Currently reading: How to build the ultimate value campervan
Inspired by recent kite-surfing adventures. We let our imagination run riot to create the perfect SUV antidote
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5 mins read
26 March 2020

I recently spent a week kite-surfing in Sicily. Needless to say, I was about the oldest person at the kite-surfing centre and was surrounded by incredibly fit and healthy looking youngsters. 

Actually, they looked a lot like the people I see in the videos that we’re shown during the press conference at the launch of a new SUV or crossover. I’m not sure I have too many of these events left in me. If it’s not a load of twaddle about how fast the latest SUV is around the Nürburgring, it’s a fantasy land of young people buying £35,000 crossovers. Youngsters who are most likely either saddled with student debt or haven’t actually got around to learning to drive. 

The kite-surfing beautiful people in Sicily did have vehicles, as do those I’ve seen in Cornwall and North Devon. More accurately, not cars but vans. Either they have old Volkswagen Californias or other conversions such as Devons or a van they’ve converted themselves. Or possibly a works van they’re allowed to use on the weekend. I also went climbing in the Lake District and in the Alps last year and it was the same story: vans everywhere. So Hyundai, Kia, Toyota and everyone else who’s been selling me the dream of young windswept and interesting people buying your vehicles – sorry, they don’t. 

But they might buy the vehicle that Autocar’s Ben Summerell-Youde and I have been busy creating. Ben is extremely talented with the crayons, young and, most importantly, has what my friends in the car company marketing departments refer to as a ‘young active lifestyle’. He is also the owner of a VW T3 Multivan Syncro

Our plan is remarkably simple: we are going to do a Dacia. Literally. We’re going to take the current Renault Trafic, which was launched in 2014 and will presumably be replaced or at least facelifted fairly soon, and turn it into a Dacia campervan. Just as Renault does with the Dacia Duster and Sandero, we’ll be fitting powertrains that will meet current and impending emissions regulations but that might not be state-of-the-art or to the highest specification in power or sophistication. Our customers won’t mind because they’ll be coming from old clunkers. Something that has a long warranty and is brand new will be thrilling enough.

Before we start on the mechanical specification of our wonderful vehicle, we need a name for it. And here it is: the Dacia Sandman. Now, Australian readers will be about to email us pointing out that a Holden pick-up from the 1970s was called the Sandman and came complete with a psychedelic sticker on its tailgate. I shall have to get my legal department to look into the trademark issues. But for now you’re looking at the new Dacia Sandman. 

We start with a short-wheelbase Trafic. You don’t need anything bigger and an LWB is a pain to park. A high top is nice, but it means that some car parks are out of bounds. And, of course, we’re trying to keep the cost of the Sandman as low as possible. It is the body detailing, rather than its length and height, that are more of an issue. The Trafic is available with barn doors or a tailgate. The latter has one fundamental advantage: it gives you an extra covered area outside the van. I’ve seen (on a van in Chamonix) a simple but effective curtain system that clips to the tailgate and forms a tent-like structure, which enables you to remove filthy clothing, or a sandy wetsuit. 

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Glazing is a tricky one. We want security but also some natural light. I’m thinking smoked glass in the one sliding door that the van will have and then glazing on the offside of the vehicle and in the tailgate itself. It could come down to a matter of cost and, if it is expensive, we might offer the glazing on the tailgate as an option only. 

Now to the interior, starting in the front. This is where the real Dacia philosophy will come into play: what is really needed by the customer? Certainly no infotainment or multimedia. Our customers have all that on their smartphones and don’t want to pay for it twice. 

A cleverly designed phone holder will be fitted to the dashboard and owners will be able to buy a cheap insert for it that fits their phone. A simple digital radio will be standard, as will Bluetooth. Air conditioning, but not climate control, will also be fitted. I suspect that fitting wind-up windows would cost more than simply using the electric window system from the Trafic. If it’s a cost saving, then wind-ups it is.

The really challenging part of the design of our Dacia Sandman is the rear area. One thing’s for sure, the Sandman will not be fitted out like VW’s California or Mercedes-Benz’s Marco Polo with luxury kitchens, cooker, sink and numerous wardrobes. I borrowed a Marco Polo last year for one of the climbing trips and, although it was wonderfully comfortable, there was barely enough space for all our kit. And outdoor old farts with over-ambitious adventurous lifestyles (like me) carry a lot of clobber. 

Many summers ago, I lived for a year in a splitscreen VW bus in Australia. We carried a couple of 20-litre water containers, a plastic bowl for washing up and cleaning teeth etc, and slept on a mattress that was laid on a homemade wooden bed frame that could be folded away. The only impractical bit about that van was the half-height bulkhead that separated our living space from the front of the van. The Dacia Sandman won’t have a bulkhead at all. 

For the less practical or imaginative owner, we’ll offer some option packs such as the curtain device for the tailgate, a gravity shower and possibly what in modern parlance would be referred to as ‘storage solutions’. Anything else that you might need for a camping vehicle we’ll let the customer buy for him or herself. 

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Ben has been in charge of exterior design. We’ve got to have a few sticker packs, of course, and some lively graphics. Steel wheels will be standard with one or two cheap alloy alternatives. No Sandman will come without a spare wheel. White with grey bumpers will be the base Sandman suit, but we’ll have a choice of very bright and lurid colours as options. The magnificent lime green used on the current Trafic will be one of them. 

We’re nearly there, we’ve just got to deal with pricing and, of course, the launch of the Dacia Sandman to the world’s press. Our target price for the basic Sandman is £15,000. Financing will be available. What more could you want?

This article was originally published on 28 July 2019. We're revisiting some of Autocar's most popular features to provide engaging content during these difficult times. 

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Comments
16

28 July 2019
Night need some translation, but the pictures speak for themselves:
https://www.forumrulote.ro/topic/7044-de-la-autoutilitara-la-campervan/?page=4

28 July 2019

Nice looking van. What are the projected sales volumes and development costs? Also how did you arrive at the £15k price and how does this compare with the budgets that your target market has to spend?

I suspect that this will struggle to sell because as you rightly pointed out, your target market already has access to a van for work or else is using a van bought for under 5k because that's what they can afford.

If you wanted to disrupt the market a budget pickup would have been a better place to start. It would need to be a clean sheet design as Dacia consider the costs of construction and development as central to their value offering - which is why they didn't go down the route of building obsolete Clios but cars based on older Clios.

The pickup would need to be a double cab in order to double as a daily driver and a significant towing capacity to appeal to the farm market which makes the project financially viable, although a 1.5 light pickup might be an option if the business case stacked up.

28 July 2019
SamVimes1972 wrote:

Nice looking van. What are the projected sales volumes and development costs? Also how did you arrive at the £15k price and how does this compare with the budgets that your target market has to spend?

I suspect that this will struggle to sell because as you rightly pointed out, your target market already has access to a van for work or else is using a van bought for under 5k because that's what they can afford.

If you wanted to disrupt the market a budget pickup would have been a better place to start. It would need to be a clean sheet design as Dacia consider the costs of construction and development as central to their value offering - which is why they didn't go down the route of building obsolete Clios but cars based on older Clios.

The pickup would need to be a double cab in order to double as a daily driver and a significant towing capacity to appeal to the farm market which makes the project financially viable, although a 1.5 light pickup might be an option if the business case stacked up.

 

Vans make a lot of sense but I do think pick ups are under used as camping vehicles.

But surely you’d need a bed of 2m or so in length so it could turn into a, um, bed?

28 July 2019
I would like one in left hand drive please. Nearly bought a new VW California Beach in Germany. Insanely expensive.

28 July 2019

My Favourite type Campervan is Volkswagen vans. Second Mercedes. I wouldn't mind Renault & Peugeot.

28 July 2019

nice car ever

28 July 2019

It does amuse me that ads and videos for new SUVs always feature young and exciting people, whereas in reality, its their parents and grandparents that are attracted to this type of vehicle.

28 July 2019
I quite like the idea of this as an alternative to the SUV's & even more practical. I was very tempted with a Traffic/Vivaro crew-cab but the age condition I could afford was a bit too abused.
I do hope you've sent this idea off to Dacia uk as they're not going to do a grand Duster this could be a way to go larger for less development costs.
Styled similarly to the Sandero Stepway priced at £15-20k depending on specs I could be tempted.

28 July 2019

How about spending a couple of grand on a used car and some of the difference on renting something with brick walls and a slate roof ? ( ruuning water, electricity, sanitation,etc ) Just an idea. Rather than sleeping in a van. A van.

28 July 2019

Love the green too, floats my boat and I’m 55!

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