VW Multivan California plug-in camper spreads wings as future smart RV
Thirty-five years after the original Volkswagen California made its debut, VW is preparing to preview the future of the California brand with the all-new Multivan California Concept. The new camper van will leverage the versatile T7 platform toward becoming a smarter, cleaner option for the next generation of freedom-seeking road trippers. The concept promises to sleep the family with its pop-up roof layout and offer connected control via a removable tablet command center.
While Volkswagen camper vans had already existed for decades, it wasn't until 1988 that the one called "California" debuted at the Caravan Salon, held in Essen, Germany at the time. Three and a half decades later, Volkswagen will preview a "new generation of the California camper van" at this year's Caravan Salon in Düsseldorf. It will show its first T7 Multivan camper package as a preview of a production camper it plans to start building in Hanover in 2024.
Volkswagen plans to build on the 209-in (530-cm) long-wheelbase T7 Multivan's versatility with its camper concept, ensuring it remains as functional as an everyday MPV as a holiday camper van. We expect that will mean a lower bed that sets up over the folded rear seats, similar to the currently available Good Night package but this time coupled with the pop-up sleeper roof shown in pictures. That layout will ensure enough sleeping space for a family of four, unlike the last addition to the California family, the small two-sleeper Caddy camper van without a pop-top.
Further helping the concept's dual-purpose MPV-camper design is its confirmed plug-in hybrid drive. Added as a powertrain option when the T7 Multivan debuted in 2021, the 215-hp eHybrid offers up to 31 miles (50 km) of all-electric driving per charge of its 13-kWh battery, providing clean, zero-emissions commuting in town and around the campground. Unlike a pure-electric van, however, it also offers the greater all-out range and gas-pumping flexibility of a 1.4-liter engine, making it a more natural partner for road trips.
Volkswagen also teases the concept's touchscreen command center in the form of a removable tablet. That tablet will keep track of things like onboard battery power and tank levels and offer control of features such as lighting and refrigeration. While a removable tablet will help Volkswagen stress the intelligent flexibility of mobile app control, we'd expect the production van to lose that feature in favor of an app for owners to use on their own mobile devices and a fixed in-van touchscreen. Or at least that's the path VW went years back when moving the 2017 California XXL concept to production as the Grand California, adding a fixed color touchscreen on the T6.1 California a year later.
The T7 Multivan already offers some serious flexibility, so it will be interesting to see how Volkswagen uses that to its advantage in designing a camper. The van comes complete with five rear seats, each individually mounted to the floor rails for flexibility and easy removal. There's also a multipurpose storage console that features cupholders, integrated storage space and dual wings that serve as a table.
Volkswagen mimics those dual table wings on the outside of its Multivan California Concept, giving the camper a pair of side awnings. While it's typical for a camper van to have one awning, the pair of awnings is something we don't usually see. In this case, the spread wings highlight the Multivan's dual sliding doors, which carry over to the camper.
California campers like the T6.1 and T6 have only a single sliding door on the passenger side, with a solid wall on the driver side dedicated to the kitchen block. Two doors will free up more flexibility in getting in and out of the van but might lead to a smaller kitchen, new kitchen location or removable kitchen modules.
That's all the details and speculation we have for now, but the Multivan California Concept will make its debut in just three weeks' time. This year's Düsseldorf Caravan Salon opens to media and industry on August 25, the day before the public opening, which runs through September 3.
It may be Volkswagen's own Multivan, but the automaker is well behind the aftermarket in making it a camper. We've already seen a number of other Multivan conversions and camper kits over the course of 2022 and 2023 from German camper van companies, and this year's Caravan Salon will likely host some others.