Elkhart-based Thor Industries Inc. (NYSE: THO) is moving forward with its eMobility strategy by doubling down on electrification of recreational vehicles. The RV manufacturer in January unveiled the strategy along with its electric motorhome and travel trailer concepts at the 2022 Florida RV SuperShow. Chief Operating Officer Todd Woelfer says the company made the decision a few years ago to approach electrification with a degree of ownership that is unusual for RV manufacturers, particularly when it comes to the develop of RV chassis.
“We knew we would not be a priority for the traditional chassis manufacturers when they were moving toward electrification,” said Woelfer. “And nobody knew the RV space better than we did, and there are unique pressure points and needs of an electric chassis for the RV space compared to an electric automobile.”
Thor developed its travel trailer concept, known as eStream, in partnership with ZF Friedrichshafen AG in Germany. The two companies in December signed a Memorandum of Understanding focusing on the continued joint development of a high-voltage electric drive system for towable recreational vehicles.
The company says eStream uses a proprietary system that “dramatically reduces” loss of range for electric tow vehicles and improves gas mileage for traditional tow vehicles.
“The technology that we jointly developed…it’s industry changing,” said Woelfer. “It has two, high-voltage battery modules that basically power the trailer in a way that turns it into almost a motorhome, and there are then a series of very sophisticated sensors that allow the trailer to communicate with the tow vehicle and so, it essentially eliminates the drag of the trailer on the tow vehicle. That’s important even today.”
Thor has also developed the Thor Vision Vehicle, or TVV, a motorhome that is built on an electric chassis co-developed with Michigan-based Roush Performance. Woelfer says the goal was to find a way to extend the range of the motorhome beyond the standard 125 miles.
“We set 300 miles as our goal and said, ‘How do we get there?’ and for a couple of years, we worked that challenge and came up with the solution of the basic chassis that we developed with Roush and with the range extender added to it, we modeled that and then, we went through down in Indianapolis a series of very prolonged aerodynamic tests to really move the needle on aerodynamics of our units.”
Woelfer says the tests resulted in about 20% improvement in efficiency through aerodynamics. When everything was put together, the company was able to reach its 300-mile goal with the TVV.
The company plans to begin on-road testing of the eStream and TVV concepts in 2023. However, a time frame for making the concepts available on a retail level is a little more fluid.
“We’re watching that whole ecosystem because it has to develop. We need charging stations. We need campgrounds that can accommodate electric RVs, and we’re engaging in all those conversations and really kind of helping with the urgency of that,” said Woelfer. “I think the trailer could potentially be in the market by the end of calendar 2023 to purchase at a retail level, and I think the motorhome is probably the following year.”
He says the electric concepts will be available on a small scale to start and the company plans to work with the early customers to collect as much data as possible in order to evolve the technology.
Woelfer adds it is important for Thor to remain ahead of the curve when it comes to electrification.
“If a company, whether it’s Thor or anybody else, wants to be a leader in this space in the future, they’ve got to lead in electrification, and that’s why we made that choice,” he said. “We’re in a unique position because of our size and our ability to make some of these long-term investments, but it’s not something we’ve historically done. We’ve always kind of ceded some of those responsibilities to really valuable supply chain partners, but this one, we didn’t see anyone at the table when we thought it was important for those conversations to be started who really had RV top of mind.”