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Base Vehicles
 
 

2007-on Ducato Load Platform Chassis-cabBase Vehicles??   Yes it's a slightly odd concept to newcomers.  The well known motorhome manufacturers like Autosleepers, Hymer, Swift, Bessacar and the like aren't really vehicle builders at all but rather coachbuilders or 'converters'.  So in practice they buy in standard motor vehicles from Peugeot, Fiat, Mercedes, Ford, etc., and convert them into Chassis Cabmotorhomes and motorcaravans.  These standard bases are all light commercial vehicles - mostly vans and van chassis - supplied complete or more often as 'chassis cabs' or 'cowl cabs'. The Boxer is very popular in the UK while Ducato is the big seller in Europe - even Germany. And both chassis are made in the same factory in Italy along with the Citroen Relay.

Ducato 'Siamese Twins' as delivered to some convertersChassis Cabs & Cowl Cabs    These are just vans without the van!  There are several variants that we don't need to worry about but that might just interest us as motorcaravanners The one illustrated above is a platform chassis cab as supplied by Fiat and used as a base for many 'C-class' motorhomes. There is also an 'Alko' chassis version where the entire rear portion is replaced by a special motorhome chassis that offers a lower floor, better insulation and better Ducato Cowl Chassishandling albeit at extra cost.  Some of these vehicles are delivered from the factory with just front wheels and a stub chassis, bolted together in pairs - a truly remarkable looking beast!  Photograph right.  Chassis cowl cabs are stripped down even further with no cab at all but still including the controls and usually the dashboard, these are converted into 'A-Class' or 'Integrated' motorhomes as they are known in Europe.

Brands    Each marque has its own advantages and disadvantages and indeed dedicated followers.  In practice though you'll have a far greater choice of motorhomes if you're not too fussy about which base vehicle they come on.  Converters will be more interested in bulk prices, internal widths and even the positioning of obstructions and fixing points than the brand image of the manufacturer.  Some interior layouts will allow a choice of base vehicle If buying new but others may not. 

The main players in this market are Peugeot-Fiat and Mercedes-VW.  Chassis Cab - RWDBrand dominance varies somewhat from country to country but Fiat appear to be very strong throughout most of Europe, even in Germany, due in no small measure to good prices, wide bodies and strong engines.  Peugeot seem to be dominant in the UK.  Mercedes seems to be the brand of choice for the upmarket models while VW are king of the smaller vehicle market.  Renault have recently become very strong especially in France where the Citroen version of the Boxer-Ducato was traditionally the favourite. There are some models based on the rear wheel drive transit but relatively few in comparison with the others mentioned, the newer FWD Transit is becoming much more popular - not because FWD is better but because the rear floor/chassis is free of all the drive mechanics and so allows more flexible motorhome design. Mercedes may be set for growth in the market with a just announced Al-Ko rear wheel drive chassis option from 2007 onwards.

It is not unusual for first time buyers (especially men!) to concentrate on the base vehicle itself but this really can be something of a mistake because you'll probably spend more time living in your motorhome than driving it!  I don't doubt that if there was a BMW branded motorhome it would sell like hotcakes even if it was rather impractical and difficult to live in - but do cast these ideas aside and go for easy living instead!

MOTs etc.  This apparently simple issue has become a lot more complicated since the arrival of larger motorhomes with 'garages' and typically with a gross weight of more than 3 - 3t. Perhaps surprisingly a motorhome over 3.5t is classified as 'Private Heavy Goods' (PHG) and so carries extra 'goods vehicle' responsibilities including special performance tests for older folk. In addition there is now a test classification 'living vans' in which things like scooters and small cars in garages are deemed to be goods and then make the motorcaravan liable to HGV plating - every year from new. This is a difficult subject but there is a good summary of the issues involved on a colleague's website here (click to open a new window). 

 

 
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