August 23, 2006 We’ve written about massive all-modern-convenience off-road motorhomes such as the DRACO and Wothahellizat but we’ve never seen anything quite like the Innovan for efficiency. The fibreglass camper shell is light (about 500 kgs unladen), extremely strong and very versatile. It can be fitted to any conventional tray-back ute or modified dual and king cab chassis and will open out like a Swiss Army Knife (movie) inside 30 seconds (movie here). When configured for travel, the aerodynamic shape of the camper minimises wind drag and the cross-wind problems usually associated with campers and vans, and the light weight means that when attached to a four wheel drive, it can go just about anywhere (pics inside the story prove this). The ingenious design offers one of the most versatile rigs we’ve ever seen, because you just jack up the air suspension, put some legs in place once the van is off the tray, you have the convenience of a normal ute. Innovan is seeking international distributors and licensees for the design.
Welby Davidson, who runs Innovan in Toowoomba, Queensland, said the project started several years ago when he designed the first Innovan to meet the special needs of a couple who want a camper that can take them almost anywhere in comfort.
“For a few years my wife Marg and I had many enjoyable trips in what became a prototype version,” said Davidson. “The interest it created was so amazing that we decided to go into production.”
“My son Neil, an industrial designer, then took over the project. He gave the camper a more efficient aerodynamic shape and came up with a range of ideas to better integrate its amenities.”
The Innovan camper sleeps two in single beds or a Queen bed. It can have both internal and external kitchens, dinette, fridge/freezer, shower, toilet, air-conditioner, TV, water tanks, generous dust-proof storage compartments and more. A tough, extendable, folding awning can be put in place in a couple of seconds to offer outdoor shade and weather protection.
Before being released, the Innovan campers underwent more than 20,000 kilometres of arduous testing in extreme conditions on Fraser Island, Cape York, the Simpson Desert and the roughest tracks in between.
The trailer version of the Innovan was also involved in this test. Innovan uses air-bag suspension to make on/off exercise a breeze. Davidson found that by replacing the coil spring suspension on vehicles like the Nissan Patrol cab chassis with a full air suspension, he can make camper loading and unloading very easy.
“The original camper had four extendable steel legs to enable it to be self-supporting when separated from the vehicle. To remove the camper it had to be jacked up above the vehicle tray using a winding mechanism in the legs -- a relatively slow process. Then I heard of the unique benefits of airbag suspension.”
Mr Davidson contacted Airbag Man who explained that an On-Air full air suspension with on-vehicle controls could instantly raise or lower his Nissan Patrol’s tray enabling it to be driven away from under the camper.
“With the airbags fitted, I don’t even need extendable legs. I drive the rig onto a flat surface, attach a set of legs and lock them in place before deflating the airbag suspension to drop the chassis and tray. Then I just drive away from under the Innovan before reinflating the Nissan’s air bags. To reload the camper I simply reverse the procedure.”
Davidson has discovered other benefits of the On-Air suspension. “At river and creek crossings I maximise the vehicle’s clearance by inflating the airbag suspension. I also raise it when negotiating deeply rutted tracks or in rocky, off-road conditions.
“On good open roads I drop the rig down to lower the centre of gravity and improve the ride,” he said. “This also increases safety and handling characteristics of the laden vehicle. Another major advantage is that, with the airbags, it is just a matter of pressing a switch to quickly level the unit for cooking or sleeping”
Airbag suspension also has been fitted to the new trailer version of the Innovan.
“With on-vehicle controls we can increase or decrease the trailer’s clearance at will to clear water or obstacles that you find all the time in remote areas of the country. It’s a real plus for serious touring,” Mr Davidson added.
“The premium quality Firestone airbags used in both systems are fully adjustable. By simply adding or removing air, owners can maintain their vehicle’s height under different loads and optimise ride, performance and safety.” Vehicles can be fitted with in-cab controls and on-board compressors enabling drivers to dial the ideal suspension setting for the road conditions without stopping.
The Innovan comes in four models currently, with the top of the range Voyager costing AUD $35,000 (USD $27,000 or EUR 21,000), the Rover AUD $30,000 (USD $23,000 or EUR 18,000), the Crusader AUD $25,000 (USD $19,000 or EUR 15,000) and the bottom-of-the-range Trader AUD $20,000 (USD $15,000 or EUR 12,000).
Those prices come without the van of course, and prices range from a two wheel drive chassis for under AUD $20,000 (USD $15,000 or EUR 12,000) through to a top of the range Toyota LandCruiser for AUD $50,000 (USD $38,000 or EUR 30,000).
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