Thor Motor Coach explores new roads with solar-powered, multi-sport camper van
Best known for huge, highway-hogging motorhomes and travel trailers, Thor Industries became the world's largest RV manufacturer when it purchased Germany's Erwin Hymer Group earlier this year. Now it's showing a little bit of city-friendly European camper van sensibility with the Sequence concept, a loaded Ram ProMaster adventure van with solar power, mobile connectivity, sporty Thule accessories and even a slide-out dog bowl.
Class A motorhomes and large travel trailers continue to rule American campgrounds, but smaller camping vehicles have started to carve out more of a niche in the market. Millennials have become a driving market force and have shown a preference for smaller campers, while retiring baby boomers are moving away from large family campers and downsizing to smaller options.
At the same time, the RV industry is trying to reach a new generation of buyers that enjoy outdoor recreation and other compatible leisure activities but aren't yet using an RV to access them. In totally reworking the annual National RV Trade Show, the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) created RVX in hopes of reaching an estimated 30 million Americans who currently enjoy an RV-compatible lifestyle without the RV. Bringing that number of new buyers into the fold would quadruple total ownership.
"If we embrace new ways to build, market and service our products, if we support our customers at every turn, if we innovate, excite and attract new consumers to our diverse outdoor lifestyles, the future of the RV industry remains bright," RVIA president Frank Hugelmeyer said in his opening RVX address last Tuesday.
Thor Motor Coach currently has a sprawling lineup of Class A and C motorhomes but not a single Class B camper van. With the Sequence concept, it explores that possibility, designing a van that has obvious appeal for the type of RV-adjacent outdoor enthusiasts the RVIA hopes to get into dealerships. The van also features a full technological suite sure to appeal to younger, tech-savvy buyers, from its 7-in driver infotainment center with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, to integrated 200-watt solar charging, to a Winegard ConnecT 2.0 4G LTE Wi-Fi router.
The Sequence finds its legs on a 251-in (638-cm) Ram ProMaster 3500 with 280-hp 3.6-liter Pentastar V6. Outside, the gray paint makes the ProMaster about as attractive as it gets, while the Thule roof rack, rear bike carrier and retractable awning add the air of adrenaline-fueled adventure.
Inside, Thor lays the camper out in what it designates the 20L floor plan. Quite similar to the Winnebago Boldt Q70 KL we looked at earlier this week, this floor plan carries a wet bath with closet just inside the double rear doors, housing a pair of right- and left-side beds of staggered lengths just fore. Unlike the Boldt KL floor plan, the Sequence's beds double as dining benches on the sides of two removable tables. As another dining/workstation option, each swivel driver cab seat is accompanied by a retractable table.
The Sequence's two individual beds can combine into a full-width single bed. Adjustable cushions easily switch between lie-flat sleep and slightly upright TV-viewing positions, and the driver-side sofa includes integrated seat belts and cupholders for the ride. With no pop-up roof or dinette to convert, this van overnights as a dedicated two-sleeper.
The kitchen block fills the space between the driver-side bed and driver seat, bringing the usual sink, dual-burner stove and under-counter refrigerator. It also includes a microwave, which for some reason seems to be of the utmost importance to American RV manufacturers/buyers — even the smallest, simplest trailers at RVX seemed to have them.
The Sequence also includes a fully equipped electrical and technological suite. In addition to the aforementioned solar charging and Winegard router, it has a television up over the passenger-side sofa/bed, a convenient pop-up kitchen electrical socket, and a BMPro Rapid Camp+ digital command system with touchscreen, physical buttons and smartphone app control. The concept van also includes a generator, but Thor said at RVX that if it decides to pursue production, it might go the generator-free, lithium battery route, much like Winnebago has done with the Pure3 system included on the Boldt.
Other onboard amenities include a Girard hot water heater/furnace combo, 11,000-BTU air conditioner, Fusion Sound-Panel audio, and a slide-out pet-feeding tray integrated into the step from driver cab to camper cabin.
Thor is sticking with "Class B concept" for now, using RVX and the after-show reaction in deciding whether to pursue production. The van did have the look and feel of a production-ready camper to it, and the timing seems quite right for Thor Motor Coach to launch a model below its current B+ (small C) motorhomes.
With the Hymer acquisition, Thor Motor Coach parent company Thor Industries now counts one of Europe's largest and most respected camper van manufacturers as part of its RV empire. That's a pretty big advantage when approaching the energized American camper van market. Thor talks about European inspiration all over its Sequence marketing, including a mention of the glossy, Italian-sourced cabinetry.
The Hymer acquisition added another wrinkle that should work in the Sequence's favor. Prior to the February 1 deal closing, suspected fraud was discovered at Erwin Hymer North America, the Canada-based Hymer branch that's been bringing camper vans like the Carado Axion Studio and Hymer Aktiv 2.0 Loft to the North American market. That caused Thor to carve the North American arm out of the deal while moving ahead in purchasing Hymer's European operations, essentially leaving Hymer NA to wither on the vine. Weeks after the deal closed, Hymer NA filed for receivership, terminated around 900 employees and shuttered its Cambridge, Ontario plant, as reported by the Toronto Star.
Before that scandal-fueled spiral, Erwin Hymer North America held the second-largest share of the American Class B market in 2018 with just under 29 percent, according to Statistical Surveys Inc. Roadtrek, the brand Hymer purchased to establish a footprint in North America, previously enjoyed a long run as the number 1 Class B manufacturer before being passed in 2015 by Winnebago, which held 40 percent of the market in 2018. Thor Industries, meanwhile, lagged well behind with just under 11 percent, through the camper vans it sells under the Airstream brand.
Long story short, there's a big chunk of the market dangling there for the taking, and we don't suspect the world's largest RV manufacturer will sit idly by while others divvy it up.
Thor Motor Coach's vice president of product development Jon Krider said that if the van does come to market, it will likely price in under US$100,000. Perhaps it could move farther away from the all-too-common six-figure price tag and downmarket toward the sub-$70,000 Pleasure-Way Tofino — even if that means (gasp!) leaving the microwave at home.
If you have the interest and time, the 26-minute video below provides an in-depth Sequence tour, diving into some additional details.
Source: Thor Industries