Van life has become such a big trend we're not even sure it's counter-cultural anymore. Actually, it seems like a pretty nice business to get into, whether you're tallying up followers on Instagram or selling van conversions. California's ModVans is one of the latest to do the latter, transforming the Ford Transit into a comfy rolling abode made to wander countrysides, coastlines and cityscapes. The modular van can also convert back to passenger and cargo forms, so when van life has to cede the stage to real life, it can handle daily commutes and errands just as well as it handles open-road adventures.
The Ford Transit doesn't seem to get quite as much camper van love as the Sprinters, Transporters and Ducatos of the world, but Ford does in fact own a 64 percent share of the American motorhome chassis market when you add in larger Class A and C models with Class B camper vans, according to data from Statistical Surveys, Inc. The Transit is also quite young in North America, and Ford is quick to point out that American converters only just got started making Transit campers last year. Dearborn seems confident that the Transit will find its footing on the big wave of camper van enthusiasm.
If ModVans gets its operation up and running, it'll give Ford some help gaining that footing. The startup has built a Transit-based prototype van named the CV1 that looks quite well thought out. It's now trying to get a full-fledged conversion business off the ground.
After becoming disillusioned with larger Class C motorhomes, entrepreneur and ModVans founder P.J. Tezza thought smaller and decided to go with a camper van build. He narrowed his base van choices down to the Sprinter and Transit, choosing the latter based on reviews and ease of serviceability. Specifically, he started with a long-wheelbase (148-in/3,759-mm) Transit with 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 engine.
From there, ModVans got to work making the most of the space inside the van, starting with a rectangular pop-up roof with built-in bed. This roof opens up 6.5 feet (2.5 m) of standing room inside the van.
The CV1 seats up to five on a combination of two front seats and a three-seat rear row with two captain's chairs and a separately mounted middle seat. The rear seats can be set up along the driver side wall in "camp mode," mounted parallel to the front seats ahead of the kitchen block in "transit mode," or removed completely when it's time to haul cargo.
Tezza explains that the rear seats are sourced from a partner company that pulls them out of Toyota Sienna minivans to create wheelchair-accessible conversions. All five seats are upholstered in leather, and the front passenger seat can swivel around to face the rear cabin when parked (because of the rear seating directly behind it, the driver seat does not).
The CV1 has one two-person bed in the roof and a second in the cabin. If you don't mind getting cozy, ModVans rates sleeping capacity at up to four adults and two children.
Because of the design and positioning of the rear bench, the seats don't just fold flat to create the bed, as in other camper van designs. Instead, ModVans has created a removable bed frame that mounts over top the storage modules on either side of the rear cabin, providing a 4 x 6-foot (1.2 x 1.8-m) elevated sleeping space. The folding mattress that slides on top is actually a bouldering pad that you could use outside as well as in. When not in use, the beams of the bed frame break down and store along the driver-side wall behind the rear-row seating. The mattress stores atop the passenger-side cabinet.
The kitchen is located on the passenger side of the cabin, holding a dual-burner propane stove and a sink with high-arched, residential-style faucet. The cabinet below can be used for storage.
The long storage cabinet behind the kitchen houses the 85L compressor fridge/freezer and 10-gal (38L) fresh water tank. When you pull the folding mattress off, the top of the cabinet serves as a large worktop. While much of the interior of this rear cabinet is taken up by the water tank, refrigerator and wheel well, ModVans says you can still find room for a large backpack or duffel bag.
We wouldn't necessarily expect to see bathroom facilities more formal than a portable toilet tucked under a bench in a camper van like this, but ModVans has built out a toilet closet in the rear. A two-wall partition works with the van wall and passenger-side rear door to create a private bathroom space around the full-height portable toilet with 6-gal (23L) black water tank. The toilet room can be accessed through the outside load door or from an inside door. The portable toilet can easily slide off its floor mount, and the bathroom walls can be removed just like the other RV equipment inside so you can easily ride without the bathroom, saving the extra space for cargo.
The rear of the driver side fills out with another storage module and the electronic control panel.
Modularity is such a big part of this camper van, that Tezza puts it right into the name of his company. All of the camper components and structural pieces are secured with removable fasteners so that everything can be pulled out, leaving a five-person van with plenty of cargo space. The rear seats can also remove, leaving an open cargo van. ModVans' structural components use aluminum and plastic construction for lightweight, easy handling and sturdy performance, both inside the van and when being moved in and out.
ModVans keeps the interior comfy with a 7,000 BTU propane heater and 10,000 BTU electric air conditioner. The electrical system with house battery and 2,000W inverter powers up electric appliances, keeps the LED lights on, and lets occupants plug in everything from mobile devices to power tools. The vehicle alternator charges the battery when the engine's running and supplies power to the roof-mounted A/C to keep rear passengers cool during hot rides. The A/C unit also includes a 1,500W, 5,000 BTU heater, which ModVans says can be used in place of the larger propane heater on cool (not cold) nights when hooked to shore power.
The CV1 prototype has its inverter inside, but ModVans plans to mount it on the underbody on the production version, which is where the 10-gal gray water tank, heater and 10-gal propane tank are. This change will keep the interior clear when you remove the camper modules, an advantage for hauling cargo.
The CV1 will come standard with Ford's 275-hp 3.7-liter Ti-VCT V6, six-speed automatic transmission and limited slip differential, and buyers will be able to upgrade to the 310-hp 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6. It will also include an infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Ford does not offer a 4WD system on the Transit, but ModVans will offer a $13,000 aftermarket option for the CV1, adding a more off-road/all-weather-ready camper spec to the lineup.
ModVans has put about 17,000 miles (27,350 km) on its CV1 prototype, camping out in rain, snow, wind and pounding sun. For those interested, it's put together a nice summary of experiences, problems and fixes.
With all that testing under its belt and a production vision laid out, ModVans is currently working to raise money on Indiegogo, offering the van to backers at special prices between US$60,000 and US$71,000, locked in via a 10 percent reservation pledge. Each pledge level is limited to between one and 10 people and represents a significant savings off the estimated retail price of $85,000. The campaign doesn't have any pledgers yet, but it will only take one to jump it up to its modest $6,000 goal.
Options will include a 300W solar system and a 4G/LTE signal booster for better cellular performance out on the open road.
We've seen a lot of modular, multitasking camper vans in Europe, where the Bett Mobil and SpaceCamper LightOpen roam the roads, but not as many in the United States, where people still tend to let massive Class A and C motorhomes sit idly in dedicated parking spaces beside their homes for months and years on end. ModVans joins Wayfarer Vans and several other newcomers in bringing new modular camper van solutions to the US market. It's nice to see a move toward smaller, more practical motorhomes that can be used throughout the entire year - camp with the CV1 in the summer, drive the kids to sports in spring and fall, and use it to haul supplies for your winter home remodeling project.
P.J. Tezza does a very informative walkthrough in the video below, showing all the ins and outs of the CV1, demonstrating how various equipment works, talking about why things are laid out the way they are, and discussing some of the planned changes between the prototype and production model. The video runs about 22 minutes, but it's worth the watch if you're interested in this van or camper van solutions in general.