Editor’s Note: The following is a blog by Mary Catherine O’Connor on smartplanet.com reviewing a concept camper built for Toyota’s hybrid Prius that was unveiled at the Tokyo Auto Show.
At the Tokyo Auto Show, you’ll find all manner of pimped aftermarket concepts, and this year that includes a Prius converted into a camper van. We’re not kidding.
OK sure, plopping a mini-home atop a compact car that’s all about efficiency might not be the most efficient idea. There will be some, uh, extra drag and weight. No question. But there are some reasons this idea could have some currency.
• Hook-ups. The prototype at the auto show is based on the third generation Prius. But if the folks who hatched this concept (an outfit called Campinn, according to Carscoop, but the only Campinn I can find is a maker of teardrop trailers) want to make it more feasible, they’ll quickly camper-ize the plug-in Prius Hybrid. This way, the valuable proposition is much more favorable, since drivers could save some serious gas money on a long road trip. RV resorts have been catering to plug-in vehicles for decades, in the form of juice (free with the price of admission) for conventional RV’s power systems. Now, RV parks are starting to cater to EV drivers, specifically.
• Comfort. As a generation of maturing outdoors lovers (i.e., Baby Boomers) age, they’ll be increasingly less inclined to sleep on the ground. Many will also be less able to afford monster RVs, thanks to the intersection of higher gas prices and less secure nest eggs (pension? what pension?). A hybrid or fully electric (once EV technology improves) compact campers might be the perfect fit. Plus, the ubiquitous retiree poodle will still fit on the dashboard.
• Inspiration. This Prius camper might be a bit of a koo-koo krayzay idea, but it could get automotive designers thinking in the right direction. For decades, camper vans provided families a way to take vacations to far-flung parts of the country, seeing national parks and other natural wonders along the way, without breaking the bank. Those days are over. But, with smaller families and an increasingly strong focus on smaller, efficient vehicles, the time is right for more eco-friendly campers.
Have van will travel. That’s the way Pat Ryan sees it when it comes to renting a van camper.
“This is just a very happy medium between going out camping and roughing it and getting a big RV,” said Ryan, a 45-year-old furniture mover from San Francisco.
Last summer, he and his wife, Doreen, rented a van from Lost Campers (www.lostcampersusa.com) in San Francisco to attend a three-day reggae festival, according to the San Mateo County Times.
“They are small,” Pat Ryan said of the Lost Campers van they rented. “But if you have two people, you are good to go.”
Renting a van can indeed be less costly than renting a towable or larger motorized RV when it comes to costs for the actual rental expense, plus associated costs for gas and campground fees.
Another company, Redwood City-based California Campers (www.californiacampers.com) rents out Volkswagen Westfalia vans, which have built-in stoves, sinks and refrigerators.
Daily rates for Lost Camper vans range from about $40 to $50 while rates for vans rented from California Campers are about $100 a day. Daily rental rates for standard-size RVs are also about $100 a day. However, Lost Campers and California Campers throw in 100 free miles a day while free mileage is typically not included in RV rentals. The prices don’t include the actual cost of buying gas.
Van camping is meant to be an affordable alternative to other recreational vehicles, said Emma Thomson, co-founder of Lost Campers. Australian natives, she and her husband, Nick Thomson, opened Lost Campers in February 2008.
While a small market in the United States, van campers are a popular way to take a road trip in Europe, Australia and New Zealand.
” If people are worrying about their finances, this is giving them an opportunity to go out and have fun,” she said.
Lost Campers, which started out with six vans, now has a fleet of 17 vans. Rentals include linens, a propane stove, an ice chest, kitchen supplies and a picnic table and chairs that can be set up outside for meals.
“It’s giving a bit of extra comfort and security. We say it’s the most comfortable tent on wheels,” said Emma Thomson.
Customers can rent a van that has seating for two and a two-person built-in bed. Or they can rent a van with seating for five that sleeps two. Lost Campers will provide a tent for an additional fee to accommodate those who don’t sleep in the van. Or you can bring your own tent.
“We have had many families and groups of friends travel this way and they have had a great trip,” she said.
Van campers can indeed be an alternative to other recreational vehicles, said Alice Zyetz, who writes for www.rvlifestyleexperts.com.
“The van would be a good alternative if you want to travel on the cheap or it’s just two people,” said Zyetz.