Averting the Caravan Crisis
Caravan manufacturers have never had it so good. But is the wagon they are riding about to head over a cliff? Is there anyone reaching for the brakes?
This newsletter is not the one I originally planned, but then life is what happens when you’ve made other plans.
Today (29th November 2020) I uploaded a video to my YouTube channel all about Electric Vehicles (EVs) and their imminent impact on the caravan and motorhome scene. I have spent many weeks researching this piece, and would invite you to give it a watch.
As always, I have put my own views aside in the video and presented the facts to allow people to make their own minds up. This Newsletter is where I feel comfortable expressing my personal opinion.
My trip to Caravan Salon Düsseldorf this year, and a recent commission where I spent two weeks analysing the 2021 season UK caravan market, have left me feeling that the caravan industry is too busy doing what it’s always done to see what’s looming on the horizon. Conversations with industry experts and insiders confirm that I’m not the only one who is worried for its future.
The current problem is a simple one; the offering of caravans in the UK today is top heavy. Every manufacturer has a huge range of expensive, heavy, and luxurious caravans, and if you’re lucky just one or two cursory basic lightweight tourers. Why is that?
It could be to do with the sales model. Heavy, expensive, and luxurious is where the money is. The more expensive the vehicle, the more commission the dealer makes, and the more money the manufacturers make.
2020 has been the year where manufacturers are concentrating on staying in business. One minute the whole country is in Lockdown and the dealers’ forecourts are full of unsold stock. The next minute everyone wants to buy a caravan, the forecourts are bare, and the manufacturers are struggling to keep up with demand. This doesn’t exactly leave room for channelling resources into design and innovation.
However, unless the industry raises its head from the trough and takes notice of what’s coming, there could be some very tough times ahead.
Plug in to the EV Boom
In 2021, a new generation of EVs, the mid-range SUV, is set to hit the market. These sub-£40k cars will be able to tow up to 1000kg. Also in 2021, the caravan dealer’s forecourts are set to remain stripped of used stock. Holidaying overseas looks set to remain a risky business, so people are looking for alternatives and are buying themselves caravans. Smart people! Many of these new-to-caravanning folk will not hold the necessary driving licence to allow them to tow a car and caravan combination exceeding 3,500kg.
Considering the above, you’d think that the UK caravan industry would be scrambling to produce light weight, attractive, affordable caravans to plug the gap and stimulate demand at entry level, wouldn’t you?
Instead, one of the Big Four UK manufacturers I studied during my market analysis has decided that its most basic family caravan offering fixed bunks for children should be an 8ft wide twin-axle model tipping the scales at 1820kg, and costing a cool £28,745. Another manufacturer decided to make its Optional Extra Packs standard fit, increasing the weight and cost of its more affordable products in one stroke.
There is one caravan, just one caravan, produced by a mainstream UK manufacturer that offers an MTPLM within the 1000kg towing limit of these new EVs. Take a bow, Bailey of Bristol, for your Discovery D4-2.
Now let’s look to our friends in Germany. Dethleffs produces the Coco; a bright, spacious, modern, appealing, lightweight caravan boasting an innovative multi-function interior. Coco tips the scales at 730kg empty, and 900kg fully laden. If that’s not good enough already, Dethleffs is also developing the Coco-based e-Home, a lightweight caravan with a powered axle to reduce the drag on the tow vehicle. Gold star for Dethleffs.
What about our friends in France? In my video I mention the Sterckeman Easy 350CP, offering a fixed bed, dinette, simple kitchen and washroom, and all in a package weighing in at 850kg fully laden.
Sold in the UK, Polish-built Freedom caravans are just the ticket, although the dated interiors do little to lift the spirits. Either way, they are worth a look and are structurally sound; excellent caravans indeed.
Sadly, even the ultra-gorgeous super-sweet Barefoot Caravan is too heavy for the new raft of EVs, as its MRO is 960kg and MTPLM is 1200kg. What a crying shame.
Hotels without Wheels
If you look to the hotel industry, what are the two largest and most successful chains in the UK?
Travelodge and Premier Inn. They are everywhere. What do they provide?
Travelodge and Premier Inn provide everything you need for a comfortable night: A warm and clean room, a comfortable bed, and an ensuite with loo and hot shower. What you do not get are things you don’t need, so there are none of those silly foofy frills like a basket of landfill-bound toiletries or an overpriced minibar. This allows Travelodge and Premier Inn to offer its rooms at fantastically reasonable prices.
Wouldn’t it be great if caravan manufacturers did the same? Concentrate on the basics of a warm and comfortable place to stay at an outstanding price, and drop the unnecessary frills? The concept works for Travelodge.
The Next Few Years are Crucial
Right now, if you have £60k+ to spend on an electric towcar, you can buy that 1800kg UK caravan and hook it up to your Audi e-Tron or Tesla Model X. In the future, maybe in five or six years time, you might even be able to hitch up the same caravan to a more affordable £30k electric towcar.
But what about the interim period?
The infrastructure to support Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) cars and vans will be around for a good 20-25 years yet. There is no need to panic.
My personal preference, and it is purely a preference, is that I would like to switch to EV ownership as soon as I can. I want to enjoy the benefits of lower running costs and continue to do my bit to reduce carbon emissions. I’m sure I’m not the only one.
A Skoda Enyaq and a Dethleffs Coco would suit me down to the ground. I’d love to blaze a trail in such a stylish rig.
The trouble is, being an advocate for Buy decent, Buy once, there are still a good few years left in my current rig: my six year old Nissan pick-up, and my ten year old Airstream. I’ve taken the huge depreciation hit and now they’re costing me very little indeed. Plus the fact, I still bloody love my Airstream. Call it guilty pleasure.
Anything top-heavy will eventually fall
However, for those caravanners ready to replace their vehicles, and wishing to do so with an EV, the current choice of caravans is absolutely dire. Unless the manufacturers urgently address the top-heavy nature of the offerings on the market, there could be unthinkable consequences.
I love the caravan industry and the people who work in it. I love being someone who helps get the message out there that caravans are amazing freedom-giving vehicles that enhance life beyond measure. Caravans create memories and offer a utopian combination of freedom and home comforts. I write this missive because I care passionately about the industry. We’ve lost Avondale, and Lunar is still yet to amaze us by rising from the ashes. Please, let’s not lose any more. It’s time to get those noses out of the trough, look up, look forward, and stay in business.
What do you think?
Am I talking a load of rubbish, or are you concerned about the top heavy offering of UK caravans as well? Are you considering an EV in the next three years? Let me know in the comments below!
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