Automotive

Dethleffs experiments with all-electric, solar-backed motorhome

Dethleffs experiments with all...
Dethleffs has covered nearly every inch of the e.home in solar panels, helping to keep the electric battery powered up
Dethleffs has covered nearly every inch of the e.home in solar panels, helping to keep the electric battery powered up
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Dethleffs plays with the concept of an all-electric Type C motorhome
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Dethleffs plays with the concept of an all-electric Type C motorhome
A look inside the cabin of the Dethleffs e.home concept
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A look inside the cabin of the Dethleffs e.home concept
The circular wireless charging station adds convenience inside
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The circular wireless charging station adds convenience inside
The windows feature a special film between the panes for darkening
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The windows feature a special film between the panes for darkening
Dethleffs focuses more on the technology behind the e.home, not so much the traditional motorhome amenities, but we're assuming the dining set transforms into a bed
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Dethleffs focuses more on the technology behind the e.home, not so much the traditional motorhome amenities, but we're assuming the dining set transforms into a bed
The alcove bed area includes a starlight projection system
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The alcove bed area includes a starlight projection system
Dethleffs has covered nearly every inch of the e.home in solar panels, helping to keep the electric battery powered up
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Dethleffs has covered nearly every inch of the e.home in solar panels, helping to keep the electric battery powered up
Dethleffs revealed the e.home concept at this year's Düsseldorf Caravan Salon
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Dethleffs revealed the e.home concept at this year's Düsseldorf Caravan Salon
Inside Hillside's Dalbury E
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Inside Hillside's Dalbury E
Hillside Leisure does a good job making the most of the Nissan e-NV200's limited space, relying on a compact but fully equipped kitchen with sliding countertop
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Hillside Leisure does a good job making the most of the Nissan e-NV200's limited space, relying on a compact but fully equipped kitchen with sliding countertop
The Hillside Dalbury E even includes a dining table
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The Hillside Dalbury E even includes a dining table
Inside the Dethleffs e.home concept
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Inside the Dethleffs e.home concept
Dethleffs e.home concept
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Dethleffs e.home concept
The Dethleffs e.home concept at the 2017 Düsseldorf Caravan Salon
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The Dethleffs e.home concept at the 2017 Düsseldorf Caravan Salon
The Dethleffs e.home concept at the 2017 Düsseldorf Caravan Salon
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The Dethleffs e.home concept at the 2017 Düsseldorf Caravan Salon
Dethleffs believes that electric powertrains will help simplify design by better enabling a full-electric power system, instead of an electric/fuel split
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Dethleffs believes that electric powertrains will help simplify design by better enabling a full-electric power system, instead of an electric/fuel split
In addition to the German explanation of heating, this diagram gives you a feel for the e.home floor plan
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In addition to the German explanation of heating, this diagram gives you a feel for the e.home floor plan
The Dalbury E from Hillside Leisure is an electric motorhome already available on the market
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The Dalbury E from Hillside Leisure is an electric motorhome already available on the market
The Hillside Leisure Dalbury E in sleeping configuration 
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The Hillside Leisure Dalbury E in sleeping configuration 

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 believes that electric powertrains will help simplify design by better enabling a full-electric power system, instead of an electric/fuel split
Dethleffs believes that electric powertrains will help simplify design by better enabling a full-electric power system, instead of an electric/fuel split

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.

Dethleffs focuses more on the technology behind the e.home, not so much the traditional motorhome amenities, but we're assuming the dining set transforms into a bed
Dethleffs focuses more on the technology behind the e.home, not so much the traditional motorhome amenities, but we're assuming the dining set transforms into a bed

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.

The alcove bed area includes a starlight projection system
The alcove bed area includes a starlight projection system

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.

The Dalbury E from Hillside Leisure is an electric motorhome already available on the market
The Dalbury E from Hillside Leisure is an electric motorhome already available on the market

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.

Hillside Leisure does a good job making the most of the Nissan e-NV200's limited space, relying on a compact but fully equipped kitchen with sliding countertop
Hillside Leisure does a good job making the most of the Nissan e-NV200's limited space, relying on a compact but fully equipped kitchen with sliding countertop

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.

Sources: Dethleffs (German), Victron Energy, Hillside Leisure

10 comments
Leonard Foster Jr
Just over 100 mile range is not enough, and why not li-ion packs less weight more range?
Daishi
The vehicle doesn't have to be powered by electricity, just adding enough solar panels to not need to start it or power electronics off a generator while parked is more progress than most have managed to make.
J.C.Conway
Would a wind generator provide value as well,since while driving the generator would always be charging especially at night ? I know that it takes many years to pay for the cost of small wind turbines and less time to recoup your investment in large wind turbines but with small turbines inserted in the roof of a vehicle and the turbines operating at full efficiency,would they be feasible ? Just to let you know,I obviously have little knowledge about this subject.
vince
The wave of the future. When batteries are here that have 10 times the energy density the range will be listed in 'thousands' of miles--not hundreds.
flylowguy
With that low HP motor, you would need flat roads and a tailwind. Speaking of which, how about adding a sail?
McDesign
JCConway - the drag of the wind turbine would be ~150-200% of the energy it produced.
guzmanchinky
Can't wait for the silent future. Here in the US almost every RV park has 30amp or 50amp plugs, should be easy to recharge...
Jonathan Colvin
Meanwhile in the USA, most motorhomes are still built in the 1990 era ford E350 with its gas guzzling v10 that hasn't been updated in literally 25 years. Why? Because it's cheap, carbon emissions be damned.
chase
The solar config as it is won't fly. Why? Trees. The number one damage to RV's and motorhomes are tree branches raking down the side. Parking in the sun to take advantage of the solar panels would over tax other things such as AC negating it's benefit. As set up, it wouldn't fly. Unless you only plan on taking it to the desert.
Paul Anthony
When on the road the camp is often a paid site with full hookups including electricity so as long as you choose campsites 100 miles apart max you could travel.