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The race to electrify the great American road trip and drive RVs into the future

the Pebble rv hides behind grass
Image Credit: Kevin Schmid // Unsplash. Illustration by Nate Merrit

This fall a brand new electric recreational vehicle, aka eRV is coming to roads. Recently, a new California-based startup with plans to deploy its eRVs came out of stealth mode with $13.6 million in Seed and Series A funding out the gate. The startup unleashing these big eRVs has a small name: Pebble.

The round saw participation from Lightspeed, Vision+, and UpHonest Capital, and according to the team at Pebble, they’re bringing innovation to an industry that hasn’t seen much new in the last 50 years.

According to the CEO and founder Bingrui Yang, the user experience of a Pebble eRV will be as simple as using an iPhone. And he would know — Yang lead iPhone development at Apple for almost a decade and led hardware development at the General Motors-backed autonomous vehicle company Cruise and at the Amazon-based also autonomous vehicle company Zoox.

Now he’s using his expertise to charge up an RV, which as he tells it, is no longer about vacationing, but is about a lifestyle. If the TikTok hashtag rvlife, that’s been viewed over five billion times, has anything to add to the story, the creators may say Yang is quite plugged in.

For this writer, RV retrofits, bus refurnishing, and nomadic lifestyles are all over her For You Page, and as Yang puts it in a Medium post announcing the company, rather than a trend, it’s an emerging way of living, and so “Pebble was developed to create a hassle-free way to live, work and explore.”

“Consumers have been stuck with the same RV experience for decades. A lot of people want to get into such a lifestyle of freedom but are turned off by the pain points in today’s products,” he said.

“At Pebble, we are automating the hardest parts of the RV experience with the same technologies that power the most advanced automotive innovations, making the whole experience simply effortless and magical. If you know how to use an iPhone, you’ll be comfortable using our product.”

Yang is joined by alums and former execs at Apple, Tesla, Volvo, Cruise, and the luxury electric vehicle company Lucid Motors.

While the company is out of stealth mode, Mum is still the word on the design, cost, dimensions, and other aspects of its eRV, which will be its flagship product. Still, the company is giving hints on what it will look like, saying that it will come fully furnished like many other recreational vehicles, but with a sleek modern design, lightweight materials, and an “eco-friendly” interior fitted with everything users need to work, sleep, explore, and relax comfortably.

It even enables a temporarily off-grid lifestyle for up to 7 days for the more nomadic traveler, powered by a renewable energy solar capacity.

Plus, according to an article by Kirsten Korosec over at TechCrunch, prior to the fully furnished eRV, Pebble’s first product will be a “medium-sized” towable all-electric travel trailer with an attire of tech that’s similar to the advanced driver assistance systems found in modern cars. The rEV itself will come with an electric powertrain, improving the fuel economy or range of whatever (hopefully electric) truck or SUV towing it.

the Pebble rv hides behind grass
Image Credit: Pebble

While the look of Pebble’s eRV and trailer may still be under wraps, they aren’t the only ones tinkering in the garage when it comes to electrifying the great American road trip.

Other veterans from Tesla, Lucid, and Zoox, along with some from electric adventure vehicle maker Rivian and EV tech manufacturer Proterra, teamed up to form Lightship in 2020.

Back in May, the San Francisco, California and Boulder, Colorado-based startup debuted the Lightship L1: a pop-up, all-electric, self-propelled travel trailer that is practically a mini home on wheels. As the company puts it on its site: “Road trips will never be the same,” because according to the team behind Lightship, what they have on their hands is “America’s first all-electric recreational vehicle company.”

According to industry vet Ben Parker via Electrek, “One in 10 American families own an RV, but the RV industry hasn’t experienced innovation for decades.”

This pales in comparison to the stark metamorphosis the car industry has experienced over the last decade to keep up with the climate crisis’s demands of electrification, and the current EV revolution. Paired with the fact that EV sales are skyrocketing and there’s a clearcut federal push for adoption, electrifying one of America’s favorite pastimes — camping, road trips, and according to Pebble the emerging nomadic lifestyle — is gaining traction.

However, “inefficient, unreliable product designs and a power experience that relies on smelly, noisy, gas or propane generators fundamentally hinder the amazing experience of traveling in the outdoors,” Parker said.

So Lightship is striving to change that.

Like Pebble’s this e-travel trailer is equipped with an electric powertrain, and according to Lightship via Motortrend, the L1 also has a solar-powered backup battery system, enabled by a roof with an extendable awning covered completely with panels so that its occupants never have to think about electricity.

Image Credit: Lightship

On top of that, the minimalistic-designed L1 is a full all-electric ecosystem down to its appliances and amenities, and the while a sick EV isn’t included, other cool advantages like the fact that it can sleep four-to-six people are. The company plans to begin production late next year for the trailer which starts at $125,000 and can be available for $118,400 after Inflation Reduction Act tax credits. Lightship is currently accepting reservations for $500.

Another company is throwing its hat, or rather tires, into the ring for the race to get an all-electric RV on the road. That company is RV, trailer, and camper giant Winnebago Industries.

While the company has been in business since the late ‘50s, at a time when road-tripping to the country’s national parks was a newer recreation for families in the emerging American suburbia, Winnebago's vision for the future of RVs is an all-electric, zero-emission RV. According to the company, the sustainable eRV2 is “the most human-centric RV we’ve ever created.”

“We answered that call 65 years ago,” Huw Bower president of Winnebago Outdoors said referring to the call the reinvent themselves, “and today we’re answering it again to pioneer a new RV experience.”

According to Bower via a video on the company’s site, the eRV2 is entering its final stage of field testing, in which some of Winnebago’s prototypes are already on the road.

the interior of Winnebago's ERV2
Image Credit: Winnebago

Built around the Ford e-transit chassis, aka the skeleton in which all parts of the machine are installed, made with “extensive use” of sustainable and recycled materials, with a Japandi-inspired interior, Bower says it allows its users to “explore more with less impact on the environment.”

“Ultimately this is about reducing barriers to new outdoor connections. Together with a new generation of explorers, we’re laying out a more sustainable roadmap for the future.”

Bower says that the e-van life movement has “only just begun.” And he’s right: Bigger EVs are finding their way into the market, blocs like the European Union and states like California and six other states are looking to ban the sale of new gas cars in the near future, and California recently passed an upcoming ban on new diesel trucks.

To keep up with the times, the electric innovation that’s taking the car industry by storm is infiltrating bigger vehicles. Startups like FootPrint Coalition-backed Kindred Motorworks are looking to the past for the future with electrified road trip-ready cars like their take on the classic Volkswagon, aka the VW Microbus.

Image stills from video from Kindred Motorworks

(You can learn more about the electrification movement from the Max show Downey’s Dream Cars: FootPrint Coalition, and Team Downey’s first-ever collaboration, where FPC founder, Robert Downey Jr. is electrifying classics.)

The great American road trip may have taken off at the gas pump in the mid-century, but as the world heats up and the demand for emissions reductions escalates, the electrification movement is targeting campers, road trippers, and bus nomads alike. As the fleet of chargers expands across the country, and more are available near the great outdoors, more electric RVs may be taking to the roads and to the campgrounds.

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