When you think about green, fuel-efficient vehicles, let’s face it, RVs that typically get 8 to 10 miles per gallon aren’t the first thing that come to mind. But times are changing. At RV shows this fall, Winnebago’s eco-friendly 2010 Via captured the spotlight. The most fuel efficient Class A motorhome on the market, the Via gets an admirable 15 mpg.

Sharing the “green” spotlight was the first hybrid on the RV market, Winnebago’s 2009 Adventurer. Built on an EcoFRED Freightliner chassis, the 36-foot Adventurer Class A motorhome boasts full hybrid independent power sources, regenerative braking, and generator-feeding reverse engine technology to extend battery life. Hybrid power reduces fuel use and exhaust emissions for a cleaner environment. Freightliner is working on improvements that could add an off-idle feature to future incarnations of the Adventurer that would shut down the engine at traffic lights to conserve power, restarting it as the driver eased pressure off the brake pedal.

Increased consumer demand for green features is driving eco-friendly change in the RV industry. RVs powered by biodiesel fuel like country singer Willie Nelson’s BioWillie tour coach have been plying the highways for a few years. Sleeker front ends, use of lighter metals and composite materials, and more aerodynamic designs are being introduced to reduce wind resistance and improve RV fuel efficiency. But better fuel economy is just part of the package. Frequent outdoor travelers, RVers have been quick to embrace a more sustainable lifestyle. According to a RVIA survey, 20% of RVers already use solar panels to power onboard systems. Innovative RVers are currently experimenting with wind energy, rain water capture systems, recycled insulation and composting toilets. RV manufacturers have begun offering hardwood interiors, bamboo floors and LED lighting in upscale models. Non-toxic paints and formaldehyde-free recyclable wood products are becoming the new industry standard.

When you look beyond gas mileage, RVing has always been uniquely eco-friendly. RV living leaves a much smaller carbon footprint than living in a house. Accord to RV Living Magazine, an RVer would have to drive across the U.S. four times (12,430 miles) in a year to use the same amount of energy consumed by a typical house. Even RV vacations leave only half the carbon footprint of a traditional fly/drive/hotel vacation, according to a RVIA study. New innovations in hybrid technology will allow RVers to further decrease their impact on the environment. Hybrid electric commercial trucks and buses are already on the highways, and this summer Navistar rolled out the first all-electric commercial truck. RV designers are confident that in the not so distant future we’ll see hybrid electric RVs on the market that will get 50 mpg and be able to travel for hundreds of miles without refueling.