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By: Bjarne Eikefjord, based on press releases from Dethleffs. Photo: The producer
Caravan and Caravan magazine, No. 1 February 2021

e.home.COCO: Electric caravan ready for testing

A couple of years ago, Dethleffs presented a new study of its lightweight caravan, the Coco. With electric motors in the wheels, a battery under the floor and solar panels, the carriage would almost drive itself without traction from the vehicle. Which then could easily be electric. The study attracted attention, but Dethleffs was serious. The trolley is now ready for test driving.

An electric, self-propelled caravan was almost a fantasy until a couple of years ago. But by 2020, the Dethleffs had taken the leap from photos and drawings to a working prototype, and the plan is for it to show what it is good for by crossing the Alps. Not by train through, but over. - "We have worked very hard and have now reached the prototype stage" - says the product manager at Dethleffs, Richard Angerer. - «Now comes the test phase. The results bring us close to the future of the caravan industry "- says Richard.

For electric cars

The self-driving Coco is not only pulled behind the car, but drives itself. It reduces the trailer load on the towing vehicle. The result is that electric cars can have a practical range also as tractors. This innovation is not only groundbreaking for caravans, but for trailers in general. Therefore, there are several basic questions that need to be clarified, about everything from certificate rules to European directives on approval. For example, whether the ball mount can be used when pushed on from behind.

Climate friendly

"Ultimately, it's about us wanting to preserve nature for future generations," explains Dethleff's CEO, Alexander Leopold. - «We see electric operation as crucial for this work. Our project for electromobility in the caravan industry contributes purposefully to measures that bring us further in this direction. e.home Coco already shows today that caravans have an exciting future also with electric cars. In addition, the technology we use in e.home Coco is also an innovation that benefits towing vehicles with a regular internal combustion engine. For the first time, it will be possible for small cars to tow heavy trailers. "-

What does the electric car Coco have extra?

One can easily think that the answer is simply “an electric motor. - «e.home Coco shows the way from a caravan as a pure trailer to a self-propelled 'motorhome'. It is a radical reinterpretation of Arist Dethleff's invention from 1931 "- explains Richard Angerer. - "The technology and idea behind this concept is revolutionizing the caravan industry and is a milestone when it comes to electromobility" -, Angerer states. The company is sure that there will be more and more electric cars, but how will it affect the caravan industry?

What is the difference?

e.Home Coco is equipped with high-power batteries, a central drive unit with two electric motors and intelligent control electronics. This makes the passive trailer an active "motorhome". The traction relief module controls the two electric drive motors so that the trailer load on the coupling head of the traction vehicle is reduced to a defined value - for example 100 kg. In this way, even small towing vehicles can tow heavy caravans or trailers with a total weight that is far above the permitted trailer load for the car. In addition, electric cars can have a practical range also as towing vehicles. When driving downhill, the batteries can be charged with regeneration.

Security

Targeted power distribution on the individual wheels to make the EL-Coco safer to drive. A central control unit constantly evaluates all driving dynamics data and controls the drive unit individually for each individual wheel. The first driving simulations in collaboration with the Forschungsinstitut für Fahrzeugwesen und Kraftfahrmotoren (FKFS) in Stuttgart have shown that this propulsion concept gives the trailer better driving characteristics. The fact that the drive unit can be controlled individually also means that the EL-Coco can be maneuvered with up to 360 rotations on site. This means that e.home Coco can be parked easily and conveniently on the campsite with a mobile device.

Extensive test phase

There are currently no test regimes or standard type approval requirements for electrically powered caravans. Dethleffs had to look at the standard requirements for the car industry when they developed the car. Among other things, Dethleffs has changed and strengthened the chassis construction. The changes take into account the latest safety aspects so that important components are protected in the event of a collision. Different system tests of the individual components have been performed. Once any readjustments have been made, the components are assembled and several tests are performed.

More challenges

Even with a working prototype in Düsseldorf, this does not mean that all challenges have been cleared up. The issue of approval of self-propelled trailers is, for example, very important because so far there is no such vehicle category in the EU type-approval regulation. Another is the question of driver's license, because EL-Coco can reduce the trailer load so that it can be towed with a small towing vehicle. - «We are part of the BEM working group for electromobility and trailers that address precisely this type of issue. Together with the responsible authorities, we will find solutions to this as well "- assures Angerer.

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