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Airstream considering self-propelled trailers to assist in towing with an EV

EVs solve a lot of problems for a lot of people, but long-distance towing remains somewhat of an Achilles heel for widespread adoption. With a record number of Americans now vacationing with drivable and towable recreational vehicles according to the RV Industry Association, towing a camper just isn’t all that feasible with an EV due to drastically reduced driving range.

Ford and Tesla are on the brink of bringing all-electric trucks to market, and Rivian is on track to launch its R1T by the end of the year. Despite this new towing capability, RV owners are still weary of giving up their reliable gas or diesel-powered vehicles in favor of EVs — and rightfully so.

In ideal conditions, an unloaded top-trim Rivian R1T has a stated range capability of 400 miles. Under load, this range will be significantly less based on combined factors of vehicle speed, trailer weight and trailer aerodynamics. While there are still efficiencies to be made from light weighting efforts and aero reduction, what if the trailer itself provides some level of electric drive assist, alleviating some or most of the power used to drag the extra heft? Recent news from Airstream suggests the company is currently in talks to develop such a system.

“Airstream is in active discussions with major players in this space, discussions about everything from marketing engagements to more technical partnerships,” said McKay Featherstone, Airstream vice president of product development, regarding the topic of an future electrified Airstream camper. “This idea is moving beyond the concept phase, and the path to an EV trailer is becoming much more clear.”

This technology could be a huge advancement in the EV feasibility for towing RVs and beyond. As it stands, EV owners who tow are likely looking at real-world range of no more than 150 miles between stops. Anyone traveling short distances likely won’t be bothered too much, but cross-country travelers requiring several 30-plus minute stops throughout the day will find towing with an EV incredibly inconvenient. But an assisted trailer, potentially bringing that range to 200 miles or more, could be a game-changer for many.

The next question is how much assist would be needed to provide real-world benefits, while balancing the added weight of an onboard battery pack? How would vehicle and trailer charging work? On the plus side, most campsites offer 50-amp service to power the day-to-day needs of RV owners, which also provides ample juice to charge an EV and electrified trailer.

A lot of questions to be answered still, but we love this idea and cannot wait to see this technology come together.

Written by Samanthan Rutherford