Self-propelled trailer technology looked quite cool and cutting-edge on the curvy Dethleffs Coco, and it looks even cooler below a classic Silver Bullet silhouette. The Vision Vehicle isn't the only fun electric toy Thor Industries has brought out at the Florida RV SuperShow. The new Airstream eStream concept packs an e-drive that can propel the trailer's weight, maneuver into tight spaces via remote control, power up appliances at camp, and even serve as a backup power supply at home.
"Self-driving" and "self-parking" are not concepts we originally thought about for towables, but three and a half years ago, Dethleffs opened the door on that possibility when it partnered with ZF on the E.Home Coco trailer, a dual-motor caravan concept that promised to greatly decrease the pull on the tow vehicle, boosting efficiency and range.
Dethleffs' work began before Thor acquired its parent company Erwin Hymer Group in 2019 and has continued since. Thor recently typed out the terms of an official agreement with ZF toward the continuation of self-powered trailer development. The Airstream eStream concept has become the latest showcase of their work and the first time we've seen a trailer other than the Coco equipped with the electric drive system.
Last we heard, the E.Home Coco had a dual-40-kWh battery pack, and Thor doesn't say whether or not it updated that pack, outlining only that the eStream carries a high-capacity two-piece battery pack in its chassis. The vibrantly colored concept interior even includes a transparent floor panel to show the battery off.
Individual axle motors power each wheel, relying on an advanced sensor control system to coordinate speed with the tow vehicle. The trailer is meant to power itself steadily behind the tow vehicle, dropping its effective weight to nothing. Its dual motors can also adjust torque to improve handling and stability.
In testing the E.Home Coco last year, Dethleffs and ZF verified that the electric-drive system was able to fully compensate for the added weight and drag of the trailer. The Audi e-tron Sportback was able to tow the E.Home Coco over the ups and downs of an Alpine road trip without losing range. The testers did not arrive with much car or trailer battery power left over for powering camping equipment, but that could have been easily solved with a mealtime charging stop.
"In essence, we've turned the trailer into an electric vehicle," explained Josef Hjelmaker, Thor's Chief Innovation Officer. "Our technology also provides important features, including the ability to dramatically improve and extend off-grid camping, power electronics - even your home, operate the trailer from your digital device and remote-control park the trailer after unhitching the tow vehicle, all of which have been very well received and applauded by the RV community."
Hjelmaker lays out some very interesting added advantages of the eStream design. Not having to back a trailer into a tight camping spot with the tow vehicle could definitely take a little stress off the initial arrival at camp. Thor showed a simple joystick-like mobile app that would let campers roll it in like a large RC car.
Our readers have often pointed out that an electric camper would be ideal as a home-integrated power source, since it sits idly in the driveway for much of the year, anyway. It's good to hear Thor thinking that way, too. When not out and about towing and camping, the eStream could be plugged into the home grid and used like a backup generator during power outages. It could also feed energy into the grid during peak demand and recharge during lower-demand cycles. And unlike a regular electric car, the trailer wouldn't be away from home for much of the average weekday.
Like Thor's Vision Vehicle FCEV motorhome concept, the eStream trailer uses a comprehensive power management system to allow owners to monitor battery power and charging status from an onboard touchscreen and connected mobile devices. A full-roof solar array adds extra charging capability.
The eStream is just a concept, but Thor's recent agreement with ZF shows that it's a concept the company is actively pursuing. Using it on a premium product like an Airstream makes sense since a battery-powered motor system won't be a cheap option for a trailer.
It will be interesting to see who brings electric trailers to market first. In addition to the Dethleffs/Thor system, we've seen the idea pursued by Australian RV tech company OzXCorp and German chassis specialist AL-KO.
The video below shows the Airstream eStream in action.
Meet the Airstream eStream Concept
Source: Thor Industries