At the recent Caravan Salon exhibition in Düsseldorf, Dethleffs showed an all-electric motorhome bedecked with solar panels on the bodyshell.
Aboutcamp BtoB interviewed Dethleffs Product manager for Motorhomes, Florian Pietrzak.
Words Terry Owen
Aboutcamp BtoB: How did the idea for this project come about?
Florian Pietrzak: The idea came when Iveco launched their New Daily Electric vehicle in April 2015. Working with our technical department this gave us a vision of an all-electric motorhome. When we say all-electric we are also including functions such as cooking, refrigeration and heating. A true zero emissions motorhome.
Aboutcamp BtoB: How complicated is this to achieve in practice?
Florian Pietrzak: Obviously this is an enormous technical challenge so we decided to create this concept vehicle to develop our ideas further. We don’t anticipate having anything ready for production for at least five years, maybe longer. It might seem simple to take an electric base vehicle and turn it into a motorhome but, if you want to include functions such as cooking and heating, you have to think outside the box.
Aboutcamp BtoB: Did you not consider using LPG as a source of power for the habitation area?
Florian Pietrzak: Yes, and we will continue to use it in other vehicles but, for this vehicle, we wanted to aim for all-electric because we think it is the future. However we are realistic and it could be that the final solution is a hybrid vehicle. At this stage we just don’t know. What we have is an idea, a vision, and it’s based on an all-electric solution. Hybrid vehicles using LPG may well emerge for the leisure market but, even if they do, we believe we have other solutions for the living area.
Aboutcamp BtoB: What technologies are you considering to achieve this goal?
Florian Pietrzak: We are developing heating systems based on phase change materials. These can absorb heat when it’s warm and store it for release during cooler periods. Our idea is to maintain a constant temperature inside the vehicle so less energy is spent on heating and cooling. These technologies are not new. What is new is their application in a motorhome.
Aboutcamp BtoB: Your concept vehicle is covered in photo-voltaic panels – what can you tell us about them?
Florian Pietrzak: All together they can generate 3.000 watts. As you can see we’ve put them on the sidewalls, the back and the roof. We’ve tried to use every little bit of space for the greatest effect. What it’s all about is recharging the batteries as that will be the key to moving forward with our vision.
Normally solar panels take the form of a heavy plate that has to be spaced off from the surface. We decided we needed a better solution and here we have a partner that has supplied lightweight flexible panels made from optimised thin layer solar cells. These are much lighter and neater.
Aboutcamp BtoB: Do you think your customers will be happy to accept solar panels all over the walls and back of their vehicles?
Florian Pietrzak: For some it may not be so attractive but it is very practical. It remains to be seen. It’s just one more reason we’ve built our concept vehicle. Ultimately we may need a smarter solution such as a solar panel that tracks the sun.
Aboutcamp BtoB: What range does your concept vehicle have?
Florian Pietrzak: Currently it’s about 150 km. We know that’s not enough but battery technology is moving fast and we may soon have batteries with much higher energy densities. If that becomes fact then here we have the perfect vehicle.
Aboutcamp BtoB: How easy is it to recharge the batteries on this vehicle? Can it be done through a hook up on a campsite?
Florian Pietrzak: Yes, it can be done through a 230 volt socket at a campsite but it would take 24 hours. With a 32 amp supply such as you might have at home, the charging time is 10 hours. However, using a supercharging point, the batteries can be topped up to 80% in just two hours. I’m talking here just about the batteries that power the vehicle. Our concept prototype also has batteries for the living area as it wasn’t possible to use the vehicle batteries in this case. Ultimately we hope to be able to use the vehicle batteries for everything.
Aboutcamp BtoB: Is weight not a problem on a vehicle such as this?
Florian Pietrzak: Currently the vehicle weighs 5.2 tonnes so it’s not exactly the lightest motorhome at the show for its size. We know we need to get the weight down and we’re working on it. We are looking at something perhaps a little smaller with a good aerodynamic profile. All these things should help to give a better range.
Aboutcamp BtoB: What about the fridge and cooker?
Florian Pietrzak: The fridge is a compressor type whilst the cooker has a three burner ceramic glass top.
Aboutcamp BtoB: What else is special about this motorhome?
Florian Pietrzak: The windows are made from a material that can be made to go dark at the flick of a switch. Similarly we have a framed area on the door to the sleeping area that can either become a mirror or a light. The seats and bed mattress contain heating elements that can switch on when someone sits or lies on them. Customers tell us the sleeping area can get very stuffy so, by heating just the mattress, they can keep warm whilst enjoying cooler, fresher air for sleeping. We have made maximum use of digitalisation and digital control. The lights, heating, fridge and other on-board equipment are all connected to a special bus system that can be controlled from an app on a tablet. We also have the possibility of voice control so if I now ask Alexa to dim the lights… …you can see she has! We think that remote and voice control is something that will appeal our younger customers and maybe also to those older ones who are not so mobile.
Aboutcamp BtoB: Have you tested this vehicle in a climate chamber?
Florian Pietrzak: Not yet but it was only finished two weeks ago. That will change in the coming weeks and months.We will be working with our partners and customers to explore the technology to the full.
Aboutcamp BtoB: What developments do you see in the next year or two?
Florian Pietrzak: We think we will see improvements in battery technology but naturally we are reliant on others for that. The same applies to ‘smart homes’ and the ‘internet of things’. These are fast evolving trends that are becoming increasingly important by offering new possibilities for comfort and safety. For our part we wish to fine tune what we have in order to get the most out of it. We will be paying a lot of attention to weight, thermal performance and aerodynamics, whilst of course always taking on board the feedback from our customers and partners. As you can see we are taking this very seriously because we believe this is the future and we want to be in at the very beginning. We expect rapid progress over the coming years for our e.home concept.