First run in 1954, the Victorian show is the biggest RV event on the calendar. This year, inclement weather kept crowds down for the first couple of days, but those in attendance seemed focussed on buying and dealers appeared happy with sales. Most sites had specials, and there were plenty of new models or range updates.
The Melbourne Showgrounds at Flemington are a sprawling complex, so it takes time to navigate all the sites, but it offers several undercover halls and cafes that proved popular in the rain on Friday.
This year the show opened in an Innovation Hub with displays that included new power harvesting technology, Wi-Fi connectivity, lightweight chassis design and a clever Australian-designed inflatable annexe. But winner of the media-judged best stand was Bruder Expedition Vehicles with their stunning offroad campers.
It was Bruder’s first show, and their radical designs had crowds lining up. Despite a reputation for high priced products, I was pleasantly surprised to see their smaller EXP-4 camper starts at around $67,000, in line with other top-class campers. Even their top of line EXP-6 seems good buying when you consider the superb electronic technology and offroad capability.
SYSTEMS ARE GO
BMPro’s SmartConnect is a new Bluetooth system that can be installed as a standard feature or at a later date by customers and can easily expand as new technology becomes available.
SmartConnect sensors show information on a range of Bluetooth enabled screens. The range includes SmartPressure for tyre pressure and temperature, SmartTemp to measure temperatures of internal areas like the bedroom or fridge and SmartSense for accurate measurement of LPG levels in gas bottles.
AL-KO displayed their new hybrid power chassis, allowing use of modular battery packs and drive components. Based on a Fiat Ducato, expect it to be seen on motorhomes as the system rolls out.
Also introduced was a bionic influenced Vario-X caravan chassis that is lightweight but strong for better load carrying and lower overall weight.
On the safety front is the new Tow Assist that should revolutionise caravan safety with a combination of anti-sway and anti-skid braking.
OzX Corp had one of their lithium power packs floating in a tank of water to demonstrate its light weight and weatherproof characteristics. This Aussie company is developing stand-alone systems for vans with enough power to do away with gas and generators. Among other innovations is a hybrid drivetrain for campers and caravans — collecting energy during braking and hill descent, the system will be a benefit on steep and buggy tracks.
Aria’s inflatable annexe system is a simple, quick and easy alternative. Designed in Australia, the modular system interconnects outdoor living and sleeping spaces to safely solve accommodation overflow.
Bos jockey wheels have been around for a while, but their new heavy-duty versions suit larger vans. The system uses an electric drill to operate and, as well as jockey wheels, there are now stabiliser legs that are powerful enough to lift a van above the ground.
Girard introduced an electric caravan awning that closes automatically when a sensor detects sudden movement — useful for those occasions you’re away from the van and a sudden storm passes through.
The Kookabox compact kitchen seemed like an astute answer to those of us who tend to forget the sauce, salt or even plates at a picnic. Packed into a carry box about the size of a 40L esky is everything you need for a BBQ. As well as space for condiments, the Kookabox has a cooktop, small cooler, 5L water tank, frying pan, saucepan and a stainless steel four-place dinner set.
BIG AND LITTLE ARE THE NEW THING
The real action, though, was with the caravans, and with 65 brands and hundreds of vans listed, we had our work cut out to get around to them all. The number of vans on display can be overwhelming, and it’s worth remembering this is the Victorian Caravan Industry show, so most manufacturers are locally based in a state that claims 90 per cent of all vans built.
Apart from the sheer number of vans, two things stood out. The first was the number of big vans — vans over 22ft with a heavy ATM — and, secondly, the number of smaller vans.
Customers for off-grid, offroad rigs are demanding more comforts and self-sufficiency, but I question the lack of research into getting weight down as we head into a brave new world of renewable energy — which is why the Victorian Caravan Industry Association’s emphasis on innovation is so important. It’s great to see companies like AL-KO researching lightweight chassis and OzX Core developing alternative power, but more needs to be done to get van weights down.
JAYCO UNDER THE BIG TOP
As expected from our largest producer, the Jayco stand was a cracker with most of the range, all with updates, there in one form or another. Significant releases were the first Silverline without a slide-out and a Journey with a queen size bed that rises above the club lounge for storage, virtually adding two meters of usable space to the compact van.
Continuing the rugged theme pioneered by the Adventure series is a range of All Terrain vans including a new 15-footer. These offroad capable vans have the ruggedness of the discontinued Adventure range, but with a pared-back list of standard features in a lighter package. Prices are also lighter. The 19ft version now starts at $69,990 compared to $93,490 for the Adventurer, so I expect sales will be strong.
NEW AGE COMING
Rivalling Jayco in the size of their stand, New Age took up most of their hall with overflow outside. The Walkinshaw Group-owned brand is powering ahead with new models in the camper and van sector and has entered the pop-top segment with a flourish. Their range of lightweight Manta Ray’s, from 15–18ft, include a well-designed bunk van. In keeping with their automotive roots, Walkinshaw is now using a four-point testbed as part of their development process to simulate travel over various road conditions and deliver more robust better-engineered products.
THAT’S NOT A VAN. THIS IS AVAN
Tucked away in another large hall was an expansive display of Avan and Golf campers, caravans and motorhomes. I loved the rear entry Aspire 470 pop-top with a 1740kg ATM. A simple and easy to tow van, it has an ensuite, solar and a battery for limited off-grid living.
LOTUS GOES TO HOLLYWOOD
If big's your thing, then Lotus might be the place to find it. Along with an impressive mob of offroad vans, their premium Universal brand pushes the offroad limits. The Hollywood 24-footer is an impressive monster with a lounge slide-out and with a payload of 780kg to take the ATM to 4000kg.
GOLDSTREAM’S WORLD OF POP-TOPS
Along with a couple of mighty Rhino models, the Goldstream contingent showed the depth of their pop-top range including one of my favourites, the 1760 Panther, in a new livery. This mid-size offroader makes a lot of sense for ease of towing and manoeuvring along winding bush tracks. The package included Cruisemaster suspension and a rear cutaway for rough roads and a compact interior that still manages a north-south bed and a combination ensuite.
PIMPED UP PARAMOUNT
Paramount had a couple of bigger vans including a 24ft Adventure with a club lounge slide-out, bunks and a large ensuite. I liked the way both the main bedroom and bunkroom were divided from the living space, but at an ATM of 3700kg, it's a yank-tank proposition to move it around. Equally impressive was their 24ft bunk van/toy hauler combination. The ATM of 4000kg gave a sensible 1130kg payload for a van that will fit a couple of motorbikes in the back. With the bikes removed, the garage changes to a bunk bedroom or lounge/entertainment area with a monster TV.
ATLANTIC GOES SMALL
It was interesting to see a show of vintage caravans from the '60s near the entry gates, and it's remarkable how tiny they are in comparison to the norm of today. So too is the contrast in amenities that Atlantic have been able to pack into the new Weekender series. Their smallest is a 13ft 10in ensuite van with a sensible suite of electronics and an external kitchen. It’s an excellent design and should prove popular amongst those who want a simple van or those with limited storage.
ELITE AND PALATIAL
Are we stretching the language to call a caravan palatial? Well, maybe not if it's the Elite Palazzo. At 23ft and boasting slide-outs for both a leather-clad club lounge and bedroom, the interior space is indeed fit for royalty — better dig a moat around it when you’re parked because everyone will want a squiz. But with two 32” TV’s and a 42” version in the bedroom there won’t be arguments. Some smart thinking keeps maximum weight to 3500kg and considering the fit-out and features, $118,000 drive away isn't a king's ransom.
HITTING THE MOUNTAIN TRAIL
Something is exciting about a country-based RV company that makes innovative and well-engineered products. Mountain Trail design and manufacture with a proud emphasis on engineering and quality. It shows in their LXV 6.2, 20ft 6in of composite artwork riding on independent air suspension. A diesel heater, 480Ah lithium battery with 540W of solar and 3000W inverter and a stunning interior will keep you in comfort and off-grid for as long as you like.
I have always been impressed with the way Regent go about building their vans and the attention to detail in the structural ply frame. The 23ft Monarch has a front club lounge and a bedroom slide that includes a pop-up television — it looked like the sort of van you enjoy for months on the road.
The caravan industry is hungry for new ideas, and it doesn't take long for a good one to be emulated by the whole mob, so how Opal has been able to keep its Tourer Mk 1 220 design to itself is a mystery. This 22ft couple’s tourer mixes an exterior of composite and raised profile aluminium with a smart interior design that makes complete sense. To fit a generous club lounge and a full-width ensuite into a van of this length, they have had to configure the bed in an east-west layout. Most couples would walk away at that news but take a look inside and find that the mattress is about 400mm from the front of the van, leaving room to move around it. An impressive array of cupboards and a small dressing table/desk lines the front wall to give loads of storage.
At last year’s Best Aussie Vans, Essential Caravans wowed us with their value vans, so I was keen to see the new C-Class range. I was impressed by the 20ft 6in with a 3.7t independent suspension that adds a level of ruggedness to the fleet. Matt black cabinetry set against light timber joinery looked stunning, and a decent size dinette and roomy ensuite should attract buyers.
Flying under the radar — well my radar at least — I was surprised to hear that Van Cruiser from Carrum Downs has been around for 10 years and has 600 vans on the road. Builders of bespoke offroad vans with names like Fury, Outlaw and X Machine, they have a lot to live up to, but by the look of them they walk the walk. A fully loaded 19ft 7in Diesel HTO on display came with a diesel water and room heater, and generous lithium power and solar, all riding on a G&S chassis and suspension, and had a 755kg payload
PALACE IN WONDERLAND
The young Wonderland company is backed by years of industry knowledge and a determination to do things right. They specialise in offroad vans, particularly family vans, but the one that grabbed my attention was the 16ft 7in Hornet. Sure, the big Wonderlands, with a mix of striking colours and their sizable impact, pack a punch. Still, it’s good to see they also appreciate the practicality a robust single axle turnout can offer when the mud is up to the axles.
A WORLD OF HYBRIDS
The compact theme lives in boutique offerings from some of the smaller builders. The KaraKamper Freedom is a composite rear entry cruiser capable of being towed by vehicles like a Mazda CX5. It comes with an ensuite and decent offroad cred, including AL-KO Enduro suspension, as well as ample solar and water.
Eco Tourer has a hinged roof hybrid with a sensible tow weight that shows a lot of ingenuity in a moulded fibreglass body. Packed down it looks like a camper trailer but lift the roof and its caravan features are on show. The Hurricane iteration has Cruisemaster suspension and DO35 hitch to get you to where you want to be.
Track is another quality Australian brand with several configurations in their 15ft T4 remote tourer. Depending on options, prices are in the $105,000 to $123,00 range, so they are for serious offroad travel. Riding on a super strong galvanised chassis and their own MC2 independent suspension, the T4 is engineered tough and designed to make the most of the storage space available.
Complete Campsite from the NSW central coast was a long way from home, but their 2020 Exodus 16 is as tough as they come. Riding on 2.5t Cruisemaster ATX suspension, the hybrid has an external kitchen and an onboard shower and toilet. Modern styling and beautifully crafted bodywork are complemented with cutting edge electronics and functional water capacity for remote touring.
BLAZING A NEW TRAIL
Let's finish on the larger end of our big and small theme. The Trailblazer 260 OR hits the tape at 26ft in an outstanding fifth-wheeler setup. I'm told the version on display was built for company owners, but the reaction was so strong at the show, there's a good chance you could talk them into making another. Set up as an off-grid and offroad home away from home, the amount of room inside is remarkable. Sitting at the club lounge with the wrap-around view is enough to convert many caravan folks to fifth-wheelers.
If you are a serious caravan seeker, you wouldn't have much time for other activities, but there were diversions for the rest of the family who may not be so single-minded. In our travels, we saw valuable lessons in caravan towing and working out weight distribution as well as snake and snakebite awareness.
AND THE WINNER WAS — CARAVANNING
It’s no wonder the Victorian show has lasted so long. With thousands of prospective caravan buyers hungry for information, the annual gathering of builders is a valuable opportunity to see the best designs available. Not everyone who attends is going to buy straight away, but the level of support shows ongoing interest that is essential to the future of local manufacturing.