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Hybrid RV's: Concept to reality?


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If an RV could get the same gas mileage as a van would you buy one? In the future, you just might have that option.

As gas prices have risen and the green movement has pushed environmental concerns to the forefront of the social conscious a few RV producers have taken note. Their answer: the hybrid RV.

Hybrid RVs differ from their traditional brethren in subtle ways that are at first not immediately apparent to the eye. From the floor plan to the tires, hybrids bear a close resemblance to their traditional counterparts. The differences, however, lie quite literally under the hood.

One of the most blatant and enticing features about the hybrid RV is that it's able to go farther on a full tank of gas than its traditional counterpart. While it has been rumored that hybrid RVs can increase fuel economy up to 42% compared to a gasoline-engined RV, Winnebago has set a goal of achieving up to 13 miles a gallon. The average fuel consumption of a traditional 32 foot motor home is 8-10 miles per gallon, according to West Canada Tours.

The key to this fuel efficiency is a unique dual power source system comprised of a gas or diesel engine and an electric motor. Serving in a similar role of a tugboat, the electric motor assists the engine with acceleration when the RV is traveling at speeds under 25 miles per hour. It essentially gives the RV a "push". This "push", otherwise known as torque, creates momentum and reduces the workload of the engine, with the end result being a gain in fuel efficiency.

Hybrids also benefit from electric efficiencies. Traditional RVs lose energy every time a driver steps on the brakes. Many hybrids, on the other hand, capture and convert that braking energy into electricity. That electricity is then fed into the electric motor, which in turn produces the torque necessary to push the RV along the road at low speeds. The method is known as regenerative braking. Christopher Lampton of How Stuff Works explains the specifics:

When the driver steps on the brake pedal of a hybrid vehicle, these types of brakes put the vehicle's electric motor into reverse mode, causing it to run backwards, thus slowing the vehicle's wheels. While running backwards, the motor also acts as an electric generator, producing electricity that's then fed into the vehicle's batteries. These types of brakes work better at certain speeds than at others. In fact, they're most effective in stop-and-go driving situations.

Another type of hybrid uses solar energy to charge the electric motor. Verdier, a Canadian firm, has created and produced the Verdier Westfalia. Based on the iconic VW Westfalia, the camper comes equipped with a 4 cylinder hybrid engine that is powered by a 170 W solar system on the roof. The solar panels, which are controlled by a GPS system, tilt up to 45 degrees in two directions for maximum exposure.

While it is clear that consumers are interested in hybrid RVs, major players in the RV industry have not yet developed a road ready hybrid RV. In a strong economy it is risky to develop and produce a new type of RV. In a down economy, when demand is not optimal, the stakes are much higher for manufacturers. Hybrid RVs are expensive to produce. They are also expensive to purchase. According to industry insiders hybrids would likely cost $40,000 to $45,000 more than a conventional RV.

However there is light at the end of the tunnel. Between 2008 and 2009 Fleetwood and Winnebago introduced concept hybrid RVs, indicating both company's interest in producing production versions of these vehicles in the future. It is only a matter of time before the large manufacturers realize the strong demand for environmentally responsible vehicles and the financial benefits associated with producing these vehicles. When they do, you'll be able to enjoy your RV travels, knowing you're doing your little bit to help reduce your environmental impact.

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