Category Archives: Camping

Extending the range of your EV

The BMW i3 has a cool REX option where they include a small motorcycle engine to extend the range by a hundred miles or so. There is another way to extend the range of your i3, if you have the cash:
Charge Plot

(Click on the image to see more of the RV)
This form of range extension was featured on the Travel Channel’s “Extreme RV” show.

That’s right: simply build in a garage into your RV. They even wired an outlet into the compartment so that the car can charge while the RV drives down the road (no mention on the website or during the show if the EVSE is a Level 1 or Level 2). The neat thing here is that the ramps extend: You don’t drive the car up into the RV; you just drive it up onto the ramps and then retract the ramps.

The cost of this is completely on another level. There are people who could afford a Tesla Model S at $100k+ but could not afford this combination ($250k+ for just the camper alone, then you still have to pick up the i3). Not to mention that you’ll be burning a lot of Diesel going from city to city.

Comparing the dimensions of the i3 vs the FFE we find that the Focus might be a better fit in there: The i3 is about 5″ taller and 15″ shorter than the FFE. Thus the “garage” could be a little shorter (and longer) to fit the FFE. Here the important thing is shorter–this makes more standing room in the bedroom above the garage. The steep rake on the FFE’s front windshield may also help out since the car is stored on an angle which may allow for an even shorter garage.

Another novel use for the FFE

Found another novel use for the FFE:
Another novel use

What am I doing here? It would appear that I’m charging the FFE off of a covered RV. The novel use here is to provide a load for the generator in the RV. While in extended storage (say over winter) the engines have to be run about once a month or so. For the generator the Onan people told me that when you do run it you have to provide a load. I don’t think I could provide a better load to the generator than having the FFE charge with its Level 1 EVSE (which will draw about 12 amps).

Other options for drawing a load would be the A/C (which shouldn’t be run in cold weather), or a ceramic heater (which would have the benefit of heating the interior of the RV). In both of those cases, though, the electricity produced will simply vanish into the air. With the FFE the electricity goes to good use charging the battery (granted only using Level 1 for about 20 minutes I’ll be lucky enough to get a mile…maybe).

 

 

 

The FFE turns up in the darnedest of places

Typically when you have a hobby you dive all in (much like this blog, although I’m not sure I’d call EV ownership/advocacy a hobby–more like a passion). You do research on your hobby, find like minded individuals to discuss your hobby, even subscribe to a magazine or two that is specific to your hobby.

In a few prior posts I’ve mentioned my desire to take the FFE with us camping with our motorhome. With the purchase of the motorhome we got a free subscription to, what else, Motorhome magazine. Imagine my surprise to see this cover when I received the September issue:
Whats that on the left
What is that on the left? Why its an image of an FFE! This makes me wonder: Did the producer of this page just grab a random car and it just happened to be an FFE? Or, more interestingly, is the designer an EV advocate and really likes the FFE? I doubt I’ll ever know for sure. The price shown is about right if you include all the tax breaks you get on the car.
A note about the FFE as a toad (a “toad” is a car towed behind a motorhome): I’ve mentioned before that the FFE would be a perfect toad: You could charge it up at the campground very easily with readily available 240V 50A service at many campsites. The range wouldn’t be a factor because typically you don’t stray to far away from the campground (even when sightseeing) and if you do you tend to take the leisurely route. The downside to this is the fact that the current FFE can’t be towed with any wheels on the ground so you’d need a bulky, cumbersome, and expensive car trailer.

Quiet around here again…

Haven’t had much EV to post about lately as I’ve been out of town on vacation. If you’ve read some of my other posts about attempting to bring the EV with us camping..this was the trip I was targeting. Unfortunately for the EV it sat at home (it was far cheaper to simply rent a car at the destination than it was to purchase an aluminum car trailer not to mention that the FFE + Camper combo would have been even less efficient than the Camper alone).

It would have been pretty sweet though to post pictures of my Michigan plated FFE in different states!

 

What would it take??

Now that I drive an EV around whenever I’m driving one of our ICE vehicles I like to think about what would it take to make this vehicle an EV?

Lets start with our new car: a 2014 Ford Escape. This exercise should be pretty easy as the Escape is based on the same platform as the Focus and thus shouldn’t require much more than the Focus. Looking at some of the specs for the Escape:

  • 1.6L Ecoboost engine making 178 HP, 184 lb-ft of torque
  • 3500 lbs curb weight

These numbers aren’t too much off from the ICE Focus (2.0L 160 HP, 146 lb-ft, 2950 lbs) thus to electrify the Escape: a slightly larger electric motor (just 20% larger) and more battery for the larger engine (about 30 kWh or so). The challenge with the Escape is that its footprint is about the same as the Focus which wouldn’t leave a lot of room for the Focus battery let alone a 30 kWh battery. It does sit higher being a CUV so there may be some room in the floor which isn’t available in the Focus. Note that using these numbers the converted EV Escape would still only manage about 75 miles on a charge since I’ve only extrapolated the numbers from the existing Focus Electric.

The next contemplation is a bit more, um, serious! Our RV:

  • 6.8L V-10 engine cranking out 305 HP and 420 lb-ft of torque
  • Weighing in at a hefty 12,000lbs

Now we’re talking large multiples (at least 2X engine size and 4X weight). Just taking that into account we’d need a 2X electric motor producing roughly 200 kW–or would the implementation be easier by just using two 100 kW motors: one driving each rear wheel. The real trick to electrifying the RV, though, is battery: This is due to the fact that for an RV to be useful you’ll want a ton of range (our RV has a 55 gallon gas tank giving it an effective range of about 600 miles). Simply doubling the battery size from the FFE won’t be enough, we’ll need something more like 10 times the battery size (due to the range requirements, and the additional weight of the RV). So now we’re talking about a battery around 250 kWh. How big would that be? Is it practical?

The best EV batteries today are about 240 Wh/kg (Tesla Model S). The translates our monster 250 kWh battery to be around 2300 lbs. That is a heavy battery enough so that our RV would have to bump up the chassis from the E-350 its based on to the E-450–it may also necessitate an increase in electric motor size simply to compensate for the additional weight (ok so lets put the motor at 250 kW from 200 kW).

Is there enough room in the RV for such a large battery? My initial thought would be yes: The electric motor can simply be bolted to the rear axle freeing up the engine bay, drive shaft tunnel, and exhaust pipe routing for battery usage. Again using the numbers from the Model S (about 700 Wh/L of volume) results in a battery that is: about 12 cubic feet in size. If we flatten that to a 1 foot high slab we get a battery that is roughly 3 feet by 4 feet by 1 foot high–easily tolerable in the RV.

If this appears all feasible how come we aren’t seeing ERV’s? Well something I haven’t mentioned, but also needs to be calculated, how much would a 250 kWh battery cost? A reasonable estimate for battery costs today is around $250/kWh thus a 250 kWh would cost $62,500 just about doubling the price of the RV–not including all the R&D that would be required for building something entirely new. Would someone pay that? If you were looking at two brand new RVs sitting on the dealer’s lot both identical to each other on the outside with identical floorplans inside but the left one had an electrical powertrain with a price 2X the one on the right with a gas engine would you purchase the electric one? (It should be noted that if there was a 3rd one with a Diesel engine its price premium over the gas engine one would be about 10% – 15%.)

Note that the numbers I came up with here are really just guesses (battery size and motor size) from scaling up the FFE’s motor–doing the real math to figure it out may come to significantly different values.

 

The maiden voyage…

Maiden voyage? “Hey wait a sec, you’ve had this EV for a while now?” Yes I have (in fact I’m only about 30 miles from 10,000 miles on the odometer and will probably be making a post about the 10k mark soon). The maiden voyage was in our new camper. Typically when you purchase a new camper you take a short camping trip to someplace close by just to make sure everything works (and if you get stuck you aren’t so far away, etc.). Now my 3 readers are also thinking: “Hey this is an EV blog and now you’re talking about camping..stick to what the blog is supposed to be about!” (I read this comment on many people’s blogs when they stray off of their core subject. Frankly this opinion is absurd: The blog is theirs/mine not yours to regulate and thus they and I can post on whatever topic we want to. Do you complain when visiting someone’s house when they ask you to remove your shoes at the door? Or do you loudly shout: “This is a free country I can wear my shoes around your house if I want to!” Ok I’m digressing here.)

Like I said above, this first trip is typically near by..not too far away that we couldn’t take a particular vehicle with us…
The Two Vehicles

There we are with both the EV and the camper at Harbortown RV Resort just outside Monroe, Michigan. This is a pretty decent campground if you have kids. There is two go-kart tracks, a mini-golf, and a batting cage out front. It is just over 10 years old so the trees they planted haven’t grown enough for shade. Every campsite is paved (which is how we ended up here since our first choice of campground in Frankenmuth, Mi wasn’t accepting reservations as all the snow we’ve had has made their grounds all soft and muddy).

A word on our new camper: A Thor Axis. This is a brand new model for 2014: A “Class A in Class C clothing” (small as a Class C but looks like a Class A). It looks large in the picture, but at only 25 feet long it really is a smaller camper. The small size makes it very easy to maneuver around. Backing into a campsite, driveway, parking spot, etc. is as easy as backing in a van (easier: a van doesn’t have 3 external cameras). The interior is laid out very well–a lot of thought went into what to put where. So far after one camping weekend with it we can say: We’re going to have a lot of fun with it.

As far as camping with an EV: I can’t think of a more perfect vehicle to accompany you on your camping trips (and it means you don’t have to rent that golf cart at the campground). You can simply plug in your car to the electric at the site and charge up. In our case I haven’t made any adapters for our Level 2 charger yet so I just used some standard camping adapters to plug the Level 1 charger included with the car into one of the spare plugs. The slow Level 1 charge didn’t pose any problems since we’re camping–you’re not really in any hurry when you’re camping. By the time we needed the car on Saturday it had more than enough time to charge back up to 100% from the commute to the campground.

Speaking of the ride to the campground, on the way there the car “complained” that we were passing the 1/2 way point and may not be able to return home. This warning got me thinking: If we eventually get that car trailer and haul the car somewhere a few hundred miles away from home will the car freak out? “Um yeah you’re like 300 miles from home there is NO way you’re going to get there on any charge level!”

The limited range of the EV doesn’t really pose a problem here: You can charge all you want (even better if you can get a 50A plug and use Level 2), and usually you select the campground to be in a central spot near all of the points of interest you wish to see. As a bonus you really only camp when its warm out: optimal weather for humans is also optimal weather for EVs: The maximum range will be available in the car.

By the way, ever wonder what it looks like camping in Michigan in early April?
The Campground

Yeah, we were one of only about 4 campers there getting that early start on the season!