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Old 04-04-2016, 01:09 AM   #1
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Default Promaster and Sprinter Campervans in Moab

Got back from our spring trip to Moab and noticed a developing trend in relatively basic Sprinter and Promaster based campervans. Each year we’ve seen more Sprinter campers but this year the increase in Promaster based units was dramatic. We didn’t make it to Moab last spring so perhaps the Promaster trend had already started but this year the uptick was quite noticeable, although still not as common as Sprinters.

For the most part these aren’t the full luxe RV road touring units like RoadTrek or Pleasureway, but rather simpler DIY or custom conversions, often with a platform bed, bike/gear storage underneath, galley/fridge behind the drivers seat, roof fans and CRL windows.

I got a chance to look inside two units. A Promaster (20 ft) owned by a young family and converted by VanWorks in Colorado. It had both the platform bed for adults and a rock-and-roll convertible seat/bed for kids. They sleep transversely, but the dad was over 6ft tall and said it worked fine. Storage under the platform bed could be used for bikes on day trips or for longer trips they use a hitch rack for bikes and inside storage for extra gear. Electrical was 12v with two AGM batteries and 20amp shore power - no inverter, microwave or AC. All personal electronics and devices were charged from USB.

The other unit I got to see inside details was a 144 wb Sprinter 4x4, converted by Van Specialties in Oregon and owned by a young couple. Platform bed for two, galley unit, and inside bike storage plus a huge rooftop rack for kayaks, SUPs, and probably every human powered water toy imaginable.

We did see more traditional Class B road RVs, including a number of Chevy based Roadtreks, one bright red Travato, a PW Ascent, and an older T1N Sprinter RV (LTV?). But they were significantly outnumbered by these Sprinter and Promaster campervans, probably due to the major Mountain Bike, climbing, and outdoor activities around Moab that attract active younger couples and families.

We had the textbook example at Dead Horse Point campground. Two sites down was an older couple from Iowa with an immaculately maintained RoadTrek 190P. Three sites further was the young family with the VanWorks Promaster conversion. I was struck by the fact that older buyers are relatively well served by current Class B manufacturers, but younger buyers are forced into DIY conversions or lengthy waits for custom conversion outfits.

I’m guessing only 1 in 10 of those prospective younger buyers actually complete the arduous DIY or custom purchase process. Hey, Winnebago - how about a basic Promaster campervan that these younger buyers could see and purchase at a standard dealer? Seems like at least a reasonable sized market that hasn’t been served since the days of the VW Westfalias and Eurovan Campers…
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Old 04-04-2016, 01:44 AM   #2
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You raise a very interesting point.

We are on our second B-van. The first one was a turn-key Airstream Interstate. During our years with this rig, we developed very specific tastes and desires that proved difficult to satisfy with any fully-off-the-lot RV. Our current unit is a 2014 Great West Legend. We chose GWV precisely because (a) they were willing to modify their standard design to our specs; and (b) we saw their floorpan as an excellent platform for significant DIY improvements. This plan worked out very well for us. We have done a LOT of mods, and our van is now pretty darn close to perfect for our needs. This proved to be an extremely cost-effective way to get the high-end systems that we now have.

Although it will be some time before we are ready for another van, I do sometimes wonder what we would do if we were in the market today. Sadly, GWV is no longer an option. The only obvious alternative is ARV. When they spun out from GWV they essentially cloned the Legend as the starting point for their fine work. But, their current price point and their attachment to specific core technologies are such that they don't make much sense as the starting point for a semi-DIY effort. There is also Sportsmobile, but my impression is that they aren't very interested in partial build-outs (I could be wrong about that). There really don't seem to be any good alternatives these days for what we did.

Of course, one could do a start-from-scratch DIY buildout, but that is daunting for many folks. For example, I don't know how I would replicate the wonderful bathroom module and trifold bed that came with our Legend.

Wouldn't it be awesome if somebody like Winnebago offered a "starter kit"--A properly-configured chassis with pre-installed bed and bath and nothing else? This could be a great "starter camper" for the young folks you met at Moab, and could also serve as the basis for a custom build-out. Seems to me that this would be very easy for them or one of the other upfitters to do; it could be nearly as profitable a finished van; and has the potential to open up a whole new market.

Just a thought.
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Old 04-04-2016, 09:48 AM   #3
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This Company in Australia, allows you to do temporary conversions as well as doing conversions of your donated vehicle
Fiat Vacanza - Southern Spirt Campervans - true custom build RV's
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Old 04-04-2016, 12:25 PM   #4
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My guess is the youngsters are simply price driven. They get a slightly used Sprinter or a new Promaster for in the $20-$30k, put a $5k interior (or less) in it and call it a day.

You can already get a Travato for around $70k, but that's too much for this demographic. Probably $50k is too much for this group.

Also, I think the expectations climb with the more you spend. I doubt many would be happy with a $50k van that didn't have cooking or bathroom facilities. So I suspect the DIY route is the preferred way for this demographic, regardless of what any manufacturer could provide.
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Old 04-04-2016, 02:50 PM   #5
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My guess is the youngsters are simply price driven. They get a slightly used Sprinter or a new Promaster for in the $20-$30k, put a $5k interior (or less) in it and call it a day.

You can already get a Travato for around $70k, but that's too much for this demographic. Probably $50k is too much for this group.
I think that's underestimating the younger professional buying demographic. That Sprinter 4x4 costs a bit over $50k with common options and a Van Specialties conversion of that type around $22k, so I would guess their total cost was $70-80k. I didn't to ask the VanWorks owner about cost but I have a coworker with a VanWorks Sprinter where a similar upfit was $16k, so adding a $33-35k Promaster I presume the total would be around $50k.

And that's not out of line with the cost of a Yukon and tent trailer, another common family camping rig around here that probably totals around $60k.

I do agree the Travato is an excellent value around $70k, but it's oriented more towards a comfy compact road cruiser RV. These transformer rigs in Moab were definitely oriented towards the active outdoor adventure demographic - lacking the TVs, generators and full bathrooms of the traditional RV but also lacking the low hanging obstructions that would make access to MTB trailheads around Gemini Bridges unfeasible.

Outside Vans sells a plenty of Sprinter rigs over $100k with butane cooktops and porta-potti toilets. Given the potential buyers we saw in Moab a $50k+ target price range seems quite viable for a basic campervan.
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Old 04-04-2016, 03:33 PM   #6
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I totally agree with you. I have a 16 travato G, and i like it. Its a good value, but most of the amenities are unnecessary.

I fit the demographis you describe- 40, married, small child, former guide, outdoor enthusiast, wife sponsored mtb racer, dog, fly rods, bikes, skis, oar rig... all the toys

I am currently working with some upfitters to combine what I like about the Travato into a simpler 4x4 Sprinter.

First thing to go is the AC unit! then the microwave, Genny, TV, stereo.

I love the head on the travato, but would rather have a cassette.

The Plumbing on the travato is quite exposed to the elements. i would prefer a simpler setup with all lines inside.

Id add a 2nd alternator, and an inverter. 200-400 Ah Li batteries mounted inside.

The dinette seating is just OK, Id prefer a convertible bench mid ship.

Truma heating system is awesome, but in my dream van, this would be a diesel unit, along with the cook top. Id give up hot water.

Bike rack on the travato is just OK, roof rack is virtually useless. I want a clean roof with loads of solar- minimun 300 W maybe room for a spare tire, or an alumaness basket

I know, why even bother with the Travato?--

Beacause my custom creation is going to cost me ?120k and I had to see if the family liked van living for weeks on end- and they do

Please, DO NOT misunderstand, the travato is a fantastic Class B motorhome- just awesome.

But for those of us used to living in sleeping bags for entire seasons, its far more luxe than we need, and that luxury comes with a weight pemalty- not to mention more things to break.
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Old 04-04-2016, 04:35 PM   #7
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Moab is a Mecca magnet for active bikers and adventurers. What you see there is a rare magnification of the market. There is no mass market growth for new conversions in that segment.

I was struck by the dearth of Class Bs and campervans in the southwest over the spring break weeks. Most of the older crowd disappeared to avoid the spring breakers. In February they were everywhere. At Picacho Lake State Park midway between Phoenix and Tucson we were the only B. Families with kids were showing up in droves with mostly trailers. They need space and they need more bang for the buck considering they will use it only on weekends and short vacations. A trailer can be shared among families. A van for a young person would have to be an every day thing and most would not loan one out or share. Thus, having a full blown B is not economical and putting in a platform bed is a DIY venture with the few exceptions. Those are steel tents on wheels. I built my first one in 1970 when I don't think the term Class B existed.

I think you are dreaming if you think there is a mass market out there for new Bs. Even the older crowd is giving into the small Cs mainly for space and separate dry shower. Stats bear that out. The Travato in any configuration is too small for my extended trip off-grid style as was the 144" WB Sprinter. But as long as our habits are to move a lot and put on a lot of miles we will stick to the Class B over the small Cs. Our last trip completed last week to the southwest over 57 days mostly off-grid and in many campgrounds with RV length limits, we put on over 8,000 miles.
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Old 04-04-2016, 05:14 PM   #8
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I was in Arizona and New Mexico for January and February. 90% of the rigs around me were class A or C. Most of the time I was the only class B out boondocking in the desert. When I moved up to Sedona, I saw more B's and I think it's like Moab. You're seeing a younger, more active crowd and that changes the dynamic.
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Old 04-04-2016, 05:28 PM   #9
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Quote:
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I think you are dreaming if you think there is a mass market out there for new Bs.
Honestly, I think the question is as yet untested. Awareness that B-vans even exist is almost nonexistent in the marketplace. I can't count the number of times that people have looked at our van and said "I didn't know they made anything like that". Until that changes, they aren't going to sell. Chicken and egg.
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Old 04-04-2016, 05:48 PM   #10
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B vans and "camper" vans are different animals and since the 2003 departure of the Vanagon westy, there really is no affordable non custom camper available.

It blows my mind that a basic Outside van with a few gadgets can cost 1.7x times my Travato.

Less for way more?

I think the B market is killing itself by offering over-featured motorhomes that largely appeal to an older demo.

Make no mistatke ARV Ocean Ones are pretty freaking awesome, but not my cup of tea- and I am fortunate to have a pretty fluid budget these days.

Its just my muddy wading boots have no place in such a nicely appointed coach.

Plus I don't want to turn my 3 year old son into a total candy ass by having AC and a flat screeen.

I guess I agree with Avanti- the market is not under served, its totally untested.

Also, I live in appalachia, everyone I know has some sort of camping vehicle, be it a used e250 with a cot, or an a line trailer or a 4 wheel camper.
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