The $50 billion travel trailer industry is finally hitching up to the electric vehicle ecosystem. Legacy companies such as Winnebago and newcomers such as Lightship and Pebble Mobility are not only electrifying their systems, but they are also changing the vehicle model itself.
As more Americans move to electric cars, the trailer industry has to evolve because the towing runs down the battery quickly. The drag on battery power can make towing an RV long distances with an EV prohibitive.
California-based startup Pebble Mobility has invented a self-propelled, self-powered, remote-controlled trailer. The 25-foot vehicle sleeps four and has its own electric motor. It propels itself, saving on the power needed by the car dragging it.
“We have a generous EV battery on board and an integrated solar array over the rooftop of the travel trailer — so harnessing renewable energy from the sun and powering the entire vehicle,” said Bingrui Yang, CEO of Pebble.
Yang, an Apple alum who helped build the iPhone, says he is using that knowledge to enhance the RV experience.
“We brought an iPhone-like experience to the RV, automated the hardest part, such as hitching, parking, towing, setting up camp, so that anyone can easily access all the freedom RV-ing has to offer without any of the hassle,” he said.
The user can use Pebble’s app to maneuver the trailer on its own, which helps in tight spaces. That high tech is a focus for investors, such as UpHonest Capital, which is seeing a generational shift in RV use from baby boomers to millennials.
“This group of consumers are very different from the baby boomers — they are more tech forward. They are tech savvy, they want a better experience, they want a better toy experience. So they have completely different demands from the previous generation,” said Ellen Ma, managing director at UpHonest Capital.
In addition to UpHonest, Pebble is backed by Lightspeed and Vision Plus. It has raised $13.6 million in funding so far.
The trailer price starts at $109,000 without the self-propelling motor. Potential tax credits could bring that down. The version with the motor starts at $125,000, which is comparable to other RVs. Yang said as they continue to grow the company, they will come out with more products at different price points, catering to consumer needs.
With the solar and battery power, the Pebble makers say it can live off the grid for seven days, without propane or a generator required. The kitchen appliances, lights, AC and everything else are fully electric. Pebble aims to deliver the first models in 2024.
— CNBC’s Lisa Rizzolo contributed to this piece.
Don’t miss these stories from CNBC PRO: