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Grant Webster on THL’s electric future

3 Apr 2017  By Paul Yandall


thl’s fossil fuel fleet may one day be replaced by electric motorhomes. Credit: thl

Being the largest provider of holiday vehicles for rent and sale in Australasia enables Tourism Holdings Limited to take a leading role in New Zealand’s tourism industry. Chief executive Grant Webster tells the Ticker of the company’s electric motorhome plans and beyond.

Grant Webster

Q. Has thl started trialling or manufacturing electric motorhomes, and if not, when does it hope to start?
A. The first electric vehicle (EV) chassis that was reasonably priced and is promising a good daily kilometre range has been ordered and is about to arrive on our shores. The R&D team is ready to start working on this as soon as we have our hands on it. We are not disclosing the suppliers we are working with at this stage.
Q. Who will construct the motorhome and where will it be done?
A. It will be constructed by Action Manufacturing, in collaboration with thl, on an imported chassis in our factory in Albany. Besides construction on a new EV chassis, we are also pursuing a repowering option which will allow us to convert existing legacy fleet to electric.
Q. What are the major specifications you’ll be studying in the trial?

A. Electric RVs are likely a critical part of our future and we are in a position to be the leader in New Zealand and globally. We need to build up knowledge about the maintenance, the range, the customer experience, what else can be done to improve the overall emissions using the electric engine and how we can accelerate the overall campervan fleet in New Zealand to become a low emission fleet.
We have already worked on aerodynamics, to also improve efficiency, which will add to the range. Through this programme of work, we will create a replicable process, as we would normally do on a new product development.
So, the trial will focus on user experience, including maximum distance travelled, time to charge, finding EV tourism itineraries, as well as our processes and design.  It includes maximising electric power opportunities and creating additional efficiencies and carbon reduction through optimising all features. This is working towards full replacement of other fossil fuels used in the vans, like gas bottles and diesel heaters, as well.
Q. What will be the maximum distance without charge?

A. This is part of the trial, as we do not know that.  Our customers do an average of 200km per day, so that is what we are aiming for.
Q. When do you hope to have an electric motorhome available for hire or purchase? How many?
A. We will target to have at least one electric motorhome on the road as part of our rental fleet by the next high season.
Q. Will they cost more to hire or buy than your current stock? How much more?

A. That is also part of the trial, as this will depend on the overall build cost.
Q. Are there enough charging stations to cater for touring New Zealand in an electric motorhome?
A. Firstly, as campervans mostly plug in overnight at campgrounds anyway, we don’t see charging stations as a big issue. However, there are also many charging stations being installed at the moment and many regions like, for example, the Bay of Plenty are seeing this as an opportunity to attract a new tourism stream. So, we don’t expect this to be an issue.
Q. Will Tourism Holdings Limited invest in charging stations?
A. We will be considering this at our locations, once there are more electric vans on the road.
Q. Are there any extra regulatory hurdles the company has to overcome to bring an electric motorhome to market?
A. We do not believe so, but working through the regulations is also part of our trial.
Q. How big an investment is this for the company – is there a figure the company has committed to the electric motorhome programme?
A. We are committing as much as is needed to accelerate electric RV availability in our markets. At the moment, there are not many chassis available that can be used.  Once more become available, and assuming the results of the trials are successful, it is expected we will be committing a lot more.
We have made no figure public; however, being sustainable economically, socially, culturally and environmentally is key for thl. We will only invest where we see a return over time.
Q. Self-driving motorhomes next?
A. Yes! Imagine stepping from the airport into an electric powered, self-driving campervan that knows where to go based on your profile; taking you on a completely safe and stress-free NZ travel experience, still with the freedom of a campervan! Wouldn’t you?

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