All the latest news and trends came together at the German event: from the proliferation of different mechanical base vehicles to the mania for “urban vehicles”
Words Paolo Galvani
For a year in which novelties had to be counted, things didn’t go so badly at the Caravan Salon in Düsseldorf. Paradoxically, the need not to upset the market equilibrium while waiting for the shortage of base vehicles to be overcome and production to recover on orders not yet fulfilled, has led some companies to be more daring; instead of renewing the existing ranges, as always happens, and to introduce some slightly less traditional layouts, those who bet on novelties did it in style. Generally speaking, a trend that has involved almost all manufacturers, with a few exceptions in the highest range of the market, is the expansion of the range of mechanical base vehicles used: the end of an era in which the Fiat Ducato represented 80 percent of the market. Today, in the ranges of the main manufacturers you can find models based not only on the (discounted) Citroën and Peugeot alternatives, but also (or perhaps above all, at least in the entry and middle range of the market) on the Ford Transit. The American base is then joined by the German Mercedes-Benz (which was already well represented, but is now growing), MAN and Volkswagen, in the latter case even on its Transporter T6.1 popular in the camper van segment. When we talk about multi-purpose vehicles, or “urban vehicles” as manufacturers like to call them today, we enter the realm of the Ford Transit Custom which has conquered almost all specialists in this segment. Here there is also some presence of Citroën Spacetourer and Mercedes-Benz V-Class, which obviously join the consolidated Volkswagen.
Hymer Venture S
The real star of the show was the Hymer Venture S. Born three years ago as a Vision S prototype, it has now become a serial production vehicle, albeit in limited quantities. It was a huge challenge to bring it to production, given the innovations it brings with it. First is the large elevating roof with pneumatic side walls (which use the same basic technology as the Bürstner Lyseo Gallery TD): their structure guarantees greater thermal and acoustic insulation, while the material used allows the right amount of light to shine through the muffled, almost fairytale environment. The bedroom thus becomes a welcoming and satisfying environment. To make it habitable, all you need to do is press a button and wait a few seconds. The second innovation concerns the rear part of the vehicle where the living area has been positioned. Here there are real glass windows on three sides and the rear wall is divided into two parts: one part with the window opens upwards like a tailgate, while the lower portion flips 90 degrees to create a panoramic sunbathing “balcony” that allows you to really be in touch with nature. Internally, a fixed staircase gives access to the upper bedroom, while the bathroom can be expanded simply by pulling the side wall. Built on Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 4×4 mechanics, the Hymer Venture S is not for everyone: the price list starts at around €225,000.
The news that things were happening in this market segment had already been sensed in recent months with the first announcements were released. But, at the Caravan Salon, the explosion of “urban vehicles” was sensational: from an almost niche product whose roots go back to the Volkswagen California and the Mercedes-Benz Marco Polo, today they are on the lists of many manufacturers. The debut of the Panama brand in 2021 has certainly not passed quietly, with the Trigano group having created a special factory in Spain and also winning a copious supply of Ford Transit Custom which should avoid any problem of availability. Panama has designed its proposal between short and medium wheelbasex, in eight different versions. Pössl, active for some time with its Vanster / Campster (Citroën) and Vanstar / Campstar (Mercedes-Benz) has created the dedicated brand VanLine, while the new multipurpose type of vehicle has appeared in the lists of many manufacturers, including generalists: Adria, Bürstner, Dethleffs, Font Vendôme, Karmann Mobil and Laika, for example, which are added to the “historic” manufacturers more linked to the automotive world, such as Ford, Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen.
Bürstner Lyseo Gallery TD
This is another prototype that has made the move to series production. This curious, semi-integrated vehicle turns into an overcab model when parked and completely rethinks the interior spaces: eliminating the bulk of the rear bedroom, its 699 centimeters in length gives an unexpected space to the kitchen and the transverse rear bathroom. Perhaps it is only the amount of space at the table that suffers a little: the dinette is forced to coexist alongside the large fixed staircase leading to the upstairs bedroom. Here the environment is decidedly unusual for an attic space: the environment is very high and the innovative pneumatic walls are enriched by two corner windows. In addition, there is a shelf that acts as a bedside table for storing smartphones, glasses or books when you go to bed. As in the case of its “close relative”, the Hymer Venture S, a few tens of seconds are all that is required to make this real additional room fully usable.
The electric that is not there yet
Although Europe continues to state that it wants to ban internal combustion engines from the market by 2035, causing concerns and anxieties in consumers who are intensely aware of this issue, the caravanning industry is not yet ready to change platforms. The needs of the motorhome user are too different from cars or light commercial vehicles, and in addition to seeking an autonomy that is impossible to achieve today, consumers also ask how and where it will be possible to recharge such vehicles when reaching the destination and they turn into a home.
The responses from the caravan industry at the Caravan Salon were few. The only electric vehicle commercially available is the VanLine e-Vanster, based on Citroën SpaceTourer, which has very minimal camper elements: only a folding roof with double bed and a folding induction cooker. To better equip it, you need an optional box purchased separately. Its “cousin”, the Campster, already ready for use, still runs on diesel. For the rest, a semi-integrated prototype equipped with an electric motor and range extender already presented last year was revised by Knaus. The e-Power Drive has a 35.5 kWh battery that should guarantee 90 km of autonomy, then the engine would come into action, the nature of which has not yet been defined.
Finally, Bürstner tried to make people believe it had a virtually ready-made, zero-emission camper van, showing off the Lineo C 590 Electric based on a Ford e-Transit. The basic characteristics of the “American” van (with 317 km of range with 68 kWh battery and fast charging) were revealed, but no figures measured by Bürstner for after its conversion to a camper, including its weight. The interior is identical to that of the diesel-powered Lineo C 590 model, but when we asked where the space for the grey water tank would be found, the reply was that there is not a solution for this yet … We should probably wait to talk about it again in around 2024/2025.
Hobby Beachy Air
Small, light and low-profile, ideal for being towed even by small vehicles: the Hobby Beachy Air proposal, for now only a prototype, weighs only 500 kg and has a maximum permissible weight of 750 kg. The lifting roof with rigid side walls makes it possible to stand in the rear, but easier for towing when closed. Inside, the design philosophy is that of minimalism, as with all standard Beachy models: no bathroom, but the possibility of having a Porta Potti. The small kitchen module can be used indoors or moved outside to prepare food outdoors.
Knaus Tourer Cuv
The Knaus Tabbert group does not lack the courage to be daring. Not only did it present two compact, semi-integrated motorhomes based on the Volkswagen Transporter T6.1 (offered as the Knaus Tourer Van and Weinsberg X-Cursion Van), but it also took another step forward and tried to make them even more “strange”: by reducing the height and adopting a folding roof covering the entire length of the vehicle, the result is the Knaus Tourer CUV. It share with the standard models a curious shower compartment created when required by lifting a portion of the rear double bed and raising a top portion of a shower cubicle. The product still needs to be fine-tuned in detail, but ideas are certainly not lacking.
Think about how a caravan is built and rethink it in a completely different way: this is what Knaus has done with its new Azur, which combines functionality, comfort and innovative technology. Its frame is made up of 22 Fiber Frame components bonded by a robot. The high-strength self-supporting frame ensures not only better stability and longevity, but also flexibility in the design of the interior space. Its surface is anti-UV and “self-repairing”: small scratches disappear by themselves because the material reforms due to the thermal effect, under the sun. Deeper damage can be eliminated by simple grinding and polishing.