There's a new breed of Volkswagen Group camper van roaming around, and it's the MAN-liest one yet. Volkswagen's big truck, bus and engine brand entered the light-vehicle market last year with a VW Crafter twin called the TGE. While the new van is aimed at the same business-and-industry folks that drive MAN's heavy truck business, the company is exploring the leisure vehicle market possibilities with a pair of rugged 4x4 camper van concepts. Are we seeing the birth of the next great European camper conversion platform, complete with baked-in 4x4 option?
MAN certainly isn't a complete foreigner to the world of motorhomes. The company points out that it showed its first "weekend car" nearly a century ago. Its trucks have also been used for some of the biggest, baddest motorhomes on the planet, including the Unicat Md77h 6x6 we looked at not four months ago.
The camper van market is a different ballgame, however. While MAN has plenty of experience with heavy-duty machines, the van market was new territory when it began producing the TGE last April. It's stuck largely to what it knows, marketing the "truck among vans" to courier services, professional trades, construction outfits, logistics businesses and the like.
It was actually this type of work that convinced MAN to let its in-house Bus Modification Center loose on two camper van concepts revealed at this month's CMT show. It began within the framework of a dual-use van that could haul loads while also housing the crew overnight, eventually recognizing and exploring the potential for the recreational van market. The concepts seem more a showcase of the BMC's ability to build specialized vehicles to customer specification than serious proposals for production camper vans, however.
Still, each of the two models looks pretty good in its own right. They're both built with off-roading in mind, featuring 4x4, increased ground clearance and wide off-road tires. Each is driven by a 174-hp 2.0-liter diesel engine and based on a standard-wheelbase TGE with high roof.
The white model with zebra window wraps features the more traditional camper van layout of the two, with a pop-up roof, kitchen block, rail-mounted rear seat, washroom and rear bed. This one is a full-time globetrotter with permanent furniture installation, the model for folks (or companies) that have space in their driveways for a permanent motorhome.
The blue van shows a more flexible conversion, reworking the idea of a modular daily driver/holiday camper van split that's become increasingly popular lately. This concept could be thought of as a daily worker-come-weekend getaway van. Its lighter camping furniture layout removes, clearing the cargo area for 9-to-5 work duties or weekend trips that entail large equipment like bikes or hot air balloons.
For adventure trips that run more than a single day, the owner can drop in the camping furniture and load bikes, boards and other equipment between the side benches using the integrated ramp. At camp, a middle mattress panel combines with the two side benches to create the longitudinal bed. There's also a kitchen block and plenty of cabinetry for storage.
"We want to demonstrate our competence and experience in the individualization of vehicles that above all in classic B2B business is based on the modification of coaches for commercial customers," Heinz Kiess, senior sales and marketing manager at the BMC said when MAN introduced the concepts earlier this month.
So it doesn't look like either camper van is heading to local MAN dealerships anytime soon. But hopefully an aftermarket conversion shop like Westfalia will try its hand at transforming a TGE 4x4 (or front- or rear-wheel drive, if they must) into a proper camper van. Until then, we're still plenty happy ogling MAN-based exploration machines like this Action Mobil – or the four- and eight-wheelers here.
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