Around the turn of the century, hybrid cars started to make their way into the mainstream market. These vehicles, powered by a combination of a gasoline engine and a battery pack, were seen mostly as a novelty with extreme limitations. They had minimal power, were small in size, and looked funny. At first, the market for hybrid cars was limited mostly to those who wanted to drive a vehicle that was environmentally-friendly – even if that meant sacrificing things like performance and cabin space.
Of course, times have changed rather quickly. Today, nearly every car maker in the world offers a hybrid model, and they are not nearly as limited as they were a decade ago. The hybrids on the market today offer impressive performance, great looks, and plenty of space (depending on the model). People now drive hybrids for a number of reasons beyond the eco-friendly motivation, including saving on gasoline and quiet operation at low speeds.
So where does that Leave RV’s?
Due to their large size and weight, RV’s have not been a prime candidate for the hybrid transition. That is changing, however. While motorhomes are still not available on a widespread basis in hybrid configurations, companies like Winnebago have been experimenting with technology that would allow for a coach to be powered by a hybrid gas/electric system. The motivation is obvious, as motorhomes frequently operate at less than 10 miles per gallon. The cost of fuel alone can be a burden for some RV owners, as well as the concern over burning that much gasoline off into the environment. If an RV were able to maintain its performance characteristics while running on a gas/electric combo, there would likely be interest from a range of buyers.
Two Major Hurdles
Before hybrid RV’s are able to carve out a significant portion of the market, there are two main problems that will need to be solved.
- Power. This is the obvious issue, and the reason why hybrid RV’s are not yet found traveling all across the nations freeways. RV’s are heavy by nature, and they need plenty of power to reach highway speeds, climb hills, etc. The usual hybrid configuration of a small gas engine and an electric motor simply doesn’t generate the kind of power found in the big gasoline engines that have traditionally moved motorhomes to and from campsites.
- Cost. Not only do engineers have to develop a system that can power the motorhome capably, but they also have to do so in a manner that will be affordable to the average RV buyer. If a hybrid motorhome is developed – but the retail price starts at $200,000 – it is unlikely to be a big seller. The hybrid version of a motorhome is going to need to fall somewhere within the spectrum of current RV prices if it is going to crack into the market successfully.
There is little doubt that the capability to develop a quality hybrid motorhome exists. Technology advances at an incredible rate, and the trajectory of hybrid RV’s could easily mirror that of hybrid cars. What is yet to be seen, however, is if the market will support this idea in a way that makes it profitable for RV manufacturers. In the end, it’s all about sales, so the demand for a hybrid RV is going to determine whether or not the market moves in that direction.