Luxury cars

Head for the great outdoors in these stylish campervans

Campervans have never been more luxurious, or better equipped for transcontinental travel. And you might soon see more of them along the Belt and Road

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 09 September, 2017, 8:31am
UPDATED : Saturday, 09 September, 2017, 8:31am

Recreational vehicles seem rare in Hong Kong, but they are big in the West and increasingly visible in China. Their range, popularity and sophistication were revealed last week at the 56th Caravan Salon Dusseldorf, the world’s largest show for caravans, campervans and the larger motorhomes.

The nine-day event closed on Sunday, having drawn “more than 232,000 visitors” to 600 exhibitors, said Joachim Schafer, managing director of the show’s organisers, Messe Dusseldorf.

“Almost 60 per cent of visitors came with concrete intentions to buy”, he added, noting “a strikingly high number of delegations from the United States, Australia and the Asian region”.

The 13-hall, 214,000-square-metre show presented more than 2,100 caravans, campervans and motorhomes from 130 makers. Most of these vehicles seem irrelevant in crowded, compact Hong Kong, but they also reveal a trend in independent travel in Europe that might bring new leisure investment opportunities along old Silk Road routes. After all, Caravan Salon Dusseldorf not only draws RV makers and their suppliers, but also networks the international campsites, motor parks and travel destinations that serve them.

Fiat Professional presented the Ducato 4x4 Expedition concept and described how RVs evolved. They began in the 1920s, the marque’s van unit says, “when a few daring outdoor tourism pioneers had the idea of using a car not just as a means of transport, but also as a multi-purpose leisure vehicle”. RVs then boomed in the 1960s with the Volkswagen Type 2 and Fiat’s 238, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, it says.

RVs became more popular in the west as travellers sought new horizons beyond tour groups and hotels. Business is good, Fiat adds. “In 2017, the European camper market is projected to total more than 105,000 units, an increase of 10 per cent on the previous year, which already recorded significant growth,” the marque says. “The market has taken off again [with a] 60 per cent increase in sales” since the slump of 2009.”

Hong Kong’s ultra rich might choose truck-like RVs such as the 530hp three-axle, 12-metre VarioMobil Signature 1200. It seems a glamper’s delight with a plush interior and a Gobi Desert-ready 390-litre diesel tank and a 500 litre water tank. The 26-tonner also has an inbuilt garage for a small car but costs between €773,500 (HK$7.2 million) and €1.1 million.

Less massive luxury campervans reset road-trip aspirations and drive the sector’s growth, however. Fiat’s Ducato range, for example, is labelled a “Leader in Freedom” and a 10-time winner of the specialist Promobil magazine’s “best motorhome base of the year”. Its Ducato 4x4 Expedition concept is designed to “extend the potential of motorhome travel” but could become a corporate reconnaissance vehicle for Belt and Road-initiative-related projects. It has Dangel and Olmedo all-wheel technology, a “robotised” transmission and a “best-in-class” 2.3-litre, 180-horsepower engine. Fiat also promises a car-like drive and executive saloon car connectivity set in yacht-like Tecnoform RV furniture.

Mercedes-Benz presented its red-metallic Marco Polo Horizon, which can seat seven and sleep five. The model joins the Vito-based Activity in the Marco Polo range with a roof bed, kitchenette, wardrobe, a bench/berth and swivelling front seats. Built for longer trips, a 250 d 4Matic version offers 190hp, 440Nm and consumes about 6.7 litres/100 km for CO2 emissions of 177g/km, the marque says. Fitted with a 7G-Tronic Plus automatic transmission and lots of parking electronics, it is being sold in Europe this month for €55,750 (including 19 per cent VAT). Its interior features include Tempmatic aircon and an Audio 20 CD multimedia system with touchpad control.

Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles presented the 5.99-metre California XXL Concept, with 4Motion all-wheel drive and a 410ps, 177ps turbodiesel engine. Built for tours of Europe, its family comforts include a “retractable wet room, a heated and cooled bed; an extendible work surface; underfloor heating; a panoramic roof and a broad range of functions that can be controlled by tablet” or an app. Fitted with two reversing cameras, it also has a a two-fridge kitchen, retractable gas hobs and alcoves for two children. Its connectivity includes nine 220V sockets and six USB charging ports. Other comforts include a big table, four seats and an espresso machine, panoramic windows, and camping chairs in the tailgate.

The salon also featured the Forster T 637SB, an entry-level motorhome costing €45,990 with an L-dinette, multimedia wall and docking for a 28-inch screen. Slovenia’s Adria-Action introduced the delightfully intimate and light Action caravan that sleeps four for 15,999, and Carthago presented the 6.99-metre I 144 LE premium motorhome (93,250). Hymer presented its DuoCar – a plush van for two people - while Trigano of France unveiled the Mini Silver 270 (12,450), a 600kg caravan for adventurers and with an aisle for a 250kg motorcycle.

Such products might be welcomed by China’s growing campervan community.

In June, the All in Caravaning 2017 (AIC 2017) show at Beijing Exhibition Center indicated the RV sector’s local growth. The three-day, 650-stand event drew 21,826 visitors, a year-on-year increase of 25.7 per cent, says its organiser, Messe Dusseldorf (Shanghai). The show also presented over 400 RVs and revealed how “caravanning has gained even more popularity” in China, said Axel Bartkus, the organiser’s general manager.

AIC 2017 reportedly enabled RV brands such as Hobby, Trigano, Chausson, and Bimobil to hold dealer conferences for investment promotion. Its networking events paired motorhome makers with partsmakers, and introduced tourism committees to campsite developers and operators.

An RV convoy of about 40 German fans also arrived at AIC 2017 after a 10-week, 15,000km drive from Dusseldorf, proving that the Silk Road was achievable, comfortable and fun. Their route was also presented as one of the world’s six best road trips for the international RV community at Caravan Salon Dusseldorf, last week.

Leisure sector analysts might wonder if this new status is a milestone for road-trip tourism in China. If so, then there might be new infrastructure mileage in remote places for Hong Kong’s hospitality, property and finance expertise. And Horgos needn’t be a hardship posting in a million-euro RV.

AIC 2018 returns to Beijing on June 22-24, 2018

The 57th Salon returns to Dusseldorf on August 24 to September 3, 2018.