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ZF ELECTRIC TRAILER AXLE NEARS PRODUCTION
Electric trailer axle power is coming sooner than most people think.

 

We might have known that transmission specialist ZF wouldn’t leave the electric axle market to other European manufacturers. Its eTrailer system has been tested during 2021 and is now being implemented by RV maker, Thor Industries.

 

 

We’ve reported on the Huber/AL-KO joint project into auxiliary electric propulsion for motorhomes and caravans, and now ZF has entered the field.

Leading US-market RV manufacturer Thor Industries announced in late January 2022 that it had signed a binding memorandum of understanding with German auto supplier ZF.

The deal gives Thor companies exclusive rights to ZF’s eTrailer System in US-market travel-trailer RVs. 

An eTrailer van will be fitted with a lithium battery pack between the chassis rails and one or two eTrailer axles will be powered by that battery.

 

 

The powered van is thus able to assist performance of the towing vehicle and, when required, contribute a braking effect as it recharges its battery on downhill grades.

That assistance will maintain or possibly extend the nominal range of any towing vehicle. Adding a high-capacity battery and a compact drive system to a trailer eliminates one of the main obstacles to electric vehicles operating as towing vehicles: greatly reduced range. 

Other plusses are much more battery capacity to power the van when camped and self-driving capability, allowing easier parking and coupling.

The eTrailer communicates with the towing vehicle via a simple connector and, when separated, can be driven and steered independently in any direction, via a hand-held remote control.

 

 

In July 2021, a test demonstrated the eTrailer system’s potential when an eTrailer-equipped lightweight camper was towed by an Audi e-tron Sportback from Germany to Italy – over the Alps. 

The Audi towed the eTrailer RV the full distance of 386km on a single charge and arrived at its destination with power still remaining in both the eTrailer battery and the e-tron battery. 

Incidentally, Audi’s stated range for the e-tron, without a trailer in tow and certainly not handling Alpine road gradients, is 393km. 

“Thor is thrilled to enter into this partnership with ZF, a global technology company enabling next generation mobility,” said Bob Martin, Thor president and chief executive officer. 

“The eTrailer system, which Thor, Erwin Hymer Group (EHG) and ZF have jointly developed over the last several years, is the only high-voltage solution available in the RV space.” 

Thor owns several US-market RV brands, including Keystone, Dutchmen and Jayco (USA), but the crown jewel in its brand portfolio is Airstream, or which Jayco Australia is a distributor. 

The aircraft-inspired, aluminium-skinned, ‘retro’ Airstream is the top-shelf model and the logical recipient of the initial eTrailer componentry.

If that proves to be true, we could see Jayco-imported Airstream eTrailer units Down Under.

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