As another year draws to a close, it’s a popular pastime of media folk to reflect on the previous 12 months and identify the major trends, themes, highs and lows.
For those working in the RV industry, it’s fair to say it’s been a stellar year with sales of caravans, camper trailers, motorhomes and other ‘homes on wheels’ soaring to 20-year-plus highs.
Although final figures are yet to be released, it’s likely that around 25,000 new RVs will be built this year. Not bad, considering sales of other ‘toys’ including motorcycles and boats were down in the same period.
But just because Mum, Dad and the kids are more likely to hitch up a Jayco camper in the school holidays than book flights to the Gold Coast, or Granny and Gramps swap the family home for a washing machine-equipped Winnebago, doesn’t mean caravans have become trendy and desired by the mainstream. Or does it?
We reckon 2010 was the year that caravans and their ilk finally emerged as objects of desire to people other than families with young children or grey nomads concerned about the next ‘dump point’.
Here are the 10 reasons caravans were cool in 2010:
1. If ever there was a van to attract the attention of Generation Z, this was it. Launched in September, the curvy Bolwell Edge is the iPod of caravans.
It looks like something you’d find in the Museum of Contemporary Art rather than Inverloch Holiday Park and had people who’d normally vow never to be caught dead in a caravan salivating at the prospect.
The Melbourne scooter, truck parts and sportscar specialist combined years of experience in space-age composites with a desire to be different to build a van that looked as good inside as out.
Owen Bolwell summed it up best when he said: “Why are there so many ugly caravans on the market? There’s no reason why something can’t look good.”
2. Vintage van enthusiasts are an obsessive, stubborn lot who trade modern day comforts for the retro-cool of ‘classic’ styling. But like their fellow classic car enthusiasts, their numbers are swelling, particularly amongst the younger set attracted by such beauties as this polished Airstream trailer.
London-based stylist Jane Field-Lewis and designer Chris Haddon, are two recent converts who published in 2010 a wonderful coffee table book on vintage vans called My Cool Caravan.
With Top Gear’s Richard Hammond and style-leading website, Cool Hunting, also jumping on the ‘cool caravan’ bandwagon, we predict more old Franklins and Millards enjoying a second life in the not too distant future.
3. Camper trailers are the big movers in the Australian new RV market, due to their (mostly) affordable pricing, family-friendliness and easy towability.
But while young families snap up basic, entry-level tent trailers like they're going out of fashion, it’s the premium off-road end of the market where all the excitement was, with the likes of Vista RV, Kimberley and the 2010 Off-Road Camper of the Year-winning AOR Odyssey, proving that functionality and desirability are obtainable in the one $50,000-plus price package.
Our favourite new bush camper in 2010 was the Conqueror, a South African, military themed, go-anywhere camper that had boys of all ages wishing they could don the khakis, slap on the warpaint and conquer the Canning Stock Route in one.
4. Europeans love their camping (almost as much as Aussies!) and many RV innovations like fold-down beds emerge from that neck of the woods.
But the ‘look at moi’ award for 2010 goes to the Opera camper trailer from Dutch manufacturer Your Suite in Nature (YSIN). Imagine the dropped jaws as you rock up to the caravan park with this beauty and proceed via the electro-hydraulic system to unveil a funky canvas framed arrangement reminiscent of the Sydney Opera House ‘sails’.
Then kicking back in the stylish teak, oak, corian, and stainless steel fitted out interior with all the modern camping comforts you require, including a couple of wine drawers.
Further proof of its ‘coolness’ was when style guru Wallpaper magazine gave the Opera its 2010 Design award for campers.
5. Have caravans ever featured more on Australian televisions than in 2010? It was hard to turn the TV on of a week-end and not be confronted by a grinning B-grade celebrity or two cruising the countryside in the show sponsor’s caravan or motorhome.
What’s more, many of these lifestyle/travel shows offered RV giveaway prizes to their viewers... maybe that’s why sales have been booming!
Then there was the innovative, home-made expanding caravan that managed to win a People’s Choice award on an episode of the ABC’s New Inventors.
Canberra retiree Peter Buscombe with his EziVan prototype proved that being a contestant on Australian Idol is not the only way to get your 15 minutes of fame.
6. It’s taken a while but finally manufacturers have discovered there’s more than one way to decorate a caravan. If you went to a caravan show in 2010 you would have seen various attempts at brightening up exteriors, from stick-on decals, to coloured front protectors, flames and stripes.
Many caravans are now sold with almost endless interior trim options, to the point where you can now achieve the ‘inside out’ look: colourful exterior with polished white interior, described by one dealer as the “apartment look”.
Opalite also got in on the act with its new range of bright, plastic Jellybean campers, available in all seven colours of everyone's favourite sweet.
Caravans boring? Not in 2010.
7. SEMA in Las Vegas is arguably the coolest car show in the world, showcasing the latest aftermarket vehicle technology on some of the wildest ‘rides’ on the planet.
So to see a tricked-up Toyota-based camper amongst the show-stoppers and whacky concepts at this year’s show was further proof that camping can be cool too.
The hunting-oriented Tundra Sportsman had all the good gear including ‘camo’ styling, slide-out kitchen, workbench, command centre, and a raised platform in the tray with tent accomodation for two. Toyota described it as the “ultimate sportsman fantasy transport and base camp” and we had to agree.
8. One reason caravans don’t appeal to your average 20-something is most are too big to fit into the cramped garage space that comes with their trendy inner-city apartment.
Enter the Go tiny toy hauler, a three-in-one lightweight trailer from the US that combines funky styling with compact transport for your motorbike, mountain bike or canoe, storage pod and a fold out, two-berth tent.
Importer Ultimate reckons the sporty trailer will be a big hit with the extreme adventure crowd who want something light and easy to hook up for action-packed week-end getaways.
9. Although caravans have come a long way in recent years in the technology stakes, most are still a few years behind when it comes to fitting the latest and greatest gadgets.
Caravans like the new Kool RV fifth-wheeler, however, are set to change that with a set-up likely to appeal to the techno-geek crowd. You want five TVs including bedroom mounted screens? No problem. A freestanding entertainment unit with latest stereo and speakers? Check.
Plus it has solar power and a rainwater-collecting roof for those hard-to-please greenies.
10. But our award for coolest RV of the year goes to this Douglas DC-3-converted motorhome. Enough said.