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Next-gen campervan previewed with more space, hybrid power, improved kitchen and a second sliding door

The new Volkswagen California concept previews the “future of the camper van”, showcasing a raft of extensive upgrades that will feature on the seventh-generation model which launches next year.

Based on the Volkswagen Multivan, the concept was revealed at the Caravan Salon trade fair in Düsseldorf. Its near-production form showed off significant changes – such as a plug-in hybrid powertrain shared with the Multivan – that will be introduced to the campervan as it moves over to VW's car-derived MQB architecture. 

The concept shares the Multivan’s plug-in hybrid powertrain, which pairs a 148bhp 1.4-litre petrol engine with a 114bhp electric motor, for a combined 215bhp, and draws EV power from a 13kWh battery - which should give an engine-off range of around 25 miles. 

One of the big updates to the Ford Transit Custom Nugget rival – itself revealed this week – is a second sliding door, which resolves a key grievance for current California owners in right-hand-drive markets because the outgoing T6.1 model only opens on the right-hand side, which can complicate kerbside drop-offs.

Vw california concept side awning

Having the pair of sliding doors also allows for the kitchen – with larger worktops, a hob, a cool box and a sink – to be accessed from outside the vehicle for the first time. This gives owners “the feeling of more living space”, the brand says. Built-in extendable awnings give a further increase to this living area.

The concept brings with it modern touches including colour-adjustable LEDs that light up the cupboards and the awning arms to “bathe the vehicle’s terrace” in light. A removable camping light is also fitted. There's even a built-in shower that attaches to the boot's open hatch.

But the key feature – one that the brand says makes the concept “the ideal camper van for the modern age” – is a new removable tablet device. This controls “all of the features relevant for camping”, such as raising the pop-up roof and providing information on the fresh and waste water levels, the interior lighting functions, power supply status, refrigerator and auxiliary. It can even be used to watch movies and television.

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Vw california concept control screen

The California Concept also benefits from its Multivan sibling’s flexibility. This includes the ability to vary the interior layout with easy-to-move lightweight chairs – the T6.1’s rear bench has been replaced by three individual seats – and tables, and there’s a fold-out double bed. Like its predecessor, the California Concept gets rotating front seats and the traditional pop-out rooftop sleeping area, with space for another two to sleep.

The Multivan’s platform means the standard California is the biggest it's ever been, growing in overall length by 412mm to 5304mm and in width by 40mm to 1941mm.

Volkswagen california concept rear seating area

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That extra size offers more living space, comfort, safety and flexibility, its maker says. It is expected to be called the Multivan California, given how closely related the pair will be.

The increased size also opens up new storage possibilities. Much of this is because the Multivan uses an electronic parking brake instead of a manual handbrake, leaving space for drawers and a removable dry-composting toilet in the space left behind.

Production of the next-generation California will begin at Volkswagen’s Hanover plant in Germany next year, the firm confirmed in a statement. When it arrives, prices are expected to open at a significant premium over the T6.1, which starts at £61,322. For reference, the Mercedes-Benz V-Class Marco Polo starts at £83,490, while the Ford Transit Nugget is priced at £76,027.

Volkswagen california concept bed folded down

As for the long-awaited all-electric California based on the Volkswagen ID Buzz, Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles CEO Carsten Intra confirmed in March that this will arrive in 2025. 

Speaking at the company’s annual press conference, he said: “We want to expand the range around the business with our camper models and offer what people really like in our products - what we call the ‘California feeling’.

“It includes digital services for the California community, new services to complement the purchase of a vehicle and the presentation of a new California vehicle based on the Volkswagen Multivan. This is what we are planning for later this year.”

Will Rimell

Will Rimell
Title: Deputy news editor

Will is a journalist with more than eight years experience in roles that range from news reporter to editor. He joined Autocar in 2022 as deputy news editor, moving from a local news background where he cut his teeth.

In his current role as deputy news editor, Will’s focus is with Autocar and Autocar Business; he also manages Haymarket's aftermarket publication CAT.

Writing is, of course, a big part of his role too. Stories come in many forms, from interviewing top executives, reporting from car launches, and unearthing exclusives.

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gagaga 25 August 2023

So too big to fit in a a supemarket parking space which was part of the original appeal for practicality when touring, and with a moronic, unnecessary detachible tablet (£1200 replacement plus £557(+vat) dealer coding).

Oh, and £20k more than the last one.

Sulphur Man 27 August 2023

It's 1941mm wide, so it fits in the supermarket parking space. A VW Touareg is 1984mm, It's less length than most pick-ups, which dont seem to have a problem with supermarkets either. 

I'd take this over a permium SUV. Far more useful, and the sliding doors make parking spaces more palatable. 

If you want moronic, this leaves the ID Buzz with no purpose, other than a cutesy people carrier with an unsustainable price. 

Boris9119 25 August 2023

Oh the irony of a VW California camper van, a vehicle that is not sold in California, or anywhere in the USA for that matter. Shame, it looks pretty decent.

d79m 24 August 2023
I dont understand all the hate for the plug in? Surely the whole point of these is that you can use them as a daily driver if need be, so surely they will be doing alot of local drives and not just big journey's? And the whole 'only 20ish miles on a charge' surely just look at it as 'that will power all the appliances for a long time when you cant plug in'. These will be so much nicer to drive not being based on a van and with the auto surely they will be used even more as an only car
gagaga 25 August 2023

Most electric cars have the drive battery isolated from the standard car battery.  They use a separate traditional battery for all of the ancillary/equipment stuff.

xxxx 25 August 2023

A phev camper van makes so little sense, they're not inteneded for short 20 mile hops so after that 20 miles the next 100 miles to the next camp site means you're carrying 80 or so kilos pointlessly, especially as they're not usually used round town. And that's before you realise you're 7k down.

If it wasn't for the tax advantage they wouldn't exist at all.