High-drama expandable RV turns off-grid camping into five-star travel
We've watched the nature of camping, RVing and "roughing it" evolve steadily over the years, growing to encompass increasingly luxurious vehicles meant to explore the world while offering the comforts of home and beyond.
With the help of legendary design firm Pininfarina, Silicon Valley startup AC Future time-travels ahead to show exactly how that evolution will continue into the future. A luxurious residence that grows to make even the most unfamiliar and inhospitable slices of land feel like a designer downtown apartment, the Electric Transformer House (eTH) is a powerful off-grid RV that harmonizes the worlds of physical and digital interconnectivity.
AC Future introduced itself to the world at CES 2024 this month, where it also held the eTH's virtual reality (VR) debut. The concept vessel aspires to be more than a basic RV, taking on the roles of off-grid retreat, complementary residential extension and workplace, and scenic tour bus.
Pininfarina has helped bring AC Future's idea of a futuristic transforming RV to digital life, providing an early preview of what the future of recreational mobility might look like. The smoothened rectangular vehicle looks similar to electric van designs from startups like Arrival, BrightDrop and Canoo, but AC Future says it imagines the chassis working with both ICE and electric powertrain hardware.
At 20 feet (6 m) long, the eTH is only about half a foot (15 cm) longer than Mercedes-Benz's smallest Sprinter 144, but its tall one-box design makes for a roomier interior that feels more like a Class B+ motorhome. At the push of a button, the vehicle's side and rear walls all extend outward to complete a roaming two-bedroom apartment with 400 total square feet (37 sq m) of floor space.
The passenger-side expansion extends just slightly to pull the kitchenette out, while the driver-side and rear expansions extend what appears to be several meters. The rear is a dedicated bedroom, and the passenger side an open lounge/bedroom area. The furniture is designed to move out into place when the motorhome expands, nesting and collapsing back together when the modules retract into drive mode, much like we've seen with working expandable RV products like the Beauer series.
While the eTH floor plan remains quite open, the expansion gives the space the feeling of a miniaturized two-bedroom apartment complete with a discrete kitchen, dining room, office and dry bathroom. The van's large wraparound glasshouse opens up widescreen-like picture windows for the dinette, kitchen and driver-side bedroom. The expansion module walls also include a mix of full-height opaque and transparent panels, adding to the panoramic space.
While the eTH looks much more polished and chic than the typical off-grid motorhome, its expandable nature paves the way for serious self-sustainability. The entire roof, from the main van through the expansion modules, holds a series of solar panels for feeding the battery bank with electricity usable for both electric motor travel and onboard amenities. Pininfarina says the model is designed to offer a full week's worth of power autonomy.
Complementing that power generation is a roof-integrated atmospheric water generator, a slimmer version of something like the Watergen that continuously draws water from airborne moisture and processes it into up to 50 liters (13 gal) of clean drinking water each day. In this way, travelers can park for days on end without so much as having to head back to civilization to fill up the fresh water tank (or charge the battery), similar to the goal Living Vehicle goes after with its latest trailer models.
One other Transformer-level trick up the eTH's sleeve, the low dashboard doubles as an office workstation when parked. The steering wheel lowers away, not for full-blown Level 5 autonomy but to clear an open desk space that can be used by both front occupants. The central infotainment screen can also point at either the driver position or the passenger position. Starlink satellite internet keeps nomads connected, even in remote destinations.
The eTH is a very interesting design study based on an undisclosed, seemingly fictional, van platform, but AC Future does have some immediate real-life vehicle ambitions. It intends to ready its first prototype by the second quarter of this year, ahead of a production launch in late 2025. We'll have to wait to see if 1. AC follows that schedule and 2. its prototype looks the faintest bit like its VR concept.
You can watch the animation of the eTH doing its multidirectional expansion in the video below.