Hybrid Class A’s Introduced at Louisville Dealer Show

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December 6, 2008

You knew it was coming. The question was, “How soon?” The Louisville RV Show the first week of December was the place but the “How soon?” is a bit murky. I’m talking about the Freightliner Hybrid chassis called ecoFRED, a large diesel-hybrid technology introduced by Freightliner several years ago and used successfully to power trucks for UPS and Fed-X, but introduced as concept RVs for the first time at the show.

This first for the RV industry foretells a modern marriage of a front-mounted diesel engine coupled to an electric motor/generator connected to lithium-ion batteries.

Freightliner says that the system includes a smart control system, which switches on an electric motor when the system senses that it is the most efficient time to do so. The system also uses re-generative braking, which charges the lithium-ion batteries when braking, as well as by the engine.

“How soon?’ you keep asking. Not an easy answer. Both Fleetwood and Winnebago have built concept motorhomes on the ecoFRED chassis and will be touring dealers and showing at RV shows through 2009 to determine the acceptability and demand for hybrid motorhomes, though no definite production plans have yet been made. What this means is that if the dealers are getting requests for the hybrids and customers are asking both dealers and representatives in factory booths at RV shows for the vehicles, they could come to market as soon as the 2010 model year. If Joe the RV Buyer isn’t interested, you won’t see any hybrid—or electric—motorhomes sailing silently down the highways in the near future—at least by Fleetwood and Winnebago.

Predicting fuel efficiency is also unpredictable. Fleetwood hasn’t done any scientific comparisons, but their road tests indicate a 42% gain over a gas-powered motorhome of the same size, with a 19% gain over a diesel-powered vehicle. Winnebago estimated a 7% gain.

You might also be wondering about the price of just such a modern wonder. Seems you couldn’t pry even an “about” figure out of Fleetwood or Winnebago factory reps. And Freightliner literature stated only that the ecoFRED is a premium chassis competitively priced. They will start taking orders for the RV version of the ecoFRED in the summer of 2009.

Winnebago also introduced the Via (Reyo by Itasca branch), a 25-foot Class A built on the Sprinter chassis with a Mercedes diesel engine, and delivering an estimated 15+ miles per gallon. This is the first Class A using the Sprinter/Mercedes conbo and follows their successful View, the first Class C on a similar chassis. Both the Via and Reyo will be available in the summer of 2009.

It’s great to see hybrid and more fuel-efficient technologies coming to the RV market after earning their mileage credits with commercial delivery vans and in smaller Class Cs as well as transit busses in some large cities. But it will still take demand by the RV buyer (as compared to the single decision of a forward-leaning CEO of Fed-X or UPS, for example, which can change over a whole fleet). Without the demand from buyers, the products will lag behind the rest of the fuel-efficiency transportation marketplace.

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