I’ve written quite a few articles on here about electric RVing. Why? Because gas-powered RVing is EXPENSIVE. This is especially true for the gas prices we’ve seen in 2022 so far.
But RVing presents some serious challenges for electric drivetrains. To push something like a Class A motorhome (the ones that look like a bus) around requires a lot of energy, and battery packs are a lot less energy dense and a lot more expensive than a tank of gasoline or diesel. So, few electric motorhomes are on the market, because they’d require a massive, expensive battery pack or have frustratingly short ranges (or both).
Electric trucks promise to upend this problem, but they too have their limitations. The great thing about gas-powered trucks and SUVs is that you don’t have to worry about running out of battery power. There are gas stations on almost every corner, and it only takes a few minutes to fill up the tank. Sure, your mileage might drop significantly when you’re pulling a trailer, but it’s still practical for even long trips on less-traveled roads.
Losing half of your range with an electric truck is a lot more serious. Because there are no DC rapid charging stations in many places, you won’t be able to make it all the way to the next station with a trailer like you would with an empty truck or car. Even if you can get to the following one, you’ll spend far longer charging on trips. What was formerly a simple journey in a gasoline-powered pickup or SUV becomes an excruciatingly slow and inconvenient expedition.
Some trips, even to popular camping spots and along remote interstate highways, are impractical or downright impossible, even with the best upcoming Cybertruck.
I would have never thought the solution to this conundrum could ever involve a Chevy Bolt EV, but a YouTube channel run by a husband and wife EV camping enthusiast duo proved me wrong.
Pulling A Camper With A Bolt EV
Like me, Gail and Devin Thorpe wanted to camp on electric power. Unlike me, they could afford a Rivian, and ordered one. But, their camping dreams were smashed when they found out that the truck wouldn’t come until late 2023.
So they decided to see if they could get away with camping with a Chevy Bolt EV. If you’re skeptical, you’re smart because a Bolt EV only has a 60 kWh battery (or 66 kWh for newer versions or those that got the battery recall done). This gives them an unloaded range of about 260 miles, or 250-ish for the larger and more SUV-like Bolt EUV. And, that’s EPA range, so assume 220-230 miles at slower highway speeds, or as little as 180-ish miles at 80 MPH.
Once you’re running out of miles on the guess-o-meter, you’ll run into the biggest gripe most people have about the Bolts: 50-55 kW maximum charging. That means you’ll need 45-60 minutes to get a good charge for the next leg of your trip if you’re low on electrons and need a mostly-full battery to make it to the next stop.
Few would think such a vehicle has any reasonable towing potential, but with some creativity and a focus on efficiency in camper choice, it becomes a workable solution.
They ended up picking an Aliner Scout, a small and light popup camper with solid walls. This little thing weighs in not much over 1,000 pounds, which is easy for just about anything to pull. Plus, it folds down to a compact shape that doesn’t give as much drag when you’re pulling it down the highway. But, once they got the wiring and tires sorted out, the camper still gave their Bolt an appreciable hit to range, which they estimated at around 30%. This translates to a highway range of around 150 miles if you don’t want to do too much nail biting.
Sure, this doesn’t give you what a triple-axle fifth wheel trailer with three beds, five TVs, and a garage for ATVs would give you, but it does give you some room to sleep, cook, and eat during your adventures.
How It Works For Real RV Trips
On that first trip, they were hauling it around empty after they bought it, and they hadn’t finished their plan to install solar panels on the trailer, so they still weren’t sure how the thing would work out for a real RV trip. Fortunately, a few weeks ago, they released a video and blog post showing how their first trip went.
The big question on everybody’s minds is probably how bad the range was with a full complement of camping gear, food, water, clothing, and everything else needed for a long trip. Plus, in another video, they added some solar panels to the top of the camper, which probably added some aerodynamic drag. The good news is that all this only pushed it down a tenth of a kilowatt-hour per mile on average compared to the trip when they bought it. The final number was 2.6 miles per kWh, or about a 35% reduction compared to a trip they made without a trailer.
After taking the trip, they recommend only going far enough each day to require one DC fast charging session. Starting out at 100% charge from home, they figured they could go about 135 miles, and then subsequent DCFC sessions going to 70% only added another 75 miles. At that point, they stayed in an RV park for the night and charged up to 100% again using the park’s NEMA 14-50 plug 50-amp service (be sure to bring along the right EVSE if you want to do that).
I’d Probably Go Further On Some Trips
I think you could probably drive further than they did. At slower towing speeds, that’s probably two hours of driving followed by an hour of charging, followed by a little over an hour of driving again. That adds up to around 4 hours total. If you spent longer charging to get to 90%, you could do another 110-120 miles, followed by another 1:15 or so of charging. That means somewhere around 350 miles in 8 hours or 450 miles in 11 hours.
That last figure probably sounds grueling, but if you’ve got a little camper to sit in and have meals or just relax like you would at home, it’s probably not that bad to spend 8-11 hours on the road with long charging stops. Plus, I could write articles for CleanTechnica or work on my schoolwork during those long breaks, right?
To make this an even less stressful trip, one great idea would be to plug in an OBD-II Bluetooth module and take a short test trip in the vehicle with the trailer while feeding the data into A Better Routeplanner. This would enable you to come up with a custom vehicle that would give you accurate range estimations for future trip planning. That way, you’d know if your vehicle could get the trailer to the next charging stop.
But, honestly, most people RV within a couple hundred miles of home where they live, so it’s something most people would only rarely do, if ever.
Featured image: a screenshot from the Our Solar Electric Trailer Journey channel on YouTube, showing their Bolt EV charging at an Electrify America station while towing an Aliner camper.
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