A report from Caravan Salon 2014

By: Mary Hamilton

A report from Caravan Salon 2014 Nearly 200,000 people walked through the doors of Caravan Salon in Dusseldorf. A report from Caravan Salon 2014
A report from Caravan Salon 2014 A 1950s BMW Isetta pulling a vintage teardrop camper. A report from Caravan Salon 2014
A report from Caravan Salon 2014 A report from Caravan Salon 2014
A report from Caravan Salon 2014 The Water-Camper, a catamaran powered by outboard motors that allows you to convert your recreational vehicle into a houseboat. A report from Caravan Salon 2014

SmartRV marketing director Mary Hamilton travelled to Düsseldorf, Germany, to attend the international exhibition, Caravan Salon. Mary reports on the latest trends.

Returning for my second visit to the world's biggest motorhome consumer trade show, I didn't expect to be bowled over again by the epic scale of the event. But I was wrong; you can't help being awestruck by nearly 2000 recreational vehicles in the vast Caravan Salon in Düsseldorf. The show features 580 exhibitors in 190,000 square metres of exhibition space (that's 27 football fields). Each of the 11 exhibition halls is the size of the main one at Auckland's ASB Showgrounds.

And then there are the tides of visitors. We were fortunate to get entry on the press day so we could move around but when the doors opened on the first public day, the crowds descended – nearly 200,000 over the nine days of the exhibition. Most attend with the intention to buy a recreational vehicle, highlighting the importance of the event for exhibitors.

Caravan Salon is where all the major European manufacturers display their latest models. Exhibitors include the base vehicles that motorhomes are built on, all the componentry that goes into a recreational vehicle – the latest electronics and navigation systems; and other state-of-the-art accessories, bells and whistles – to promotions from the many European destinations keen to lure you. There's even a vintage wing with a hall dedicated to rare and collectible motorhomes and caravans.

Germany is Europe's biggest market for recreational vehicles and while other European markets have been declining since the global financial crisis, sales in Germany are growing. Most of the growth is in the cheaper entry-level segment of the market and in panel vans.

Light and compact vans are all the rage. Major panel van manufacturer, Pössl, has commissioned a new production line and most of the base vehicle manufacturers like Mercedes Benz and Volkswagen have entered the market with their own panel van conversion. These come with all the basic equipment you need for a weekend getaway, but there's an emphasis on aesthetics with lots of shiny surfaces and alloy wheels which appears to be about looking good cruising the city streets during the week. But the hefty price tag suggests they're not targeting the average punter.

Those with a million dollars or more to spend had a few options to choose from including the motorhomes from high-end niche manufacturers like VARIOmobil, that produce only 15 vehicles per year. The eight-metre 'perfect' motorhome comes complete with a classic sports car in a garage at the rear.

Many of the major manufacturers are focusing on their entry-level models where demand is strong. Instead of producing dozens of layouts to appeal to all tastes, they concentrate on the most popular layouts. Brands like Carado have invested millions in lean manufacturing to achieve a balance between price and performance.

There's rationalisation in the mid-range segment of the market as well. Rather than offering numerous upholstery options, customers can personalize their interior with seatback cushions that are zipped in place for a quick and easy change. When it comes to low-cost manufacturing, it was apparent not all were able to maintain the high quality of workmanship.

Gone are the days when you could select the motorhome you want and specify your preferred base vehicle. You can choose from Ducato or Ducato. The Fiat Ducato continues to dominate the motorhome conversion market with 75 percent of the market share. The brand new sixth generation Ducato was rolled out at the exhibition, no doubt to combat an attempt by the Ford Transit to take some market share. As both the Ducato and Transit are front wheel drive, that's what everyone buys.

Some of the latest innovations include wood-free construction. Both Bürstner and Dethleffs are now building a glass fibre-reinforced plastic (GRP) roof and floor. Not only does this reduce weight but also increases the vehicle life as there's no danger of water entering the wood, appealing to those of us in high rainfall climates. I particularly like the new extra-wide cabin door. I was told this was designed, not because people are getting fatter (although I wouldn't be surprised if they were, with the amazing beer and pretzels freely available), but because when carrying anything bulky through the standard cabin door you get snagged. It also gave a greater sense of spaciousness to the interior.

On the exterior, the emphasis continues to be on clean lines – so the multiple utilities most motorhomes have, such as mains power hook-up and water filler, have been rationalised into a single compartment with just one door.

The popularity of canal boat tours has perhaps inspired an innovation for those with a yen to be fully mobile. Your dream motorhome or caravan can now go afloat with The Water-Camper, a catamaran powered by outboard motors that allows you to convert your recreational vehicle into a houseboat.

While the recreational vehicles were fascinating it has to be said that the people-watching was nearly as interesting. The exhibition seems to attract every European and their dog. Some were clearly too tired to walk by the end of the day.

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