Strange vehicle types, unusual layouts, eccentric forms: here is where the RV sector has decided to move away from reassuring design and production habits, to offer something new. Let’s start with campervans.
Words Andrea Cattaneo
Looking at the various models of campervan on the market, we can hardly fail to note a certain standardisation, a reaffirmation of consolidated schemes. Is this right? If it’s true that a manufacturing sector with limited sales volumes struggles to invest in research and development, it’s equally true that a sector still partially based on craftsmanship can, thanks to productive flexibility, experiment with solutions that more structured companies never succeed in putting into effect. So peculiar living layouts are welcome, as are unusual vehicle types, perhaps with a strange form, to a certain extent revolutionary. And let’s not forget that solutions once unthinkable are now viewed favourably by the public. We want to offer some examples of unusual vehicles, certainly already seen by professionals, but perhaps forgotten: we think that we can draw some useful conclusions by analysing them. We want to start with campervans, the most compact motorhomes, with a well-defined casing, vehicles where there is apparently little room for invention, but in reality the limited space available should stimulate designers to create new living situations and perhaps also new types of vehicle. In Europe today, with the possible exception of the British market, newly manufactured campervans nearly always feature traditional layouts. From Trigano to Hymer and from Knaus to Rapido, nearly all the groups focus on campervans with high roof as standard equipped with rear transverse double bed or, alternatively, single twin beds. Low-, elevating roof campervans on the other hand continue to be offered with the classic multifunction sofa (travel, lunch, bed) teamed with kitchen module. There are very interesting variations on these consolidated schemes on the market however: let’s take a look at them together in these pages, on which we’ve also added some examples from the recent past. Some names emerge for praise, where praise is due: Westfalia, Knaus/Weinsberg, La Strada, Volkswagen and Possl/Clever. These are the ones who have offered the most proposals to the campervan segment, but many smaller craft manufacturers should be remembered, who, without the restrictions of mass production, have created real gems. Offering innovative or simply unusual solutions can be costly – it’s true – but it can also pay for itself, immediately or in the long-term.
Traditionally created on the Volkswagen Transporter, the all-round van with low pop-top roof, a bit car and a bit campervan, it can also be built on wider vehicles. A celebrated example is the Hymercar 302 of 2009, on a 499 cm Fiat Ducato. You gain precious space inside, but you lose the image, performance and handling of a car.
The length can be decreased by increasing the height: according to this simple rule, some manufacturers – few, to be honest – have built interesting campervans on the 499 cm Fiat Ducato (or Peugeot Citroën variants). The non-standard roof (vehicle height 3 m approx.) allows a bed to be created in the high area of the passenger compartment.
A great number of campervans have been based on the Fiat Ducato (2006 and subsequent editions), in lengths 541, 599 and 636 cm, with standard roof of approximately 255 cm. There are very few examples based on the 499 cm Ducato, on the other hand: among current models, we would mention the Clever Citi 500.
Lately, various European manufacturers have added a micro bathroom to compact campervans, with low, elevating roof. Is it really necessary? Sink and WC are useful in many situations; the shower is perhaps excessive.
Among the many ideas dreamed up to optimise the small spaces of campervans, there’s also that of moving the fridge from its natural home under the kitchen module or next to it. Then most revolutionary solution is by Hobby, which inserts the fridge in the wall units of the Vantana models.
In a constantly expanding campervan market, could the niche of non-standard high roof compacts develop? Difficult to say… Here are some examples, with or without bathroom.
Equipped with non-standard roof, the 2017 California XXL concept from Volkswagen offers a bed in the upper section of the passenger compartment, in addition to the rear double bed. The latter has a retractable section to create a corridor in front of the kitchen, while the bathroom folds away, coming out only as required to occupy the central area of the passenger compartment. Based on the 598 cm Crafter van, it is 623 cm long because the rear part of the passenger compartment extends beyond the line of the bumper at the top.
Little-used on campervans, bunk beds are now nearly all transverse with respect to driving direction, while a few years ago they were normally lengthwise. Could this solution be reassessed? A lengthwise bunk bed should certainly be completed by a front folding bed: it would be unthinkable to convert the dinette as we once did.
If you need to carry bulkier equipment than a pair of bikes and you need the campervan as a base for sports activities, then you need a very large load compartment. Many versions have been crafted, often rather Spartan ones, whereas Knaus proposed a classier one around ten years ago, designed in detail, the YAMC, able to contain two motorbikes or a quad bike. The load compartment, once freed up transformed into an eating-sleeping area.
A curious and little-used living layout (also due to type-approval issues) features a rear sleeping-travel area with a sofa equipped with seat belts. The bathroom and kitchen are immediately behind the two places in the cab. Transferring two passengers to the back of the vehicle isn’t the best solution – let’s be honest – but it can be acceptable if the two passengers are only occasional and need to make brief journeys.
A large lengthwise sofa that transforms into a double bed with a quick movement: certainly not a novel solution, but one re-proposed last year by Hymer with the Duo Car prototype. Sofa-bed and kitchen occupy all the central space of the passenger compartment, immediately behind the cab, while the bathroom is at the back. Other examples also exist: we would mention the HRZ City, with the option of two additional seats.
Having six travel seats is the dream of everyone who also uses the campervan as a car, for transporting their family, friends or work colleagues. Some have tried to make vans with two–four berths and six spaces for travelling on comfortable seats. See the recent Westfalia Kepler Six and Dreamer Cap Coast, with removable seats, but also an example from around ten years ago, the Knaus Boxstar 504 MQ.
The idea has been little exploited, but can be a winner: saving space by bringing together two essential elements like the bathroom and wardrobe. The wardrobe is housed in the bathroom and comes out, freeing up space, when you need to use the sink, WC or shower. The wardrobe can move on hinges, rotating as on the campervans from the Rapido group, or run on guides as seen on the La Strada and Bavaria Camp models.