Airstream Joins The E-Revolution With Its Concept Travel Trailer

Airstream Joins The E-Revolution With Its Concept Travel Trailer

Airstream long has proved it can do a lot of product innovation inside and out while retaining the bullet-shaped exterior shell of its aluminum-clad travel trailers. Now the maker of luxury RVs is showing it can make even dramatic leaps forward in technology while maintaining the iconic form of a product line that is more popular than ever.

Company executives this week unveiled the eStream Concept Travel Trailer, an all-electric concept that brings to life multiple innovations from Airstream; its parent company, Thor Industries; and their partners and subsidiaries.

Company executives started what amounted to a crash development project only about a year ago. But Airstream didn’t commit to a timetable for commercializing an e-RV nor even to turning the eStream specifically into a production vehicle, suggesting that it will be at least a couple of years before an all-electric Airstream is available.

“This concept gives us a lot of license in terms of when we can commit to getting to market, and we’re going to use every bit of that,” Airstream CEO Bob Wheeler said during the company’s announcement news conference on Wednesday. “We won’t see anything [exactly] like this concept trailer on the market, ever. But going forward, we will apply learnings, and feedback, to it. Once we figure out features and a value set that makes sense in the marketplace, that will drive our timeline.”

The eStream’s “feature set” includes:

  • High-voltage batteries and electronic systems that promise to provide the experience of being connected to “shore power” — even operating the vehicle’s air-conditioning system — without the connection. The systems can be recharged in multiple ways ranging from campground hookups to regenerative braking.
  • The provision of 900 watts of solar power on the roof from five 180-watt semi-flexible solar panels.
  • The removal of air-conditioning equipment and other pieces from Airstream’sraditional placement on the roof, improving vehicle aerodynamics as part of an overall 20% reduction in drag.
  • A state-of-the-art signal booster that provides 5G connectivity and a Wi-Fi hotspot, enablement of voice commands, intuitive touch screens for controlling all onboard functions, and a smartphone app in development.
  • The ability to autonomously and remotely back up the trailer, and to harness new 360-degree maneuverability, addressing one of the biggest “pain points” of current Airstream owners who have trouble figuring out how to position their rig.
  • The use of interior materials with a higher sustainability footprint.

But none of these features individually outweigh the significant of the biggest advancement represented by the eStream: the willingness of a leader in one of the hottest modes of transportation in the land to take a giant leap into the all-electric revolution in American mobility.

“We swung for the fences on this, pushing the boundaries on hardware, software and the user experience,” Wheeler said. “It was more than just a focus on a great piece of technology.”

Wheeler added that Airstream wants “to be on the leading edge but not the bleeding edge” of EV technology. “Battery technology is getting better [and] still improving steadily, with more power density for lower costs. We’re looking to bring the right set of features to market at the right cost and weight.”

In any event, the crossing of this threshold by Thor and Airstream — even if initially by concept vehicle only — represents the fall of yet another major domino in favor of electrified mobility that threatens to overtake the traditional reliance on internal-combustion propulsion more quickly than once thought possible.

And the fact that Airstream plans eventually to manufacture all-electric RVs at its manufacturing complex in Jackson Center, Ohio, will put down yet another international pillar of electric-vehicle production in America’s heartland, following a flurry of recent announcements by General Motors, Ford, Toyota and other automakers about new EV- and battery-plant investments across the region.

Wheeler said that both Airstream’s existing customers — with whom the brand maintains a tight and highly communicative relationship — and Thor leadership led by CEO Bob Martin wanted to see development of an electrified Airstream.

McKay Featherstone, Airstream’s development chief, said that the brand’s customers “inspired” a plunge into electrification. Many Airstream customers also are owners of Tesla electric vehicles, for example. “Our mission from a sustainability standpoint is to reduce our carbon footprint,” Featherstone said.