New products

After seven years, I think we’ve finally got it.  This trade show has always been a minor thorn in my side.  I hate the weather up here this time of year, I hate the rush-rush schedule, and I hate the trade show food.  Business events like trade shows are often formulated to cause attendees to burn the candle at both ends, staying up late at the hospitality events, eating too much, standing too much, getting up early and doing it all over again.  Add in jet lag, heavy meals, cold rain and the ever-present possibility of a virus, and you can see why it can be too much.

But we’ve got it down now.  I mean, we have beaten the system. Every year it has been a slightly better trip, and now I think we’ve nearly perfected it.  Brett and I actually had a pretty decent time.  With some maturity to Airstream Life and our approach, we’ve had to chase fewer people.  With better planning, we’ve been able to accomplish all of our goals in a day and a half, rather than two days. A little knowledge of Louisville has yielded better places to eat and quieter hotels (not under the approach path to the airport).  We even had time to take in a movie on Monday night. For the first time, I’m leaving Louisville without feeling breathless.

Focusing our efforts more efficiently did come with a small price, however.  We didn’t roam the convention floor as much as we have in the past.  Rather than dropping in on dozens of manufacturer displays and browsing the products, we spent 100% of our time talking to prospects and partners.  That’s what we needed to do, but I’m afraid it also means no photos or reports of non-Airstream products.

rvia-eddie-bauer-intro.jpgBeyond the Eddie Bauer edition Airstream, the other news from Airstream is the Avenue, a B-van based on a Chevy gas engine platform.  It’s a bit cheaper than the popular Airstream Interstate (which is based on the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter diesel engine platform), at about $95k versus $125k.  I was told that it has 24 distinct advantages over the competitive B-vans from Roadtrek and Pleasureway, although I don’t know what they are.  It will eventually be sold by Chevrolet dealers in addition to Airstream dealers, just as the Interstate is sold by half a dozen Mercedes-Benz dealers.  I hope to get my hands on a demo unit this winter and take it out for a weekend.

Otherwise, Airstream was mostly showing some decor updates to existing floor plans.  We saw a 16-foot Airstream in the Sport lineup, and some interior variations on the International and Flying Cloud lines. The popularity of the B-van lineup was evident, as this is the first time I have ever seen equal numbers of vans and trailers in the Airstream display.  But the Eddie Bauer model was the big attraction, and I predict it will be a popular trailer.  People are already asking about getting the “sport hatch” feature in other trailer lengths.  In my opinion it doesn’t make sense in anything much shorter than a 25-footer, but ultimately the market will decide, and I’m sure Airstream will build trailers to suit the demand they can identify.

rvia-sfc-fuel-cell.jpgProbably the most intriguing product we spotted was the fuel cell being demonstrated by SFC Energy. This is an entirely new idea for the RV industry, but I think it has the potential to be revolutionary.  The little silver box in the picture is a kind of electrical generator which runs off ultra-pure methanol fuel from the jug at its right.  It’s called an EFOY (“Energy For You”).  It very quietly produces about 90 watts of power (at 12 volts) to recharge the RV batteries.

When I say “quiet” I mean nearly silent.  Running full-bore it comes in at about 23 decibels, or literally whisper quiet.  You could sleep with it running underneath your bed.  The reaction used to make electricity produces no harmful gases, just carbon dioxide and water vapor.  One 2.6 gallon “fuel cartridge” can run the gizmo constantly for five days, and it can be programmed to automatically run only when your batteries need charging.  You could literally camp for weeks with only this device to supply your power.

Now, you might be thinking, “My little gasoline generator produces 1,000 watts, so why would I want that thing that can only make 90 watts?”  Well, first you should read my blog entry “A Short History Of The Sun,” to understand why slow charging is much better than fast charging. In short, generators are massively inefficient at recharging batteries.

Second, most of the time, you are probably very happily camping with only 12 volt power.  (The major exception is running the air conditioning or the microwave oven.)  Your major power draw will be in the evenings, when lights, water pump, and furnace are running.   The EFOY can easily make up all of your day’s power needs by running for a few hours. Think of it as a solar panel that doesn’t require sun.  Day and night, it produces 90 watts of power as needed, leaving no fumes and no noise. In 24 hours the EFOY 1600 can produce 130 amp-hours, which is far more than we could possibly use.

So what’s the catch? Cost.  An EFOY 1600 will run about $4,500 right now, and the company has no distribution network in the US at present, for either the devices or the fuel.  The cost will certainly turn off most RV’ers right now, but look to the future.  Even today, a solar panel setup that can do half of what the EFOY can do will cost thousands of dollars. It may not be long before a fuel cell like the EFOY is the electrical power option of choice for RV’ers.

Comments

  1. says

    Wow. Just WOW. When the very first fuel cells debuted years ago and companies told me they’d be making them this size in a decade I was skeptical. After all, the units I was looking at were as long as a car and weighed in the six digit range. To see a set-up like this is amazing and at $4,500 still a great deal if you can afford it. I’ll wait. I predict they’ll be under $1,000 in three to five years or less. I’m jealous. I love Louisville (lived in KY 2 years) and know a LOT of great places to eat. I’ll send you a list. Thanks for this…maybe I’ll go next year. Sounds fun!

  2. Ed Johnson says

    On the fuel cell; is something that can be portable or would it require permanent installation? Sound neat!

  3. Mike Young says

    Rich, I just looked at the EFOY website and they list 5 models. The 1600 model that you mention is the second to largest. The 600 model is apparently the smallest and would seem more than adequate for RV use. Do you have any idea about how much they are asking for the other models?

    BTW, our 8 kw nominal home PV system currently is cranking out about 40 kwh per day. Peak output back in early May when we turned it on was 57 kwh. All this “cost” $45,000 but was subsidized half by APS, 30% from fellow citizens across the country by means of a tax credit to us, and $1,000 tax credit from our generous Arizona citizens. Thus, the true cost of this PV system is considerably more than the installed “cost” of $45,000.

    Subsidies add to the cost to society for the benefit of the recipient. Wealth transfer that gives me trouble but somehow I’ve reconciled to the thievery.

  4. says

    Becky, I WANT that list!

    Ed, the little fuel cell is portable enough to tote around. Installation is simple — just a few wires. No exhaust port needed. But you can keep it portable if you prefer.

    Mike, I don’t know the full price list. We were quoted the price for the 1600 and 2200 models, which were $4,500 and $5,500 respectively. I wouldn’t feel too guilty about the solar subsidy. It’s not wealth transfer, but an investment in clean energy, spurring further research and lowering costs over time, which ultimately benefits our entire society. You volunteered to house a power plant on your roof in Arizona, and we need more people willing to do the same.

  5. jane says

    rich, do you still have your “trade show suit and shoes”…they were always so reliable.

    and you talk of lousy food at trade shows…i seem to recall that you used to introduce us to some amazing restaurants — especially in New Orleans.

    But then again, it was a former life for both of us. Hope all is well. Happy Holidays. And if Eleanor wishes to make some of that chocolate brickle she used to make I wouldn’t turn it down. I would even share it with Cheryl!!!

  6. says

    Jane, alas, these days I’m not on the Shosteck food budget. On this trip the highlight was Chicago-style pizza!

    Ed, I would personally put the EFOY in the Airstream’s front compartment, near the batteries. Since it outputs CO2 (Carbon Dioxide) I’d probably just open the door to allow it ventilate, or attach it to a longer set of cables and put it underneath the Airstream when needed.