Although recreational vehicle manufacturers have been striving for greater fuel efficiency for half a decade, the movement seriously began gathering steam over the last two or three years as the nation’s average gasoline price rocketed from a little more than $2 to north of $4 a gallon.
While there is no hard data, Kevin Broom, spokesman for the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA), told the Press-Enterprise, Riverside, Calif., that he’s noticed two changes toward fuel economy.
According to Broom, motorhome manufacturers are increasingly working with the Class C Dodge Sprinter chassis, rather than the larger, thirstier Class A choices. And makers of travel trailers have been using different materials that reduce their weight, allowing for a smaller tow vehicle while also putting less strain on a bigger engine.
Fleetwood Enterprises Inc., based in Riverside, like many builders in the industry is moving toward higher fuel efficiency on three fronts: Use of lighter materials, looking for more fuel-efficient engines and adopting more aerodynamic shapes.
Luc van Herle, product marketing manager for motorhomes, said that coaches of all sizes will be lighter and more fuel-efficient in the future.
And for customers willing to give up some space but who want all the amenities they’ve become used to in a motorhome, manufacturers will be “challenged to make the most efficient use of space we can,” van Herle said.
The boating and aircraft industries have provided examples for motorhome makers, according to van Herle.
The No. 1 priority is getting the weight of the products down, said Bob Rogers, product marketing manager for Fleetwood travel trailers. Most trailer frames have been switched from wood to aluminum, which is lighter but just as durable, he said.
Aerodynamics are also on the minds of Fleetwood’s travel trailer engineers, who have narrowed some models to 7 feet in width – narrower than the tow vehicle, and therefore less prone to wind resistance.
The Press-Enterprise reported that Perris, Calif.-based MVP RV Inc. also hopped on the lightweight traiuler bandwagon with a new Coast travel trailer that it says weighs about 1,000 pounds less than similar-sized models. The company was formed after management with Thor California Inc. bought out the firm from parent Thor Industries Inc.
Van Herle noted that one option passenger vehicle owners have had for several years is a hybrid drivetrain, with an electric motor that augments a gasoline engine. He said it’s unlikely Fleetwood will take that approach soon, because the start-and-stop driving that recharges hybrid batteries doesn’t fit with the way motorhomes are used.
Fuel-cell technology is more likely for the RV industry, and that technology probably will be used for power generation before it’s used to move the vehicle, he said.