Dethleffs experiments with all-electric, solar-backed motorhome
Range anxiety makes an all-electric motorhome seem like a losing proposition from the get-go. Is there a greater oxymoron than a boundless, nomadic vehicle that needs to be hooked to the grid for hours at a time every 100 miles (161 km) or so? Still, there are electric motorhomes out there, of both the homebuilt and retail variety, and we can now add another to the list. The Dethleffs e.home concept explores the possibility of a Type C motorhome with a zero emissions powertrain, plenty of solar charging capability, and efficient and smart technologies throughout.
Volkswagen gave those yearning for an electric camper van some good news this month when it announced that the I.D. Buzz concept, an electric spiritual successor to the m``icrobuses of yore, will indeed make it to production. Once it does, it surely won't take long for camper converters to jump all over the Buzz-based production van, adding kitchens, folding beds, pop-up roofs and other amenities. In the meantime, Volkswagen is exploring new camper van innovations with traditional turbo diesel power.
Much like Volkswagen, German camper manufacturer Dethleffs has come to see the all-electric takeover more as a matter of when than if. And while it also recognizes that the e-revolution will take a little longer to penetrate the motorhome market than the passenger car market, it's getting out of the gate early and experimenting with ways of making a viable, efficient all-electric motorhome.
There are plenty of electric vans out there from which you could build an electric camper van (Type B motorhome), but Dethleffs has gone bigger by designing a Type C motorhome around the Iveco Daily Electric chassis. The Daily relies on a 107-hp (80-kW) electric motor and several battery options to offer up to 174 mi (280 km) of range (NEDC), in non-camper trim.
Range will obviously slide when the electric motor is tasked with pushing around a large camper box loaded with furniture, equipment, and extra fuel, water, etc., and Dethleffs' materials suggest it might fall as far as 103 miles (167 km). Dethleffs doesn't list that specific number, but it does say that the battery is good for about 1,500 charges equally around 250,000 km (155,350 miles).
Dethleffs has done its best to improve the e.home's range by slapping on 334 sq ft (31 sq m) worth of thin-film solar panels. These panels can generate up to 3,000 watts of electricity to keep the 228-Ah sodium-nickel-chloride battery array charged. Super capacitors allow for faster battery charging and discharging, providing better performance and more efficient power usage.
More than just an electric chassis with contrast solar panels peppering the typical bright RV-white body, the e.home has been designed as a smarter, more efficient motorhome all around. Dethleffs paid particular attention to the heating system, cutting inefficiencies by using phase change materials to absorb heat during times when temperatures rise above 79° F (26° C) and release it when the temperature drops at night. Those materials are assisted by infrared heating panels in the floor, walls and furniture that heat up objects rapidly, without heating the air around them, offering another efficient source of interior heat.
According to a blog post by Victron Energy, one of the suppliers whose equipment features in the e.home concept, Dethleffs managing director Alexander Leopold believes the all-electric motorhome offers an advantage in enabling manufacturers to streamline in-cabin power, hooking all equipment up to the battery instead of having both battery and fuel power. Even the sCarabane concept, with its wind turbine and solar-tracking design, relies on gas for the stove, but the e.home goes a step further, using a ceramic range to cook electrically.
Beyond just electrical and efficiency optimization systems, the e.home features other advanced technologies and design innovations. A Mobileye-based front vehicle monitoring system provides driver assistance, and a CampConnect app streamlines vehicle system operation to create a sort of "Smart Motorhome." Much like on the Volkswagen California XXL, the app brings together control of various functions onto a single touchscreen. Campers can adjust equipment like the lights and heat from the app instead of using hard controls.
The concept also plays with two foil-based technologies, one built into the window panes for darkening the windows for sleep and privacy, and a second in the lighting to create a mirrored surface when the light is turned off. A starlight system casts a starry sky on the ceiling above the alcove bed, lulling occupants to sleep.
Beyond those technologies, the e.home looks like a basic motorhome. Photos show a comfy looking sofa lounge/dining area that undoubtedly converts into a bed. There's also a kitchen, toilet room and flat-panel TV. An integrated wireless charging pad means that you can cross "charging cable" off the list of things you can't forget when heading out on a road or camping trip.
The motorhome market hasn't exactly seen much electrification, but Dethleffs isn't the first company to play around with the idea of an electric motorhome. UK conversion shop Hillside Leisure revealed what it called the world's first all-electric camper van nearly three years ago. Its £30,000 (approx. US$39K) Dalbury E pop-top "micro camper" is based on the Nissan e-NV200 and keeps EV fans cozy with its folding rear bed and sleek, slide-top kitchen. The base e-NV200 offers up to 106 mi (171 km) of range (NEDC), but Hillside's materials do not indicate what kind of range a Dalbury E driver might reasonably expect.
While a more compact driver than the e.home, the Dalbury E doesn't include the extensive solar paneling or accompanying efficiency-enhancing technologies that feature so prominently on Dethleffs' new concept.
Electric motorhome designs are certainly interesting, but what we'd really like to see is a range-extended electric camper van. Maybe the diesel engine or multi-fuel turbine range extender could be fed by the same tank that powers up amenities like the cooktop and could double as a generator. It seems like that layout would better support the long-distance travel needs of motorhome buyers while increasing overall efficiency with the primary electric drive motor.
Alas, now that electric vans, like the Iveco, Nissan and VW e-Crafter, have become much more readily available, it seems they're a simpler solution for motorhome manufacturers looking to go green. And if Volkswagen, the most famous name in the camper van business, can indeed deliver an a I.D. Buzz-based van with a robust range, maybe electric camper vans and Type Cs will start to look more viable on their own, without the need for a range extender system.
Dethleffs is showing the e.home concept at this week's Düsseldorf Caravan Salon. See more angles of it, and the Hillside Dalbury E, in the photo gallery.