Airstream to offset carbon from manufacture, pursue electric travel trailers

Airstream trailers are a popular way to experience the outdoors, and now the company is looking at carbon offsets and electrification as a way to preserve the wilderness its products are designed for.

The company on Thursday announced a two-pronged carbon-offset program, called "Caravan to Carbon Neutral," that's designed to offset emissions from the manufacturing of its products.

In a press release, Airstream said it would directly underwrite the planting of an estimated 118,405 trees by the National Forest Foundation (NFF). The company estimates those trees will offset the carbon emissions generated by the first year of driving all trailers and RVs it manufactures in 2021. That includes emissions from manufacturing and transporting Airstream trailers and RVs to dealerships in the United States.

That estimate was calculated using "Airstream sales forecasts for 2021, findings from an internal customer usage survey, greenhouse gas equivalency calculators developed by the Environmental Protection Agency, Bureau of Transportation Statistics fuel efficiency estimates for gasoline-powered vehicles, publicly reported estimates from Mercedes-Benz [which provides van chassis for RV conversions], an Airstream aerodynamics study, and tree carbon sequestration estimates from the U.S. Department of Agriculture," the company said.

Airstream Caravel trailer

Airstream Caravel trailer

Airstream customers will also be able to purchase tax-deductible "Carbon Reduction Kits," with 100% of the proceeds going to the NFF's tree-planting efforts. The entry-level Silver kit ($50) covers the planting of 50 trees, while Gold ($100) and Platinum ($250) kits plant 100 trees and 250 trees, respectively.

The carbon-offset program was done in response to customer interest, Airstream said, noting that in a 2020 survey 96% of owners said they were concerned about the state of the environment.

A more direct way for outdoor enthusiasts to reduce the carbon footprint of their hobby would be to use electric tow vehicles, but this faces challenges.

Towing a trailer with an EV can cut usable range in half, due to both the weight of the trailer and aerodynamic drag. It's something both trailer manufacturers and automakers are aware of, but little effort has been made to address the problem.

"It’s important to remember that the aerodynamic drag of the travel trailer and tow vehicle are highly impacted by speed," McKay Featherstone, Airstream vice president of product development told Green Car Reports regarding towing with an EV. "Keeping speed in moderation on the highway will increase the range they can go on a single charge. And keep it light! Weight matters a lot as you are getting up to speed."

Rivian R1T - hot-weather towing test

Rivian R1T - hot-weather towing test

Rivian is one of the best hopes among EV tow vehicles, as its R1T pickup truck was both conceived for the same target buyer as Airstream and for towing such a large trailer. Deliveries start this summer, so it will be interesting to see how Rivian's vehicles fare in real-world towing scenarios.

An alternative is to combine the trailer and tow vehicle by making an electric RV. German RV maker Dethleffs has already shown such a concept, and Lordstown Motors has said it will partner with Camping World on an electric RV based on the skateboard platform from its Endurance pickup truck.

2020 Tesla Model X

2020 Tesla Model X

"Airstream is in active discussions with major players in this space, discussions about everything from marketing engagements to more technical partnerships," Featherstone said regarding an official partnership with an EV maker.

It was previously reported that Airstream was also working on an electric-assisted travel trailer, and that project is underway, Featherstone confirmed.

"This idea is moving beyond the concept phase, and the path to an EV trailer is becoming much more clear. Stay tuned."

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