Words Paolo Galvani and Antonio Mazzucchelli
He comes from Aosta, Valle d’Aosta in Italy and is 39 years old. As well as a long experience as a journalist, Michel also has a Bi-national degree in Languages and Communication. He has over 10 years of knowledge of the world of recreational vehicles, both as a passionate connoisseur and user himself, and as a Marketing & Communications Manager at Erwin Hymer Group Italia for two years.
Since October 2020, Michel has been Head of Product Management of Laika Caravans. He immediately brought his mark to the brand, combining his personal experience with the tradition of the Tuscan manufacturer. The result of this approach is visible in the brand new Laika Kreos L 5009, which is full of innovative solutions and an all-Italian style that amazed the public and industry at the Salone del Camper. We met Michel Vuillermoz in Parma. Here’s what he told us.
Aboutcamp BtoB: Your passion for motorhomes goes back a long way. Please tell us about your professional career and your role today at Laika.
Michel Vuillermoz: I still have somewhere in a drawer a notebook of drawings made when I was about six or seven years old of the Laika Lasercar, Arca America New Deal, etc… it was a bit as if I was already passionate about motorhomes at the time. Then I took a path, at school too, which led me to get closer and closer to this world. This includes actual experience, as one morning in February 1989 my parents went out to buy a caravan and came back with a camper on a Fiat 238. I was lucky: the passion remained with me and in the end I combined it with work. I am Head of Product Management and work closely with the management team, in particular with Ute Hofmann, to define and develop product strategies. My career with the Erwin Hymer Group started in 2018, working in marketing and communication of EHG Italia, and I followed the development, together with my sales colleagues, of models and layouts dedicated to the domestic market, including the Buerstner 20 – 20 and the Dethleffs T 6812.
Aboutcamp BtoB: How has your experience as a motorhome user helped you in your role?
Michel Vuillermoz: For 11 years I worked as a journalist in this sector and have been an RV user for 32 years. Today I still drive my vehicle. I’m a fan of Scandinavia and using my vehicle in winter. I have been to the North Cape twice, in winter, with temperatures of -35 degrees. On these occasions of direct use you have experiences and are obliged to study how the vehicles are made to cope with various problems. When you test a vehicle in particularly severe conditions, you understand what works and what doesn’t, and especially how it was designed. When you find yourself on the other side starting from the blank sheet, as has happened in the last 10 or 11 months with the camper van Ecovip and with the Kreos, you put all that accumulated know-how and your technical baggage as a user at the service of others: this is the starting point on which we, together with the technical office and prototyping teams, have developed the latest Kreos collection, which marks the birth of a new generation of Laika.
Aboutcamp BtoB: In your past life as a journalist you have been very critical of some models, and often not entirely satisfied with how the products were made. Now that you have moved on to the other side, do you find that there is a real difficulty, or even an impossibility, in putting ideas and projects into practice when moving from conception to the concrete stage of production?
Michel Vuillermoz: It is not impossible. It depends on the open-mindedness of the people who work with you and their desire to get involved and be open to new things, as well as the trust you can earn and the support you get for a project from the people who have entrusted you with this responsibility. In the Kreos, for example, the assembly of the floor is made in a totally different way from the past. Quality increases when a new solution minimizes assembly variables and simplifies the operator’s work.
Aboutcamp BtoB: How does this desire to innovate combine with being within a very large group? What autonomy can you actually manage to have?
Michel Vuillermoz: We are part of a large group, we work in synergy on certain projects, but at the same time what matters is that each brand has its own autonomy and DNA. There is a great wealth and opportunity to be exploited in the most profitable and appropriate way.
Aboutcamp BtoB: But you also have brands in the group that use common platforms…
Michel Vuillermoz: The platforms are developed with continuous and joint work by the technical departments of all the brands of the Group, thus creating the conditions to really maximise the sharing of know-how and experience. It is an excellent starting point that allows you to make the most of everyone’s specific knowledge and skills, which significantly shortens the time-to-market and gives the opportunity to exploit continuously updating technologies. Let’s think, for example, of technological or functional platforms: then, of course, all this finds its own scope of application depending on multiple and discriminating factors: among these, price range and construction type.
Aboutcamp BtoB: What were the drivers of the Kreos project?
Michel Vuillermoz: I wanted a vehicle that could tell, in every detail, our vision of a luxury camper, without ever falling into being a mere stylistic exercise. A vehicle capable of bringing together technique, ergonomics, elegance and practicality. The market is getting wider, we have many newcomers who come from domestic or hotel tourism. They must be able to find the same comfort, the same refinement, the same pleasantness of use as a hotel suite. It is therefore necessary to satisfy new needs with a constantly growing quality, passing from a semi-artisan world to one of an industrial nature. To achieve this it is necessary to think and reason in a different way, choosing appropriately what should be industrialized and what can benefit from the craftsmanship of specialized operators.
Aboutcamp BtoB: What are you particularly proud of about the Kreos project?
Michel Vuillermoz: The fact that it reflects the values of our brand, bringing with it the Italian taste, the desire to innovate, the use of high quality materials and that it is built using the most modern technologies available today in all areas. Let’s look at the kitchen: Kreos chooses to offer domestic-type elements and equipment by transferring them to a camper without affecting its design or functionality. The dishwasher is just one example of the desire to provide a premium customer experience is in every detail, stylistic or functional. I am proud of this approach and, consequently, of the fact that Laika is a protagonist by proposing its own ideas. We have to thank the management for this who let us have great freedom and also supported our courageous choices. This product tells our vision of the luxury recreational vehicle: it does so in style, which started from the development of sketches made by one of the most famous Italian designers, both for interiors and exteriors. It is the same for ergonomics, knowing how it is more difficult to pursue a perfect balance of functionality and style in a conventional layout concept rather than giving free rein to creativity. That said, I have always admired the creativity of Guy Job, now retired.
Aboutcamp BtoB: When we interviewed him, he said the only thing he regrets is that he had never designed a vertical bed, which would save a lot of space…!
Michel Vuillermoz: A revolution in the use of space can be very effective, even without being very obvious. Our kitchen block on the Kreos, for example, is linear and 130 cm long to offer more space and ergonomics. We have a 70 cm corridor that allows you to pass without disturbing those who are at the stove and the kitchen is not 55 but 70 deep, like at home. A space that in terms of volume you would have also had with an “L” pattern, but disturbing the entrance. Now you have a completely different look. Then there are elements such as the shower similar to a spa, the glove warming drawer positioned above the Alde boiler or the wine box in the garage: things that I am sure will be appreciated by the end customer.
Aboutcamp BtoB: Let’s talk about the camper van. How difficult is it to design such a product?
Michel Vuillermoz: We needed to change our approach, because we are not masters of the overall dimensions. If one thing doesn’t fit, you can’t expand by three centimeters, so it is necessary to find the best possible compromise by making a synthesis of the elements that are considered fundamental, and reproducing them cleverly within a standard body. And, even on the outside, it is necessary to work on all possible details to highlight the brand identity.
For those who have never had a recreational vehicle, aesthetically a camper van is hardly recognizable compared to a normal van. It is up to us to give it an identity of a home inside and car outside, without being able to intervene in the crucial points. What we can work on is the conception of space: now we have taken the field with the Ecovip camper van to a much higher level than that of Kosmo. The Ecovip name carries 30 years of history with it, so is a point of reference for the company and gives us a challenge: to exploit the spaces and volumes of a camper van and create within these, an almost semi-integrated design. For example, the table of the camper van can be folded down. If I also want to use the vehicle as a second car and I have a small child, I need to be able to remove the table to use Isofix for the child seat. By doing this, I can also put in a more comfortable sofa. All this must be combined with an “Ecovip look”: the materials must be the same and maximum insulation must be guaranteed. But this can be seen in the EN1646 test. What you sow then you reap, and we now have a vehicle with a strong Ecovip identity, especially the 600 where there is the new Vario bathroom with a shower that can also be used outdoors.
Aboutcamp BtoB: How do you see the development of recreational vehicles in the coming years? In what direction are they going?
Michel Vuillermoz: A lot will change, especially what has not changed so far, starting from the mechanical base vehicles. We are now used to having hybrid cars, but the base vehicles have not yet reached this milestone. This is the first step that will affect us very closely. There are already countries where taxation is based on polluting emissions, and this is an important discriminant. We will have to deal with the powertrain revolution and everything that comes with it. We cannot grow the weight of vehicles and the electric ones have a considerable weight, but it makes no sense to make a vehicle of this type with low autonomy and limited speed. I look favourably on hydrogen, but we have a refueling network to develop and at the moment mobility is not going in this direction. In California, five or six years ago it seemed done, but instead we are moving towards the all-electric. So, in the end, the hybrid seems to me the only way forward in the short term. This system must be brought to commercial vehicles in a profitable way. So far, we have seen very good solutions on petrol engines, but we still need diesel engines, at least for the engine braking. A generation of hybrid powertrains for caravanning, as well as for medium and long-range transport, will be increasingly needed to get ready for 2035 with alternative powertrains that give us the same freedom that the car offered us a hundred years ago: not having to let the horses rest overnight, but fill up in five minutes and leave. We cannot give up on this: they are the rhythms of current life.
Aboutcamp BtoB: Mechanical base vehicles aside, what other trends do you think we will see?
Michel Vuillermoz: We will face different challenges. It will no longer be enough to propose an interior simply with the necessary elements, but it will be necessary to give it a domestic mood. Our customers renounce their house or a hotel and invest considerable sums, so, in return, demand a high-level experience. Multifunctional spaces must be ergonomic with such practicality and comfort to stand up to comparison with a domestic environment. And this is a huge challenge, because the regulations will be increasingly stringent in terms of safety, emissions and homologations. Then, a lot can and must be done to achieve an exploitation of spaces different from traditional standards. If we take a tour of the exhibition halls here, we find twin beds, central beds, some transversal beds, some front living rooms with large rear washrooms, or vans with rear tilting doors, the real functionality of which, however, must be understood. As you can see, there is ample scope for innovation, especially considering that the new customer does not come from experiences in a camper or boat, but from homes and hotels, from a domestic environment.
Aboutcamp BtoB: Will we see the Urban Vehicle developed at Laika, or within the Group, or on the market in general?
Michel Vuillermoz: It may be that you can see it in all areas: it is a product that has its own market and our Group started early with the Crosscamp, a brand born in Isny, first exploiting the Toyota and Opel urban vehicles and then steadily growing. Our idea of offering a high-level experience is not limited to talking about Ecovip, Kreos or Kosmo, but is to transmit the values of the brand, which we now exhibit and propose through our vehicles, supporting and following the needs of a changing market. Nobody would have imagined a camper van Laika with a folding roof 15 years ago. For some years now, however, this solution has been part of our offer…
Aboutcamp BtoB: Today you have the new Kreos which embodies the concept of luxury and the Ecovips which are perfect as high-end vehicles. How does Kosmo integrate into this vision?
Michel Vuillermoz: Kosmo is our entry step, it is a product that is giving us great satisfaction from a commercial point of view with the two variants Kosmo and Kosmo Emblema. Everything, then, is evolving and growing: Ecovip has increased technique and style, ideally replacing the previous Kreos 3000, while the new Kreos 5000 is positioned higher than its predecessor, bringing a breath of inventiveness, style and technological excellence. In the near future, we will confirm the same developments with the other collections as well. The values of the brand must be made explicit and translated into practice by the vehicles, taking advantage of what happens in the automotive sector. It is a path that embraces all these products, also because at the San Casciano plant we have Etrusco, an Italian brand that is giving us great satisfaction and presents here in Parma the new collection developed in Tuscany, strengthened by the German engineering, but with an increasingly Italian taste in exteriors, interiors and volumes. This is the entry step to the world of Made in San Casciano products. Those who choose Laika want and expect more: our mission is to go far beyond the legitimate requests and desires of our customers.