Bi-fuel hybrid camper van drives 1,000 miles and camps on pure battery power
A safety cone-orange Mitsubishi 4x4 camper van would typically be showstopper enough for any motorhome expo booth, but Campers Scotland came out blazing from both hands at this month's Scottish Caravan, Motorhome & Holiday Home Show, where it also debuted the Eco Explorer. Less rugged but still a 4x4, the hybrid Eco Explorer offers low fuel consumption and a self-charging battery system to keep the lights on and cooktop firing. An LPG option gives it three drive-power sources and up to 1,000 miles (1,600 km) of range per fill-up, while a deconstructed kitchen and sliding rear bench make it a capable everyday driver.
While electric camper vans and motorhomes make flashier headlines, we've long thought hybrids make much more sense in the present. A hybrid system could immediately improve the notoriously poor fuel economy of a recreational vehicle without the limited range issues of pure electric powertrains. It'd also provide a built-in battery to power camp equipment, with an attached charging system to boot.
Campers Scotland has developed its intriguing 191-in (485-cm) Eco Explorer hybrid mini-campervan by mining the Japanese used market for what it describes as mint-condition Toyota Alphard Hybrid vans. It uses the same strategy for its Mitsubishi D:5 Terrain camper van and describes itself as one of the largest UK importers of these types of affordable, high-quality used Japanese base vans.
The Eco Explorer is offered under the same new Campervan Co spinoff brand that launched the D:5 Terrain van, but it's more closely related to Campers Scotland's Eco Campers line. The new Explorer differs from older Alphard-based hybrid Eco Campers because it's a lighter, more versatile style of camper developed in response to customers who wanted an eco-friendly camper van that could also do everyday commuting. The company thinks of it as a "city-to-country" van that can be driven everyday while still remaining completely stocked and ready to go for a camping trip, even if that trip is taken on a whim with little time to pack.
Campervan Co started by removing the standing kitchen block seen on previous EcoCamper conversions, making room for a three-seat rear bench in place of the two-seat bench. That makes the van a versatile five-seater good for whisking the family away on a camping vacation or simply dropping the kids off at school on the way to work.
Campervan Co doesn't eliminate the kitchen completely as on sleeper vans like the VW California Beach, however. Instead, it lightens that kitchen and decentralizes it. The freestanding induction cooktop stows below the rear bench, while the removable table that holds that cooktop — and the dinner it cooks — breaks down and stores on the tailgate, legs under the bench. A compact electric cool box splits the front seats, keeping fresh food and drink close at hand.
The Explorer's rear bench features a flexible positioning system, sliding forward or backward to manage personal and cargo space. Campers can slide it forward on the ride to carry luggage, gear and supplies to the campground, then slide it back to open up a roomier dining and lounge area. At night, the bench folds flat into a full-width bed, sleeping up to five people in conjunction with the pop-up roof bed.
On the road, Toyota's E-Four (Hybrid Synergy Drive) system creates electronic all-wheel drive, relying on the front-mounted 2.4-liter engine and electric motor tandem to power the front wheels during normal driving. When extra traction is needed, the system powers the rear wheels independently with the rear electric motor. The system can also use only electric power during low-speed urban driving. The powertrain offers an estimated 43 mpg UK, according to Campervan Co, and also gives the van more traction in slick winter weather and off-road driving conditions — not a bad combination for a camper van.
The hybrid system offers one more advantage, allowing onboard camper equipment to run entirely off a combination of Toyota's battery and a regular RV leisure battery. The vehicle hybrid-system battery recharges during the natural braking and deceleration of driving so there's not even a need to plug in to charge.
The idea is that the Eco Explorer's fridge, cooktop, dimmable LED light, USB ports and 12 V sockets stay powered via battery during the trip, all without the need for propane tanks or shore power hookups. Campervan Co even says that the electrical system can power handy accessories like coffeemakers and microwaves, and it suggests plugging in a slow cooker to prepare dinner on the long ride to camp.
If that little hybrid set-up isn't quite eco-friendly enough, Campervan Co has a way of greening it up even more. A "Tribrid" option can be added via a third-party installer, giving the van liquified petroleum gas (LPG) power alongside the petrol-electric hybrid drive. The petrol tank and LPG system both power the standard engine in a bi-fuel configuration.
LPG types like propane and butane are already quite well-known to motorhome owners and campers, powering up stoves and heating systems from various-size tanks and cylinders. When fueling motor vehicles, LPG is often called Autogas, a propane-based fuel known for advantages like cleaner burning, more affordable prices and improved safety.
The Eco Explorer Tribrid can travel up to the company-estimated 1,000 miles before refueling, costing drivers roughly the same as a petrol powertrain capable of 80 mpg. It sure sounds like the new van is a pretty capable, efficient way of exploring remote parts of the country and world, whether by highway or unpaved backway.
The Eco Explorer prices in at £24,995 (approx. US$32,625), and the Tribrid option adds another £2,000 ($2,600). The van can be exported to Continental Europe but only comes as a right-hand drive. Unfortunately, like so many other cool camper vans, Campervan Co vans are not currently available in North America. The company does mention plans of expanding its footprint there, however.
We've included a few photos of an Eco Camper interior to compare with the Eco Explorer and note the difference between the full-time eco-friendly camper van and the multipurpose Explorer van.