Love it or hate it, it’s hard to look at the Lightship L1 electric caravan and not feel something. This box of glass transforms from an aerodynamic trailer while being towed into a tall camper that sleeps up to six people while stationary. It costs well over $100,000 and looks nothing like the rest of the RV industry, dominated by walls of boring white plastic. It’s the first step in Lightship’s mission to help bring electrification to diesel-loving recreational vehicles.
The Lightship L1 is a battery-powered trailer that can be configured with its own drive motor to reduce the towing demand to “near-zero” for the vehicle that pulls it. While that’s an efficiency benefit for any pickup or SUV, it’s especially notable for EV drivers saddled with range anxiety and a desire to head deep off the grid.
If this all sounds familiar, it’s likely because Airstream showed off a self-propelled eStream in early 2022. But so far, that’s just a concept — the Lightship L1 is entering production next year.
The L1’s roof raises to 10 feet tall in camping mode, compared to six feet, nine inches when driving. The travel trailer is 27 feet long and eight feet, six inches wide and has a gross vehicle weight of 7,500lbs fully loaded. The electric lift also has a manual override that lets you raise and lower the trailer should you run out of power.
The roof and awnings can also be covered with up to 3kW of solar panels to help charge up to 80kWh of onboard battery capacity. Lightship says its “no-compromise battery system” can keep the interior’s all-electric appliances (like a multi-burner induction cooktop) and connected features going for a week or more without having to plug in and without having to resort to propane or diesel fuels or a noisy gas-powered generator. You can also use the L1 to charge your EV while off grid or power your home like a solar generator when parked in your driveway.
Lightship fits the L1 with two batteries: a high voltage battery pack that powers propulsion and on-board appliances as well as a small low voltage battery for light loads. The solar panels charge the high voltage battery pack, which in turn, keeps the smaller battery charged. But the company doesn’t want owners worrying about battery specs or charge levels.
“One of our overarching design goals is ease of use and the way that shows up in the power system is a seamless power experience for our users that does not require them to separately manage their low voltage and high voltage batteries,” said Lightship’s co-founders Ben Parker (CEO) and Toby Kraus (president) in an email interview with The Verge. “All devices and appliances and outlets are always on and ‘just work,’ and our infotainment system provides users with an intuitive, user-friendly view of the power system for easy trip planning and so they need not be concerned or deeply knowledgeable about how the power system is working.”
While the L1’s solar roof, public EV chargers, home outlets, and RV campground power hookups are the primary ways for owners to charge the trailer, Lightship’s co-founders tell The Verge that the company’s exploring additional options. These can be via a souped-up alternator on your internal combustion engine (ICE) towing vehicle or by using the L1’s electric drive motor as a generator while traveling.
Pulling a giant glass house at high speeds does raise some safety concerns. The company says that rock and mud guards will be installed on the front of the production L1, and its windows are fabricated using the same safety techniques as automobiles. “We are following an exciting trend underway across automotive development towards more windows integrated into vehicle upper bodies and cabin spaces and are holding ourselves to rigorous automotive safety standards in doing so,” said the co-founders.
Lightship, based in San Francisco and Boulder, Colorado, likes to tout the Rivian, Lucid, and Tesla credentials of its team. It’s a pedigree that helped the company close a $23 million series A funding round last summer, adding to the $4 million raised since its founding in May 2021. Tony Fadell’s Build Collective is just one of a host of investors.
“L1 is the RV revolution needed for those who love to explore our planet while making sustainable choices,” said Fadell, iPod inventor and Nest founder. “It’s not an ancient RV that’s been ‘electrified.’ L1 has been entirely rethought for camping and towing — for both EVs and standard ICE SUVs and trucks. Lightship is changing the industry forever for the better.”
We’ll see about that, Tony; this thing’s not supposed to enter production until “late 2024,” and the company isn’t ready to say when the first deliveries will be made.
Pricing for the Lightship L1 starts at $125,000, or $118,400 after an available tax credit, the company says. Honestly, that sounds reasonable for a premium caravan, though it depends on what you actually get for that price, and those details won’t be provided until later.
We do know that the L1 will launch with two models: the base L1 Essential and an upgraded L1 Long Range model that includes the drive motor and more battery capacity for a starting price of $151,500 (or $139,600 after tax credit). Co-founders Parker and Kraus were unwilling to answer questions asked by The Verge related to battery chemistry, included appliances, option packages, or other specifics. That information will be provided at a later time, they said.
You can preorder now for $500 (fully refundable) if you’re already sold. Or if you need more convincing, maybe wait for reactions to the L1 prototype that will be on display at SXSW in Austin, Texas, for a few days starting Saturday, March 11th.