Table of Contents
Van Life travel has been on the rise in recent years, and the pandemic has put the brakes on the well-established van living trend. But one mobile-living aficionado claims to have figured out what comes next.
When your family starts speaking about purchasing an empty van life and customizing it, you know the bubble has burst. And, with COVID concerns spreading across the country, almost everyone wants a personal hotel room on wheels.
So, what is the future of the van life industry? Vans are powered by electricity. That’s true, lithium-ion batteries and battery packs are replacing gasoline tanks and emissions – the van life trend is changing dramatically. And the industry’s titans are spearheading the charge.
So we took a peek at what’s ahead for electric vans in the United States.
Electrical Vans Are On Their Way
Electrified van life is on the way — 2020 saw announcements from industry veterans as well as newcomers: Rivian, Canoo, Renault, Citroen, Opel, Peugeot, Ford, Lordstown, FCA, eBussy, Toyota, VW, and Mercedes (to name just a few).
If you couldn’t tell from the list, electric vans initially appeared in Europe. At the moment, you can’t walk into a dealership in the United States and buy one. But believe us when we say that the premise is sound.
Economic factors are driving electric development just as much as environmental issues. Commercial sales, which account for the vast bulk of van life sales, are all about ROI. Businesses wanting to save money on gasoline notice the rapid payback on stop-and-go deliveries in cities.
And Europe’s density and tight pollution regulations have pushed acceptance elsewhere.
As a result, the first electric RV on the market is an Iridium model from Germany. This class B RV bus has a 249-mile range and is constructed on a Fiat Ducato (known as the RAM ProMaster in the United States) chassis for a cool $175,000.
If that’s too big for your garage, a few outfitters have converted Nissan’s e-NV200 tiny van life into a micro-campervan for two.
This one, seen above from Sussex Campervans, starts at around $78,000 and goes up from there. The e-NV200, which is powered by a leaf, has a range of just 124 miles when new. When you include in the weight of a complete camper construction, you’ll quickly lose that, especially at highway speeds.
Stella Vita Electric Van
A new electric solar vehicle prototype with a living extension and extendable solar panels gives us a peek at what the future of RV/van life could bring.
Solar Team Eindhoven, a team of engineering graduates from the Technical University of Eindhoven (Netherlands), is the most well-known team to have participated in the World Solar Challenge, a contest to design super-efficient solar vehicles.
Lightyear arose from that collaboration, and they are currently attempting to bring to market a road-legal solar car using the expertise gained during the construction of the original Stella and Stella Lux solar cars.
The newest Solar Team Eindhoven project, dubbed “Stella Vita,” has been introduced:
”Stella Vita is a Self-sustaining House On Wheels. This means that the mobile house is self-sufficient in terms of energy. Through solar panels on the roof, it is independent of charging stations. The vehicle generates enough solar energy to drive, shower, watch TV, charge your laptop, and make coffee.”
The latest Stella vehicle, like previous Stella vehicles, aims to improve efficiency and solar integration, but it is also a movable mobile house.
When the roof is fixed, it may be lifted to construct an expansion, and deployable solar panels protrude from the sides.
The larger surface area allows for more solar electricity to be collected and used to charge the car and run various equipment:
“The solar house on wheels has a roof that slides up when stationary. This makes it easy to stand inside to cook, sleep or work. In addition, extrasolar panels fold out when the roof is raised, doubling the solar surface to as much as 17.5 square meters. For daily use, a comfortable interior has been designed that is as light and efficient as possible. By using energy efficiently, Stella Vita can travel up to 730 km on a sunny day.”
The crew intends to drive the prototype Stella Vita for a month from Eindhoven to the southernmost tip of Spain using solely solar energy.
Electric VanLife Price and Emissions
It’s weird, but for the past decade, I’ve owned and driven electric vehicles (cars and bikes). And I’ve learned a few things along the road.
If you want to rescue the earth, living in an electric van life is unlikely to make much difference. Sure, your exhaust emissions are nil, but you must also evaluate the whole cost of the batteries and electric motor throughout their entire lifespan. It all comes down to how (and just how far) you drive.
The evidence is clear: electric automobiles are better for the environment, even if they are charged with coal. However, automobiles and RVs serve distinct purposes. The typical RV travels only 4,500 miles each year.
With such little mileage, it will be very difficult to repay the cost of fuel saved by turning electric.
On the other hand, if your campervan also serves as a second vehicle, it might be again for the environment. In the first few minutes of warming, combustion engines pollute the most. Replacing short journeys with your electric vehicle might save you money. If you live on the road full-time, you may accumulate enough miles and fuel savings to make the numbers add up.
Electric Van Life Range
The apparent impediment to electric van living, the range is quickly depleted by the addition of weights and attachments such as awnings, racks, and toys. The majority of the items that enhance the camping experience will reduce your autonomy and have you stopping at every charger you can locate.
Saying the words “Are we charged yet?” while sitting in a hot parking lot is hardly the way of spending your difficult days of vacation.
Range phobia is a genuine thing. As an early EV adopter, I’ve been caught off guard when the weather turned cold, a route was closed, or a charger was out of commission. You don’t want to get stranded in your vehicle in a snowstorm with your in-laws in the rear on Thanksgiving.
You need to have at minimum a 20% cushion – more when you’re out in the middle of nowhere or on that 200-mile “no services” death route. As a result, with a 125-mile-rated range, you should only expect 90-100 miles to be secure.
The great news is that technology advances rapidly, and batteries improve year after year. An e-van life may make much more sense than you realize sooner than expected. I predict the first modifications for the US market to be rated for 200-plus miles (at which time your child will need a potty break anyhow!).
Solar is also becoming better, but even the largest array that really can fit on your van life would only be able to power a small EV battery pack.
Another advantage for reducing range anxiety: most RV parks have already been connected for 240V electricity. As a result, charging up rapidly at camp is more practical than you may imagine. (Some gas station chains are also making the transition.)
Van Life Potential
Traveling with a huge energy bank makes a lot of sense, especially because most van life builds to incorporate the addition of battery banks in the first place. If you stay there, the batteries in one of these electric vans might connect and power your mobile office for a month. You no longer need a different “home battery” when you can utilize your EV’s battery to charge all of your equipment.
Other synergies work in favor of the e-van life. Electric car temperature control is powered by your vehicle’s battery and may be utilized while the vehicle is turned off. As a result, you may not require a separate air conditioning or heating system.
If you want to camp in your Model X, Tesla provides a “Camp Mode” that lets you keep the temperature control on all night. We absolutely can not wait to see what camping tricks await us with the advent of the Cybertruck since Musk isn’t going to allow businesses like Rivian to grab all of the overland electric truck press.
RV connections help while you’re parked, but charging stations are important when you’re on the road. Larger batteries, like larger fuel tanks, require longer to fill. The finest DC Level-3 adapters can charge your phone to 80% in roughly one hour. Tesla superchargers are quicker, but they are exclusively compatible with Tesla vehicles.
The universal charging panel will take years to catch up with Tesla, but the best e-charging stations can fill a van in 20-30 minutes.
This tech is only available at a few pilot stations, and most vehicles are not designed to take such a high voltage.
If you really want to leave tomorrow, the West Coast is the only region of the country with enough Level-3 charging stations to help you maintain for the long journey – at least within realistic time limits for ordinary travel.
Early Adopters of Electric Van life
An e-van life rental fleet might be an excellent use case for electric campervans. VW’s hippy favorite “California” campervan is set to be resurrected as an EV and may make an ideal West Coast rental if it ever goes into manufacturing.
E-vans will enter the market in the United States this year, and the race to delivery will be fierce. We expect the Ford E-Transit to arrive first on dealer lots, but Rivian may have sold more chassis to Amazon directly by then. Mercedes will have to wait until 2023, and Fiat-Chrysler is keeping mum regarding the electrification of the RAM ProMaster chassis.
With battery costs decreasing and charging stations growing, your next campervan may only be a matter of time before it runs on electricity. However, it will be several years before electric vans become commonplace. Remember that tailpipe emissions are only part of the story; consider your vehicle’s whole lifespan cost.
If you’re not ready to buy or plan to live in your van life full-time, renting an e-van from a service like GoCamp or Outdoorsy is a wonderful alternative. The more we use current automobiles, the fewer vehicles we will need to manufacture and the fewer emissions we will emit.
Everyone’s path to a sustainable van life may be different, but we all look forward to getting out into nature while leaving a tiny impact.