In this article, I’m going to talk about a new camper that might solve a very important problem for EV drivers, but first we must talk about what that problem is.
The EV Towing Problem & Possible Answers
One of the things that makes EVs work well is efficiency. Not only are their drivetrains more efficient (thermal losses are far lower), but EV makers tend to squeeze out other efficiencies to maximize range. Why? Because battery technology doesn’t allow very dense energy storage. To get great range, EVs need to do things like make the body’s shape very slippery in the air (a low drag coefficient).
But this can be a two-edged sword. If you do anything to get in the way of that efficiency, you can very quickly lose that range. I’ve argued that this is one of the “Achilles’ heels” of electric trucks, that towing something like an RV or large utility trailer can take a 300-mile range and reduce it into the double digits. Add in the fact that American charging infrastructure isn’t great (especially in western states), and towing can be a very impractical task.
But, that doesn’t mean there aren’t answers to this problem.
One possible answer is to cram in lots and lots of battery cells. 100 kWh? Yeah, that’s soooo 2016. Today’s electric trucks can come with 130, 150, and even 200 kilowatt-hours of storage. The Hummer EV is kind of a joke around here, but the upcoming top-tier Cybertruck is supposed to have an unloaded range of 500 miles, which means it will still have 150-250 miles of range towing.
In the worst case scenario, say something like a triple-axle fifth-wheel with room to actually sleep 10 people, you might get even that truck to around 100 miles, though. So, the American answer is to loudly pronounce that “Less is not more. More is more!” and cram in more battery. 300 kWh? 500? Why not go for the full megawatt-hour?
But, this “just put more battery” thing runs into environmental problems. There comes a point where an electric truck really isn’t cleaner than a comparable diesel-powered truck, and the megawatt-hour pack is probably past that point. Plus, where are we supposed to get a megawatt-hour’s worth of battery cells from? We’ll be lucky to come up with enough batteries to put something like a Chevy Bolt or Tesla Model 3 in every driveway without having pickup trucks slurp up the whole supply just to supply half of the demand in Texas.
Another solution? Going PHEV. If the truck has enough battery for normal commuting tasks and only burns fossil fuels on the occasional road trip 3-5 times a year, it’s still very environmentally friendly as long as the owner plugs the truck in. While I think the data actually backs that solution, it’s not going to be popular with people who want to leave burning fossil fuels completely behind them.
But, there’s another answer, even if it’s not very ‘Murcan: efficiency. Instead of putting giant battery packs in trucks, maybe we could consider lightening up the load and making it more aerodynamically efficient. This will require some creativity, and won’t be nearly as easy as pulling a trailer using diesel or gas, though.
Happier Camper Is Entering This Fray
Looking around YouTube the other day, I came across something funny. The video’s title said something about an “ultralight camper,” but 20 seconds into the video, the guy mentioned that it weighed almost 5,000 pounds. I don’t tow much, so I don’t own a real truck, and the crossover I own is only rated for 3500 pounds. Plus, it’s not a great idea to hang out near the limits unless you want accelerated vehicle wear and terrible fuel economy. So, this “ultralight” camper isn’t so light at all.
This is where the recently announced Happier Camper HC1 Studio and a commercial variant called the HC1 Venture comes in. Instead of weighing in at a “light” 5,000 pounds, the HC1 comes in at under 2,000 pounds. Less equipped versions can get as low as 1100 pounds. It’s only about 8 feet tall, and 7 feet wide, which gives it a much lower drag profile when pulling it down the road.
But, despite the small size, it still has a lot of functionality as a camper or work trailer.
For campers, it has a queen size bed, a kitchenette, and a bathroom. Like many camps, it has to be space efficient, so the queen bed folds into a dinette, couch, or can be removed completely. You can take the interior furniture outside if you want, and that allows you to make the camping experience a lot more roomy.
But what if you have a larger family and need more room? Little “Casita” camps like this have been around for ages, but they’re not super popular because they don’t have room for cargo, extra camping gear (like a tent for the kids to sleep in next door), or things like e-bikes that really make a camping trip fun. The HC1 comes with a truck up its sleeve, though: a hatchback.
This video shows older versions of the HC1, before they added a bathroom, solar fridge, and fixed kitchenette to it, but it gives you an idea of how versatile the overall design is. By removing or reconfiguring the interior (or stacking the pieces off to the side), you can use the trailer to do things like haul bikes or other fun gear. You could even put in a big, heavy insulated tent like a Shiftpod in there to make room for a larger family once you arrive at the campsite.
One of the other big things that sets the newer versions of the HC1 apart from existing designs is that they tried to build in more electrical efficiency. An efficient fridge, efficient air conditioner, and other smart touches makes it so that these things can be powered with solar if you add it. You’ll probably want a larger bank of batteries to power it all through the night, but it’s reasonable instead of requiring something like an EV battery (which you probably need to drive home) to accomplish.
The commercial variant is also exciting, so if you’re looking for something for work, I’d recommend checking out their PDF spec sheet here.
To be realistic, towing even something small like this will still make a big impact on an EV’s range. You’re probably still looking at losing 30-40%, and that’s assuming you slow down a bit like most people towing trailers. But, that still makes EV camping trips a lot more realistic than towing something bigger and heavier that gives you a 60-70% range hit. Towing the HC1 Studio gives you most of the luxury of large campers, but in a package that you can probably drag to the next charging station. That’s a big improvement.
Featured image provided by Happier Campers.
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