In the recreational vehicle industry, there’s been something of a rise in the use of technology. There’s little doubt that the RV industry in Australia has been at the forefront in the uptake of technology, at least on the electrical side of things, with LED lighting, lithium (Li-FePO4) batteries, solar panels, inverters and battery management systems all becoming very common in many an RV not long out of the factory.
Indeed, a few manufacturers are moving towards having very high-capacity battery systems as a standard feature. A very good example of this has not long rolled out of the Retreat factory in the form of the ERV 210R CL van. To say the least, it’s quite an impressive design on the electrical front. In addition, not only has the technology been stepped up, but Retreat’s new RXP body structure is certainly a step up from the timber frame/aluminium cladding so commonly used.
POWER TO THE PEOPLE
Starting with the electrics, the Retreat team clearly has a great deal of confidence in the power system it has put together because the van does not have an LP gas system at all. Everything is electrically powered and that includes the induction cooktop, microwave oven, air conditioner and even the Weber Pulse BBQ.
Starting with a few statistics, the 48V automotive-grade lithium battery mounted under the van between the chassis rails is rated at 14.3kWh. Apart from anything else, 48V is used because it reduces cable sizing and voltage drop issues. In case you are wondering about the 14.3kWh rating, it is roughly the equivalent of 20 x 100Ah AGM 12V batteries or 10 x 130Ah 12V batteries.
2400W of solar capacity is mounted on the caravan roof and for 240V operation, the inverter is rated at 5000W. It’s all very impressive, to say the least. Put simply, it’s quite possible to use the air conditioner, electric kettle and toaster simultaneously. One interesting feature is located in the front tunnel storage, and that is, a 15A outlet — it’s possible to do a bit of welding or plug in your neighbour’s caravan!
I reckon anyone owning this van would be well advised to have an understanding of how the various 240V circuits in the van are switched, particularly those contemplating repairs or circuit modifications. The individual circuit breakers are to be found in the overhead locker above the kitchen bench. In addition, the circuit breakers for the 240V grid supply and the 240V inverter supply are located underneath the front dinette seat where the inverter is. For the tech heads here, both these circuit breakers use residual voltage device (RVD) protection rather than the more usual residual current device (RCD) aka 'safety switch' protection. The former being more effective with inverter or generator power.
When I first looked at the small demonstration model that Retreat had put together, I thought it was a composite wall structure with an aluminium frame, but the grey structural wall members are actually polyurethane. They are embedded in a closed-cell core that acts as both insulant and support with an aluminium skin on the outside and fibreglass on the inside. Channels for electrical cables are CNC machine-cut into the core material.
The one-piece roof structure is similar, except that there’s fibreglass on both sides. Including the composite floor, it’s all designed to improve the van’s thermal insulating properties by being cool in summer and warm in winter. Not having any gas does mean no gas venting, often a major source of dust and dirt ingress. Retreat offers a five-year structural warranty on the van.
A more familiar item is the ARV SupaGal chassis with a DO 35 hitch at the pointy end. Built-in-box section style, the chassis has 150mm x 50mm (6in x 2in) rails and drawbar. There are three water tanks fitted between the rails; the 110L grey water tank is at the rear, while the fresh water tanks (1 x 95L, 1 x 110L) are located behind the suspension and towards the front. Fitting in where the front tank might otherwise be is the lithium battery bank. It’s fitted into a crush-resistant shell that is 50mm thick and is designed to be both dust and waterproof to standard IP67 — that’s to cope with both dusty outback roads and fording creeks up to a metre deep. In addition, the low centre of gravity is great for the weighty batteries.
With an external length of 6.6m (21ft 8in) the ERV isn’t a small caravan and it’s not really a lightweight either with a tare mass of 2959kg and an ATM of 3500kg. It does, therefore, have a payload of 541kg, which is quite generous but does require a large tow vehicle. Certainly, the Ford Ranger I was using for towing was capable of handling the van but with it fully loaded, I reckon I’d be considering a full size 4WD rather than a dual cab ute.
Although there are some pretty sophisticated things happening in the rest of the van, the layout looks familiar, with a front island 1.85m x 1.53m (6ft 1in x 5ft) bed, rear bathroom with kitchen and dinette in between. There’s plenty of room to move around though and the interior designer clearly opted for the square look, especially in the kitchen area. Sea-grey and white is the colour scheme of choice and the pseudo kitchen wall tile laminate certainly grabs attention.
Throughout the van, the general storage is quite good, with plenty of overhead lockers, drawers and cupboards everywhere. That includes a full-height, shelved pantry fitted in between the kitchen bench and fridge. There are mains power points everywhere and USB charger points are conveniently located either side of the bed and lounge.
There’s no doubt that while a cafe-style dinette works well, a leather upholstered club lounge has a bit more class about it and two people can certainly sit around in comfort in this one. The Nuova Mapa table can be easily swivelled around to suit the occasion.
Across the way, the kitchen bench is well, if a little differently, appointed, and a large square sink and drainer will cope with any washing up duties required. Adjoining that, the Thetford induction hob replaces the more usual gas cooktop and instead of the microwave oven being located in the overhead locker area, it’s located in the cupboard space below. Being an all-electric van, the fridge is too — a Dometic 274L compressor model.
Across the rear of the van, the bathroom, complete with separate shower cubicle and Thetford cassette toilet, looks quite stylish. Like the kitchen area, all accessories are black and there’s matching laminate. Along with a small window above the toilet, a Maxifan deluxe with a rain dome supplies the essential ventilation.
There’s not much in the bathroom to tell it’s an all-electric van, but the strategically placed hair dryer in one of the drawers might be a clue. Like the rest of the van, there’s plenty of storage space, including a cabinet for the top-loading washing machine.
THE BOTTOM LINE
So who’s buying an ERV van? According to the Retreat team, a variety of travellers: those seeking an endless summer, full timers and those who are very much freedom campers. It’s hard not to be impressed with Retreat’s ERV caravan, one that’s packed with technology. Not everyone will want a totally electric-powered caravan, but this is an interesting demonstration of what can be achieved by using a large battery capacity, generous solar panel power and a state-of-the-art inverter. The caravan itself is quite impressive and has a layout that is well suited to two people.
HOW MANY APPLIANCES?
For camping off the grid and using 240V devices, the 5000W inverter will certainly determine how much power can be used. Among the smaller devices, a kettle for instance, draws between 1800 – 2000W and a toaster about 900-1000W. The Swift water heater has a similar rating to the toaster, about 1000W. For cooking, the Thetford induction hob, if both elements are on, will draw 2200W, the Weber BBQ will draw about 1800W, the microwave oven about 950W and the Truma air conditioner about 1000W. The mathematics are fairly simple and while you can run several devices at the same time, you can’t run everything at once. Not that most people do that anyway but it is something to consider, especially when running the air conditioner. Another little factor to keep in mind is the charging capacity of the solar panels and your location. For instance, while the winter months in the Northern Territory might be okay for extended remote stays, the same is not going to apply in Tasmania with reduced sunlight hours.
WEIGHTS AND MEASURES
Body length 6.60m (21ft 8in)
Overall length 8.97m (29t 5in)
Width 2.44m (8ft)
Height 2.93m (9ft 7in)
Ball weight 193kg
Cladding Hybrid composite
Chassis ARV SupaGal
Suspension Independent, coil spring, trailing arms and twin shock absorber
Coupling Cruisemaster DO 35
Brakes 12in electric
Wheels 16in alloy
Water 1 x 110L, 1 x 95L
Grey water 110L
Air-conditioner Truma Saphir
Sway control AL-KO
Cooking Thetford Induction
Fridge Dometic RUC8408L 274 litre
Microwave oven Euromaid
Bathroom Thetford cassette toilet
Hot water Swift 28 litre electric
329 Pacific Highway
Heatherbrae, NSW, 2324
Ph: 02 4983 1551