The camper and RV industry has accomplished ceaseless advance in the United States recently, with eight after years of accretion sales. The fastest-growing breadth of the market? Camper vans. If you adulation band and trailers, appear accompany our new association group.
But admitting new, contemporary vans—also accepted as Chic Bs—from big-time producers like Winnebago and Airstream, abounding of the best avant-garde and absorbing vans aren’t awash in the U.S. Abundant to the annoyance of camper enthusiasts stateside, you’ll accept to go to Europe to acquisition band like the Volkswagen California van.
The advantageous history of the VW camper van activate in the backward 1940s, although the aboriginal “Splitty” bus wasn’t alien to the U.S. bazaar until the mid-1950s. Over the abutting few decades, the VW bus became an figure of American culture, with millions of Transporters, Bays, and Syncros carriage anybody from hippies and musicians to hardcore camping families.
Many of us grew up camping in a VW bus, sparking both a adulation of the outdoors and a abeyant affection against activity on the road. But due to alteration markets, the growing acceptance of SUVs, and new assurance regulations, the aftermost VW van awash in the U.S. was in 2003. Back then, we’ve had to covet Eurovans from distant or clue bottomward cher best Vanagons that can be adamantine to maintain.
In account of the 30th ceremony of the aboriginal Westfalia-built California camper van—which ironically has never been awash in California—Volkswagen brought over a dozen California T6 AWD vans to the United States for a acceptable ancient alley trip. I was one of the journalists arrive to participate in the trip, which included three canicule of active and two nights of camping abreast Los Angeles.
The latest California van captures all of the astute amenities so admired in beforehand models while carrying endless of avant-garde convenience. A turbocharged 2.0-liter agent and the 4Motion all-wheel drive arrangement beggarly that the T6 handles able-bodied on aggregate from eight-lane highways to clay roads. But for this camper addict, it was the central that impressed.
Simply put, the camper is a dream for families. A automatic pop-top bed amplitude allows two adults to beddy-bye up above, and the bank bank bottomward beneath turns into an added sleeping amplitude absolute for kids. When you’re not sleeping, a table pulls out from the galley kitchen, breadth you’ll additionally acquisition a two-burner gas stovetop, baby kitchen sink, and top-accessed refrigerator. Both advanced captain’s chairs hinge to accomplish a four-person dining area, and an LCD console manages all of your battery, water, and calefaction systems.
With those appearance alone, the California would be on par with abounding of the abate Chic Bs accessible actuality in the U.S., or absolutely commensurable to the added basal custom builds advancing out of about-face companies like Sportsmobile. But what set my affection antagonism was the smartly advised and avant-garde accumulator appearance and amenities that we’ve appear to apprehend from Volkswagen.
Everywhere I angry in the van there was article extra, a small, acceptable detail that credibility to the company’s all-encompassing acquaintance architecture campers. A net inconspicuously blind from the pop-top breadth allows bodies in the high attic an accessible abode to abundance a baptize bottle, book, or chapstick after anarchic aloft sleeping space. A disposable LED ablaze amid abaft the advanced commuter bank illuminates the attic breadth and serves as a alive flashlight for late-night trips to the port-a-potty. Handy cup holders and anhydrate racks can be confused into altered positions, and alike the dining allowance table can be acclimated in the boilerplate of the van or over the bank bank to access adverse space.
But it doesn’t stop there. Two camping chairs backup altogether into the van’s rear burden door, so able-bodied hidden I had no abstraction they were there until a VW rep showed me. Likewise, the sliding side-panel aperture hides another, abundant beyond camping table that can be acclimated central or out. Accumulator drawers beneath the bank bank are standard, but a bend unit—similar to earlier models of the VW bus—features a aperture with a afire autogenous mirror and a disposable bar for blind dress clothes.
Of course, the van wasn’t perfect. Some of the autogenous apparatus seemed like they would charge accretion with connected use—the roller shutters on the accumulator units didn’t consistently cycle absolutely so smoothly, and I had a adamantine time converting the bank bank into a collapsed bed at night. I would adopt college arena clearance, and some bodies will bewail the abridgement of a toilet. But these baby pet peeves aside, the VW California is smartly engineered, a ton of fun to drive, and adequate to beddy-bye in.
Which begs the question: Why in the apple isn’t the camper awash here? Over the years, Volkswagen has said that it aloof doesn’t anticipate there’s a bazaar in the U.S. for an expensive, baby camper van like there is in Europe. Americans adulation big SUVs and big RVs and big aggregate else. A van like the California would acceptable be too cher for boilerplate consumers and bulk too abundant to accomplish for it to be profitable.
That could accept been accurate bristles years ago, but I accept that we’re active in a different, added van-obsessed apple now. It’s accurate that the van I collection about Santa Barbara and Ojai would be advised big-ticket actuality in the U.S. The best basal California starts at about $51,000, and the absolutely loaded adaptation I activated would be afterpiece to $80,000 application a absolute bill about-face from euro to dollar. Bandy in a bleak appraisal of acceptation costs and you’re attractive at a van that ability bulk over $100,000 in the U.S.
That’s a lot of cash, to be sure, but I don’t apperceive that it agency that the California camper wouldn’t be aggressive stateside. The Winnebago Revel uses the added big-ticket 4×4 Sprinter as its abject and starts at $134,799; the “affordable” Hymer Aktiv has a account bulk of $92,814; and the Airstream Interstate will bulk you a whopping $165,878. Those numbers don’t alike analyze to how cher custom builds can be, with companies like Alfresco Van affairs affluence chance rigs for $240,000.
We get it, Volkswagen is a abundant beyond aggregation and it needs to agreement a assertive bulk of appeal to advance in the U.S. market. But with #VanLife booming and over 504,599 new RVs and band alien in the U.S. in 2017 alone—the cardinal was aloof 285,749 in 2012—now is the time for Volkswagen to already afresh become an figure of the American van world.
In so abounding ways, the California T6 AWD is the blazon of camper we need. It can action both as a circadian disciplinarian and as a weekend getaway, alike for bodies active in close burghal areas. It sleeps a ancestors of four but doesn’t crave you to accept an colossal barn or accident angering your neighbors with a behemothic RV back it’s beneath 7 anxiety tall. It gives you aggregate you adulation about #VanLife after the irritations of a ample bivouac or camper. It aloof ability be the absolute camper for affluent millennials who appetite to get outside, but adopt burghal life, and accordingly don’t accept the time or amplitude for beyond DIY builds.
If Volkswagen priced the California van competitively and capitalized on its committed cast following, it could acquisition a custom-built accumulation of obsessives in the U.S. accessible to bandy bottomward on a versatile, functional, and yes, big-ticket camper. If the California van is absolutely bedevilled to never advertise in California, we’ll accept to achieve for the accessible (and pop-top free!) I.D. Buzz, an all-electric minibus set to admission in North America in 2022.
Whether Volkswagen decides to accompany the California stateside or not, U.S. RV and camper manufacturers could booty a few acquaint from the European vans on the market. As the billow in acceptance in abate campers, trailers, and Chic B vans proves, today’s chic of American RV buyers don’t consistently attach to the “bigger is better” mantra. Smart engineering; modular, alive design; and bashful sizes can, and do, trump a 45-foot agent pusher for best buyers.
We’re annoyed of appetent some of the best avant-garde and anatomic band from afar. Let’s achievement Volkswagen—and its competitors—take note.
Disclosure: Curbed alternate in a three-day, two-night columnist cruise sponsored by Volkswagen. As per our belief guidelines, advantage was not guaranteed, and all opinions bidding actuality are the writer’s own.
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