The Lightship L1 is What Happens When You Rethink the RV From the Ground Up
A First Look at the All-New All-Electric Travel Trailer of the Future
As the adage goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But Lightship co-founders Ben Parker and Toby Kraus looked at recreational vehicles – largely unchanged in design for the last 75 years – and saw a lot of things to fix: Aerodynamics, aesthetic appearance, power, affordability, environmental impact. The list goes on.
This thinking, plus a now-storied road trip towing a trailer with an electric vehicle, has brought them to today and the launch of the Lightship L1. What’s the L1, you ask? – “An aerodynamic, battery-powered travel trailer with a self-propulsion system that enables zero range or mile-per-gallon efficiency loss for the vehicle towing it,” according to the press release.
A finalist for an innovation award at this year’s SXSW, the startup’s unique travel trailer enters the consolidated industry of RV manufacturing with an innovative new product that may be the first of its kind in America.
Let’s take a closer look.
The Lightship L1
Lightship is “not just throwing batteries at an inefficient platform,” CEO Ben Parker tells RV.com. He says the towable was built from the ground up to be as efficient as possible, both on the road and at the campsite. To achieve that, the company took a different approach to creating the trailer, completely rethinking how recreational vehicles are designed.
When asked why Lightship went with a towable rather than a motorhome for its first RV, company president Toby Kraus had a straightforward answer. “With 90% of the market comprised of towables, it seemed logical to start with an all-electric travel trailer,” he says.
The L1 features a classic pop-up design, flattening to just 6 feet, 9 inches in height in “road mode,” with the roof expanding to 10 feet in “camp mode.” This helps improve its aerodynamic shape while being towed and contributes to the trailer’s near-zero loss of efficiency on the road. This translates to “a 300-mile range electric vehicle (EV) used to tow it remains a 300-mile range EV, and a 25-mpg gas truck remains a 25-mpg gas truck,” the press release reads.
But the L1 goes beyond just reducing drag in its quest to be as aerodynamically efficient as possible. The trailer has “an electric powertrain with up to 80 kWh of onboard battery capacity.” When activated, that drivetrain does much of the heavy lifting, propelling the RV down the road while reducing the demand placed on the tow vehicle.
With a gross vehicle weight of 7,500 lbs, the travel trailer sounds like it’ll require a truck with a good tow package to pull it. But it remains to be seen whether the definition of a vehicle’s tow capacity might change given the travel trailer’s built-in electric powertrain.
An Off-Grid, Eco-Friendly Beast
Once it arrives at its destination, the L1’s battery system is designed to provide “a week of off-grid power without charging.” Those capabilities are further supplemented by the trailer’s 3 kWh solar package, which helps keep its all-electric appliances and amenities running. Moreover, “Any RV campground can charge the L1 using just shore power,” Parker says. Whether you camp at campgrounds or off-grid, the trailer can adapt to its surroundings.
At 27 feet long and able to sleep 4-6 persons, depending on configuration, the L1 is an intriguing option for the 1 in 10 families that own—and frequently travel in—an RV. “This should feel like a vacation home,” Parker tells us, hinting at the comfort that the Lightship towable will offer.
Indeed, the aesthetic appeal of the Lightship is hard to ignore. The designers’ and engineers’ “clean sheet” approach to redesigning the RV took into account the very reason we turn to camping – to explore and appreciate the great outdoors. Where other motorhomes and trailers separate you from the environment using boxed-in walls made of fiberglass, wood, or aluminum, the L1 opens you up to the environment by offering a 360-degree view of the campsite. This design marries product and purpose seamlessly, offering something that allows campers to blend in with the surroundings they enjoy.
According to the press release, the lightship L1’s projected price—sold directly to consumers—is “$125,000 or $118,400 after an available tax credit.” Compared to other electrified RVs, such as the Bowlus Volterra ($310k), the Living Vehicle (anywhere from $300k-$500k), or the Airstream eStream (no announced price yet), the Lightship can add affordability to its list of features.
Interested buyers can reserve one today with a $500 deposit. The Lightship L1 travel trailer is expected to go into production in late 2024.
Electric RVs Today
Lightship isn’t alone in experimenting with an electrified drivetrain on a towable. Thor Industries is currently testing the E.Home Coco e-caravan in Europe and the Airstream eStream here in the US.
Still, the RV industry is slow to innovate due in part to the domination of a few manufacturers, “This is an industry that’s hyper-consolidated. There’s not a ton of healthy competition…You can see it in the products and technology,” Kraus says. Lightship’s approach to design and engineering strips back the assumptions of what an RV should be in terms of appearance, performance, and production.
The Lightship L1 will make its public debut at the annual SXSW conference in Austin, Texas, this weekend. If you’re in the area, drop by 318 E. 5th St. starting Saturday, March 11, through Monday, March 13, to check it out for yourself. Or visit Lightshiprv.com for more information.
We’re eager to see whether Lightship can deliver on the promise of bringing the first viable E-RV to the market. With the L1 making its debut today, we’ll be keeping a close eye out for what’s next from this all-electric RV company.