to learn how to do that? No problem. The eStream uses its drive system to apply its own electronic stability control, so nasty gusts of crosswind can’t throw the motorhome off balance. The weight-distributing hitch is not required.
This giant battery has other advantages. If you really want to take the road less traveled, that means avoiding camping with the power outlets that provide all the comforts of home while living in the trailer.
[Related: The Rivian R1T breaks the electric-pickup game wide open]
With its 80 kWh of juice on board, the eStream can run its air conditioning system all week. Turn off the air conditioning and the eStream can power its other systems virtually indefinitely, thanks to an array of 0.9 kilowatt rooftop solar cells that can replenish the battery as it runs lesser loads.
“We know people will travel farther and stay longer if they have all the comforts of home,” Featherstone remarked. “Running air conditioning, heating, routers; to power all these devices, it takes well over a week [of capacity].”
Adventurers who want to stay longer in the wild can do so if they can live without air conditioning. “If you want to stay off-grid, it’s almost unlimited,” he said. “You can be off the grid for weeks.”
Airstream was inspired to create a self-propelled motorhome by the emergence of electric tow vehicles. “It goes back to the launch of the Tesla Model X,” he explained. “From then until today, we have spoken to customers who tow today to understand the pain points.”
To minimize the need for trailer power, Airstream has reduced the eStream by 8 inches compared to its production motorhomes. They also cleared the roof of its air conditioning unit and other aerodynamic clutter to reduce drag by 20%. The air conditioning now lives under the floor along with the battery and electric drive system.
How does the trailer know how fast to go? “We had to rethink everything from the ball to the back,” Featherstone said. “It’s a very sophisticated sensor that measures the forces between the towing vehicle and the trailer.”
Airstream got a boost in its efforts from Germany’s ZF, a company long known for supplying automatic transmissions and steering racks for that country’s renowned luxury cars. ZF has developed the electric drive system found in the eStream with a modular design that can be configured with batteries from 20 to 80 kWh.
Like electric vehicles, the eStream can be charged with 240-volt Level 2 AC power through an SAE J1772 outlet or through high-voltage DC fast chargers through its Combo Charging System connector. An L2 charger will recharge the battery overnight, while a DC fast charger can do the job in 30-45 minutes. Crucially, it also has a power outlet, meaning customers can plug in devices or charge e-bikes from the trailer. More importantly, the trailer can be used to power a home in the event of an outage.
While all of this sounds irresistible, unfortunately the eStream is just a concept, not a production prototype. The company claims that a product exactly like this is not intended for showrooms, but they will have models incorporating the features highlighted in the eStream.
It will be up to customers to specify and pay a la carte which features they are most interested in. Thus a cheaper 20 kWh motorhome will have reduced capacities, but will be available at a more affordable price. Until these models arrive, we have the eStream concept to inspire us that there will soon be trailers that will make life easier for beginners.
Watch a preview of the concept below: