Caravan design is a non sequitur. They may offer flexibility and freedom in travel, but caravans make little in the way of a style statement. Often perceived as a quintessentially English activity, the best caravan design arguably comes from the US in the shape of the space-age aluminium Airstreams, which date back to the 1950s. Since then there’s been little progress of design note within the industry. The ubiquitous cream box has taken over and even enthusiasts concede that designs are outdated.
According to the Caravan Club technical manager Martin Spencer, ‘Between 1985 and 2007, design changes have been negligible. Manufacturers have been a bit inward-looking and have lacked the will to break boundaries or approach design from a different perspective.’
In a bid to encourage a greater focus on design during its centenary celebrations this year, the Caravan Club played host to a Caravan of the Future design competition. The winning entry, entitled Cargo S, has interiors designed by Paul Burchill of Bristol-based architect Stride Treglown, with an exterior designed by Hervé Delaby of Concept Cad Studio.
Cargo S features clean, modern interiors – think curves, open-plan spaces, bunk beds and colourful, contemporary upholstery – and an exterior modelled on the fuselage of an aircraft, that is both aerodynamic and aesthetically pleasing. While the club’s prototype is blue and white, Delaby’s initial concepts were gentle olive green and creamy pink and they incorporated aluminium trim.
Delaby says his caravan design was inspired by a childhood spent travelling with his father, who was an aircraft engineer in the French air force. ‘My inspiration came mainly from the aircraft my father flew,’ he explains. ‘The body of the caravan, the shape of the windows, the entrance door, the slide-out bedroom and the extended rear deck are all associated with my admiration for classic cargo planes. The Citröen 2CV was part of my design research too and the coloured, external curve of the caravan pays homage to it.’
Wayne Hemingway, who was one of the Caravan of the Future judges, describes Cargo S as ‘cool, modern, aspirational and head-turning’. ‘It takes caravan design into the 21st century without destroying the intrinsic qualities of a traditional caravan,’ he adds.
Yet, to date, no British manufacturers have expressed interest in developing the concept and Spencer is pessimistic about its chances. ‘I’d be very surprised if it made it into production,’ he says. ‘Certain aspects of its style and function might get picked up, but there’s an element of fear among manufacturers. Some companies don’t want to take a chance on something so radical.’
If so, UK manufacturers may find they are left behind. Finnish caravan manufacturer Solifer-Polar has recognised the sector’s limited appeal to a younger audience and dipped its toes into the design world. It has appointed Swedish visualisation studio Vizualtech to create a series of concepts designed to appeal to younger consumers. Vizualtech director Bo Zolland, whose background lies in motor boat and racing car design, used cues from these sectors in his work.
‘I compared the caravan to a motor boat. It’s another leisure industry and the costs of entry are about the same,’ he says. ‘It’s not cheap to buy a caravan and if you’re going to spend that much on a hobby it has to be well-designed, or younger audiences aren’t interested.’
‘Look at the styling of a modern car,’ Zolland adds. ‘People choose a car to define who they are and any extras need to suit the car. No one wants a boring 6m box dragging behind them,’ adds Zolland.
Vizualtech introduced a new material – a lightweight carbon fibre – to reduce weight, and tinted plastics to add colour and style. Zolland has incorporated metallic and pastel shades and created a black-and-chrome option that ‘looks a little meaner than your average caravan’. His smallest version targets young snowboarders and features a huge front window to allow them to watch the action on the slopes and a travelling height low enough for it to be transported by train.
Zolland believes caravan manufacturers have failed to take into account changing lifestyles. ‘Younger people want something that looks good and is easy to use. They’re probably using it over a weekend rather than a long summer holiday and they want plenty of light and space to entertain friends,’ he says.
Spencer acknowledges that this sector has potential. ‘People who enjoy active outdoor leisure activities, everything from mountain biking to fishing and canoeing, are a big, untapped sector,’ he says. ‘They’re looking for smaller, lighter caravans that are easier to tow and store.’
One welcome development, meanwhile, is the UK launch this year of Airstream’s classic Silver Bullet, available in two models, which now meet UK and EU vehicle compliance.
Spencer believes social trends are likely to be the factor that finally drives change in the sector. ‘In the future we won’t be able to have huge cars towing big caravans; congestion charging, road pricing and environmental issues have to be taken into account. That may force a radical rethink in construction and the materials used,’ he says.
As frequent flying becomes less socially acceptable and local holidays are seen as the environmentally friendly option, the market for caravans could well take off. Manufacturers would do well to invest in clever design if they want to reap the potential benefits.