Understanding Emerging Battery Technology in the RV market

At last weeks’ announcement that Lordstown Motors would be partnering with Camping World for service center support in the future, the two companies also announced the potential for collaboration on electrification of RVs. While the companies have not yet revealed any details for electric RVs, we felt it was important to help our clients and partners understand how this might (or more likely, won’t) seriously affect the RV industry.

Who’s Lordstown Motors?

Lordstown Motors is a start-up that is planning to enter the market for electric pickup trucks. The product is not commercially available, only pre-order for a $100 deposit, and remains largely untested and unreviewed. The company faces stiff headwinds as Tesla, the Big Three, Japanese, and European companies have established expensive manufacturing processes and access to the best cell technology. Lordstown currently uses Samsung 18650 format cells, which are not the larger format chosen by the industry leaders. Recent partnerships could be a tactic to improve pre-orders and investment so that the company can posture to improve its purchasing power in the supply base.

Does Camping World make RVs?

Not currently, but the announcement was centered around Lordstown being able to manufacture complete trailers with high voltage energy systems produced out of the Lordstown plant.

What does the partnership mean long term?

While we can’t speculate on the specific plans of Lordstown and Camping World, we know three things are certain:

  1. Volta has access to superior cell technology and broad IP protection for a systems-based approach to auxiliary power systems that charge via alternator.
  2. Li-ion technology is many, many years away from the density necessary to support long distance travel and staying off grid.
  3. Powertrain battery packs operate in a range or 370V – 600V DC.  Not only does high voltage add a significant risk factor but it will also dramatically limit the locations these trailers could charge.  Volta systems are low voltage and can charge on any existing RV power infrastructure.

Diving into those two points just a bit:

Why is Volta’s technology better?

Volta sources our large-format prismatic pouch cells from Farasis, which also supplies Daimler/Mercedes-Benz, BAIC and Zero Motorcycles to name a few. Farasis’ cells yield 30% higher energy density than Samsung.

What’s wrong with full-electric RVs?

Nothing, unless you value range or off-grid capability. Battery technology has made amazing advancements over the past 20 years, but the issue of limited range and charging infrastructure will continue to be a challenge for many, many years. Gasoline stores about 30 times as much power per unit volume as the best available lithium ion technology on the market. For a true off-grid experience, gasoline or diesel will be required to ensure enough energy to get to your destination, run all your amenities and have enough energy left for the return trip. Any real use of off-grid power on an electric RV holds a serious liability to leave the driver stranded.

Note on Infrastructure:

The electrical grid is essentially a form of plumbing and it is limited by how much you can flow through the lines.  Every camping location in the US has limited power maxing out at 240V @ 50 amps. Assuming campers needed 370V car chargers at the camp sites, this would result in huge sub stations being built on campgrounds, with specialized training and additional maintenance personnel dramatically increasing the cost of maintaining a campground.   

What comes next?

We’re very excited to see rapid advancement in the electrification of vehicles and the entrance of new companies into the automotive marketplace. We believe that’s where Lordstown Motors needs to keep their focus to be successful. If the company begins to offer its chassis for RVs, the trend will be limited to folks who don’t mind being tied to shore power during camping, and at a much higher price tag. Despite claims in the release, electric chassis won’t magically become cheaper than gasoline/diesel any time soon.

True off-grid experiences will belong to a hybrid / auxiliary power approach for many years to come.

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