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Innovation


Innovation. My friend Roderick started me off thinking about it. We met up last weekend at our favourite campsite, and as ever after a few too many post-supper digestifs, we ended up cranking up the computer and looking at the latest wild and wacky tourers and motorhomes on the internet.

We started off looking at the caravans from new American manufacturer Earthbound RV. Maybe it’s the shiny furniture, but they looked like a cross between an oversized Roma and a Stealth to me. You can order yours in bright red, blue, or black. And yes, I am talking about the exterior.

Next stop was German manufacturer Dethleffs, looking at the MA-HOOSIVE Caraliner. I’ve always admired Dethleffs’ styling in the past, especially the über smart Aero Tourist caravans, but the Caraliner concept caravan has to go down as the second-ugliest house brick on wheels that I’ve ever seen. Inside, no expense has been spared either in terms of money or weight. There’s even a dishwasher.

But the piece de resitance, the ugliest and biggest mobile margarine tub by far, was the Visibly Loud Articulated Dream. Even the wheels have been skirted off to give the impression of an imposing, hovering white cube. Inside it looks like something out of a Design Centre with all the comfort and allure of an operating theatre.

Is this really innovation? I don’t think so. Any half-wit can design anything if not constrained by space, weight, or budget. The real innovators, the clever people, are the people who can come up with something comfortable, usable, towable, and affordable. You really don’t need me to tell you about the price of fuel these days. And, while I’m sure that there is still plenty to go around at the moment, oil is a finite resource. Which basically means that fuel is never going to get any cheaper.

Innovation to me is how a manufacturer like Bailey managed to get so much Orion into such a comparatively small space. It’s how Lunar has made its Venus range so light and towable. It’s how Elddis has broken the mould with its adorable little Xplore 302 and 304. It’s how motorhome wizard Stephen Wheeler builds his amazing little Wheelhome motor caravans that are roughly the size of a matchbox when trundling down the motorway yet unfold to become the size of a detached bungalow when on site.

Concept caravans and motorhomes are great to draw the crowds and showcase new ideas that may or may not be brought into production. It can be quite healthy for a designer to think ‘without limits’ for a while, let their mind go mad, and see where it ends up. But essentially the leisure vehicle designer’s job boils down to wrestling with the ever-present dilemma of compromise between cost, weight, and comfort. Design without limits has its uses and its entertainment value for a Saturday night spent with friends in the caravan, but it’s the unsung designers of the everyday, usable leisure vehicles that earn my respect.

 

– Andrew Ditton has eight years’ experience as Chief Caravan Tester for Caravan Magazine. Click here to view his full profile.