Why most of us will own electric campers in 15 years time and what does that mean? Many manufacturers are phasing out their combustion engine models in favour of electric versions of well-known everyday campers like the Berlingo, Rifter and more. With the EU putting a stop to the production of fossil fuel engines from 2035, we will see more and more electric vehicles and hence electric campers on the road.
What you’ll find out:
- the benefits and disadvantages of an electric camper
- the differences between a road trip in an electric vehicle (EV) and a road trip in an old-school combustion vehicle (CV)
- what does the future hold for electric campers and EVs
- what electric campers are out there currently + planned?
- what are the main obstacles when buying an EV currently?
The benefits and disadvantages of an electric vehicle camper
Electric camper PROs
- More ecological – no exhaust, no fumes, no CO2 whilst driving. You can be even more ecological if you source your energy from a renewable source when charging and recycle the vehicle properly when you’re finished with it.
- Lower running costs – EVs generally cost much less to drive 100km compared to combustion vehicles (1, 2, 3). They also have cheaper service and maintenance plus low or no vehicle tax. And even though they might cost a bit more to buy at the moment, these costs will go down fast with the EU’s (and worldwide) push towards EVs. Plus there are always some EV grants you can take advantage of.
- No congestion charge (the UK + some other countries or cities), clean air zones – EVs are exempt
- Quiet – MPVs tend to be louder on the motorway. Not EVs – no engine to roar under the hood. Plus you probably won’t drive as fast to save energy, so less wind noise 🙂
- Safety – EVs usually have the battery at the bottom, below the entire cabin. This creates a low centre of gravity, which improves handling, comfort and safety
- Free parking – often, EVs have a dedicated parking zone next to their chargers, or just because they are EVs. This might not last mind you – if more people switch to EVs and they become the majority, free parking will either be full or no longer offered.
- Source of electricity when camping – having a massive battery, you’ll always have a backup with you. Being able to charge using a normal plug in most camps, right where you camp means you’ll always be charged for a day trip.
- More storage space – if the EV has electric motors in its wheels, there won’t be any engine under the hood – meaning you can store your camping gear in there instead. Less moving parts, no fuel tank, exhaust systems, converters etc make EVs also more spacious in the cabin.
- No need for the trip to the petrol station – as most camps will install their own charging stations, or you can charge using a standard 220V plug.
- No engine/parts damage if you run out of energy – the EV will give you plenty of warnings before this happens + it might limit your speed when your battery is very low. But should you deplete your battery completely, most EVs will switch into a “turtle” mode – battery preservation mode that limits what you can do with it. You can probably park it at the side of the road, then call roadside assistance. With a combustion vehicle, if you run it dry (completely out of petrol, you will damage many parts and it will likely not drive until fixed). Mind you, this barely ever happens with EVs – The American Automobile Association (AAA) did test a small fleet of towing+charging trucks for some time and found that EV drivers paid more attention to their remaining range than drivers of gas cars and rarely needed the service. Instead, AAA and other roadside assistance services will just tow you to a nearby charger. The EVs wheels shouldn’t move when towing – meaning no rope towing – it needs to sit on top of a towing truck.
Electric camper CONs
These could be called “short-term annoyances” that every new technology brings with it – it’s just a question of getting used to them. They aren’t long-term disadvantages, just things that are being worked on and will improve each year (more EV stations, higher range).
- Longer and potentially more frequent stopovers at charging stations. Adding a rooftop box or a roof tent might introduce more drag and reduce your range, and hence even more frequent charging stops
- Lower range – you can do 1000km or more in a combustion vehicle on a full tank. You won’t be able to do that with an EV just now. A typical range is around 200km, also depending on your total vehicle weight, rooftop boxes or tents or bike racks and driving style. But hey – we all like those petrol station stops where you stretch your legs and top up on coffee, so this isn’t such a disadvantage. Less varicose veins? :D. But not to worry – the EU has a plan and many actions geared towards increasing EV charging facilities in each country.
- More detailed route planning required – Until there are about as many charging stations as there are petrol stations, you will need to watch your remaining range and where you’ll charge much more closely. Especially if you like going through small village roads like me – there won’t be as many charging stations. But hey, you can always ask a friendly local to pull out their extension lead and give you a top-up for a smile or some change. And you’ll get to chat with the locals. There are also apps that do all the planning for you – for example chargemap.com
- if you happen to run “dry” i.e. out of power, you can’t just bring a can of petrol and continue to the nearest petrol station.
- An EV can’t be towed by another car but it must be loaded on a lorry. Its wheels generate energy, so if they spin too fast, it might cause trouble.
How does an electric vehicle change the way we camp?
As you can tell from the above long list of benefits and a shorter list of short-term disadvantages, it is a big positive change overall. But there is a learning/adoption curve that needs to be passed. Here are the biggest differences between camping in an EV vs a combustion vehicle (CV):
- EVs offer more room than CVs – This is probably the biggest positive change when you switch from a CV to an EV – fewer moving parts, no fuel tank, no engine, exhaust system, and double boot… you will be able to pack more camping gear or enjoy more room when sleeping in your electric camper.
This Lifewire’s illustration shows it well – the “skateboard” concept puts the wheels, brakes and other parts out of the way, creating even more room:
- More detailed route planning – see disadvantages #1, #2 and #3 above – they all mean roughly the same thing – with an EV, you will have to know your range, whether there are any big hills between you and the charging station and where you will charge it + for how long and plan it in. With a CV, you would just check Google maps for the nearest petrol station and top up whenever needed. Worst case scenario, you could walk somewhere and bring petrol in a can. You can’t do that with an EV. But you can probably make it to the nearest village or settlement, where it should be possible to get charged, at least partially, using a standard house plug.
- No engine noise, no fumes in your camp spot – when you have to move your parked vehicle or start it for some reason, there’s no fumes or noise. An EV will just turn on and do what is needed quietly and ecologically 🙂
- Bigger battery – bigger electricity backup – your EV will have a much bigger and more powerful battery compared to a CV
- Refuel (charge) on your camp spot or within the camping ground – most camping grounds will install some kind of charging station + you can use a standard plug to charge overnight too. Not the cheapest electricity, but handy if needed.
The future of Electric vehicle campers
- the 2035 EU ban on new fossil fuel car sales means that 100% of new cars sold will be electric or hydrogen and 0% will be combustion. EV production will speed up the closer to the date we get. There will be more incentives for manufacturers and for consumers to buy EVs. And after that date, CVs will start becoming harder to find as no new models will be sold and older models will slowly get out of fashion.
- EU grew its charging network by 580% between 2015 and 2021 and plans to grow it further by 200%+ by 2030(1, 2) taking the UK for example from <30K public chargers to 250K in 2025 and 500K in 2030. According to virta.global, “On average in 2021, the EU already offers five fast public chargers for every 100 km“. See their charging stations map here. EU recommends a charging stations coverage of about 10 EVs per public charging station and most countries already fall under 10, the average being 7.5 EVs per public charging station and this doesn’t count charging at home, plus the speed of the charging stations isn’t reflected here (if it’s a fast one, a ration of 15 EVs per station is fine too).
- raising fuel prices will accelerate the move towards EVs – fuel was already more expensive than electricity before the current situation in EU, and now the move towards EVs will be even faster due to economical reasons. As most people use their car for short trips to work, an EV is perfect for that. And once you have an EV, you will start using it for longer trips and camping too :). Same as with automatic cars – most people thought they won’t like them, but once you try an automatic gearbox, you don’t really want to go back to manual. Demand for EVs is already soaring, this will speed that up even further.
What are the main obstacles when buying an EV currently?
- lack of used vehicles at lower prices – one of the main obstacles is the fact that there aren’t as many used EVs (that are good for camping), because that market is relatively new. Electric MPVs entered the market around 2020/2021, so you won’t find a well-priced 8-year-old electric MPV just yet. That’s pretty much my biggest obstacle at the moment – I’d love to have an electric camper, but I don’t have 15.000 EUR or more to spend on it. I bought my current Sharan (2013) for 8.000 EUR and I don’t plan to invest much more than that in my next car, so the plan is to wait until there are used electric MPVs available for around 10.000 EUR.
- people are used to travelling longer ranges when camping – need to change the way you plan your journeys. I usually do anything between 400 to 900km per day on a longer camping trip – this will change with an EV – more frequent charging stops will reduce the max km I can do in a day.
- off-road or off-the-beaten-path trips require more planning – there might not be as many charging stations as there are petrol stations if you venture off the beaten path, rural roads or mud roads, therefore more careful route planning is required.
- the EV market is still evolving – today’s EVs range and price are very different to what it was just a few years ago and it is likely to change strongly in the next 5 years. If you are thinking like me – to wait a few more years for better prices, selection and driving ranges, you’re probably right. If you’re one of the early adopters, thank you for supporting the market and enjoy the ride! 🙂
What electric campers are already out there?
Almost every MPV / Minivan manufacturer is already planning or manufacturing an electric version, many have already discontinued the production of the combustion engine model – f.e. the e-Berlingo , Vauxhall (Opel) Combo e-Life or e-NV200. There are also new manufacturers that are disrupting the field, like Electric Brands with their XBUS.
Here are all Electric Campers in our database so far: