Wary of buying an electric camper van for your next glamping trip? Test drive the experience with rental options inside and outside of Canada
As the summer months wind down, some Canadians are looking for a more all-season way to enjoy a road trip or camping holiday.
An electric camper van provides a unique blend of convenience, sustainability and comfort that has the potential to redefine the way campers can experience outdoor travel.
The market for electric camper vans is relatively new, but it is evolving rapidly. However, much like the passenger vehicle market, electric camper vans are often more expensive than their combustion counterparts. The added cost of an already significant purchase could make potential customers hesitate.
But for anyone worried about splashing out on an electric camper right away, there is an interim solution: a rental.
As various companies work to bring electric camper van models to market for sale (more on that later), there are already several options available as rentals.
Companies like Fize Electrique and Bromont Van Life in Quebec are providing the opportunity to rent electric camper vans in Canada. And in the U.S. and Europe there are even more options, thanks to companies like Simple Campers, PacWesty and Ampervans.
Below, Electric Autonomy looks at some of the electric options available to camper van enthusiasts in Canada and abroad.
Coming to market in North America
For those customers looking to jump in with both feet and commit to a purchase, there is good news: there are electric camper vans to buy.
In April, Detroit-based startup Grounded launched its first fully customizable smart electric RV, the Grounded G1. It is one of the first fully-electric RVs to go on sale in North America. It features an all-electric drivetrain with over 170 km range, a fully-customizable interior and remotely controllable electronics and appliances. The price of the G1 starts at US$125,000.
Later this year, Grounded is planning to unveil its second electric RV model, the G2, with a range of 400 km. Customers can pre-order the G2 campers with a $100 refundable deposit.
Not far behind is New Brunswick-based Potential Motors. The Canadian startup specializes in vehicle control systems for electric off-road vehicles that can handle rough terrain. Potential Motors plans to start production of its new electric RV, the Adventure 1, in 2024. The electric RV will cost $136,600.
Meanwhile, legacy companies like Thor and Winnebago Industries are developing concepts and showing off working models of their versions of zero-emission electric camper vans.
The prototypes are fully drivable and could go on sale to the public in the next couple of years.
Fize Electrique’s rentable camper
Now, onto the more gentle introduction options for electric camper vans.
Starting this summer, Lévis, Que.,-based Fize Electrique is offering a two-passenger electric camper van for rent. It calls it the VLZE (Van Life Zero Emission).
Fize teamed up with another Quebec-based company called VRsurMesure, which custom-builds camper vans. Together, they took a 19-foot Ford E-Transit and turned it into a camper van. Inside, the VLZE features include a shower, toilet, kitchen, coffee machine and storage.
Fize Electrique primarily operates as an electrical contracting company dedicated to setting up electric vehicle chargers for its customers. Since 2018, the company has progressively transitioned its business fleet to electric.
“Last summer, we just received an E-Transit before our vacation, so my wife (Nancy Olivier, president of Fize Electrique) and I took the E-Transit on a small trip. We put our bikes in the E-Transit and we took a mattress, just to test. We went 140 km away from the house and we had a lot of fun,” says Alain Fiset, senior associate director construction, intelligent energy at Fize Electrique, in an interview with Electric Autonomy.
The VLZE can be rented for a minimum of three days. The cost ranges between $217 to $255 per night. Travellers have the freedom to take the camper to different provinces and even to the U.S.
But before setting off, Fize provides customers with a list of must-knows about driving the electric camper van.
Challenges and benefits of an electric camper
According to Fiset, the main challenge when driving an EV is finding charging stations, so careful planning is essential. The E-Transit can travel about 200 km on a full charge.
“You’re better off taking 15 minutes or 20 minutes before leaving your trip to see where an EV charger is,” says Fiset. “Good planning makes all the difference to having a good experience, so we coach a lot of people.”
Fiset suggests customers use the GPS inside the Ford E-Transit for navigation and double-check with apps like FLO, Circuit électrique (specific to Quebec), A Better Routeplanner and Plugshare. This ensures they’re aware of charging stops along the way.
He also recommends having multiple road map plans and choosing charging spots with multiple chargers in case one is broken or occupied.
Beyond the challenges of charging, there are numerous advantages to having an electric camper van like cruise control and not emitting noise or exhaust fumes.
Electric vans also encourage a new style of travelling: “slow tourism.”
“I think it’s more relaxing [having an electric camper van] because when you arrive at the destination, you’re not tired. You’re not tired because you have to make some stops to charge,” says Fiset. “And it’s not a race because if you’re going more than 100 kilometres per hour, you’re going to drain your battery.”
After this first summer season is complete, Fize will assess how much interest there was in renting its camper van and will then decide if it wants to add another one to its fleet in the future.
The company has already had some customers asking about renting a larger electric RV that can fit four people. If it chooses to grow its rental offerings, Fiset says Fize will be on the lookout for another Ford E-Transit, but this time measuring 21 feet in length.
Looking ahead to the electric camper van and RV market, Fiset believes that manufacturers are putting too much focus on increasing the driving range. In his view, a range of 200 km, like with the E-Transit, is sufficient.
That being said, Fiset adds, “I think the market for [electric] RVs in the next year is gonna start to ramp a little bit.” Similar to how there was the first wave of EV cars from 2012 to 2015, Fiset believes there might be a similar trend starting next year for electric RVs, and it will likely grow more afterward.
Bromont’s take on “van life”
In Bromont, Que, the camper van rental company Bromont Campervan also started offering electric camper vans for weekly rentals in the summer of 2023.
Bromont Campervan has two electric Ford E-Transit camper vans in its fleet for rent, designed to accommodate two to four passengers. It collaborated with EazyVans to transform the interior to create a fully electric camper van.
“We’re really proud to be pioneers in this field. Yes, van life and tourism on the road are interesting, but it’s clear that the increase in the price of gasoline, as well as our environmental values, led us to want to develop this new kind of tourism,” exclaims Olivier Marcoux, founder of the Bromont-based company in a blog post on the Bromont Campervan site.
The van comes furnished with cherry wood furniture, an electric retractable bed, a kitchenette area, as well as a toilet and a shower.
The vans can be rented for a minimum of four days and cost between $200 to $240 per day.
Worldwide rental options
Outside of Canada, there are a number of companies offering electric camper vans and RVs for renting.
In the U.S., Washington state-based PacWesty currently has a four-passenger camper van built on a Ram ProMaster 1500 chassis. The electric Tofino pop-top camper van offers two different sleeping areas (an upper tent bunk and convertible sofa bed), a sink, and an induction cooktop, plus a refrigerator.
The company’s latest addition to its fleet is a two-passenger, off-road-capable Rivian R1T electric pickup truck with a camping kit and a rooftop tent.
Across the Atlantic, there are even more options.
eDub Trips: Launched in 2013, eDub Trips offers electric camper van rentals in both England and Scotland. The company converted two 1970s Volkswagen camper vans by equipping them with electric drivetrains. These vans come with two double beds, a kitchenette, and storage space, accommodating up to four people.
Wild Drives: Another UK-based electric camper van rental company, Wild Drives provides a two-passenger VW ID Buzz cargo van and a four-passenger 2021 Citroen e-Dispatch. The camper vans use sustainable materials, natural fibre insulation and are equipped with a solar panel for electricity.
Ampervans: This Scotland-based company offers an electric camper van rental service utilizing a Vauxhall Vivaro-e. The van, powered by a 75 kWh battery, has 193 km of range. It includes an electric stove top, a Type 2 charger, RFID card and a windscreen cover for added privacy during sleep.
Norway Overland: This company, based in Tonstad, in southern Norway, offers two Maxus T90 pickups with truck-bed campers for rent. These vehicles come equipped with roof tents for sleeping, shower/toilet facilities, kitchen areas, and camping gear, accommodating up to five passengers.
Siesta Campers: This Portugal-based company provides a camper based on the VW ID. Buzz for rent. This camper comes with a fridge, cooker, kitchen and camping kits and bedding included.