Base 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 motorhomes 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.
Chassis 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
chassis version where the entire rear portion is replaced by a special
motorhome chassis that offers a lower floor,
better insulation and better
handling 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.
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
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 - 3½t. 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).