Trailers, RVs, camper vans – all those vehicles that double as a place to eat and sleep – have a slightly unfair reputation for being aesthetically challenged, appealing only to the budget traveller. Granted, it would be rather surprising to find a well-heeled Bay Street executive milling about a trailer park, but a recent trend in the industry toward million-dollar motorhomes hints at a shift in clientele.
Whether it's the $925,000 Articulated Dream RV with a slick minimalist exterior and a floor plan that includes two bedrooms, two bathrooms, full kitchen and living area, or the $1.8-million Volkner Mobil Performance RV that can store a Ferrari in its mid-section, there are plenty of options nowadays for the elite road-tripper. So who, exactly, fits into this demographic?
It might be the Queen of England, who went "glamping" for a day last November in an Approach SE 760 motorhome nicknamed Mavis. Or it may be Victoria and David Beckham, who are rumoured to own a $400,000 RV that lets them escape the celebrity spotlight to take quick jaunts around California. Or it could be Tori Spelling, who was filmed a few years ago on her reality TV show taking her family across the United States to visit their former nanny on the east coast.
"I'm not sure how it is in Canada, but in Europe, if you tell your friends you're going on holiday with a camper van, they'll ask, 'Oh, was it a bad business year?'" says Stephanie Volkner, co-owner of Volkner Mobil, which is based outside of Düsseldorf, Germany, and makes custom-designed luxury RVs. "But the attitude is slowly changing, and I think our vehicles are helping in that regard."
It's the European manufacturers and designers, in fact, who are largely behind this push toward high-end motorhomes. Along with Volkner Mobil's RVs and the Articulated Dream, which is commissioned by U.K.-based Visibly Loud, there's also Marchi Mobile, an Austrian company that sells the ultra-futuristic eleMMent palazzo, which starts at $1.9-million.
The 510-horsepower palazzo offers 30 square metres of living space plus a 20-square-metre roof-top terrace. The entire lounge area elevates at the push of a button to transform into a bar. There is a warm-water heating system that keeps the floors nice and toasty, a "cockpit-style" driving area with spherical windshield and, as a final touch, a red carpet on the stairs leading inside. According to the official brochure, "You can go wherever the sun takes you, but all the while outshine everything." They aren't kidding.
This particular RV, it should be noted, is geared toward a specific gender: "We started with the concept in early 2010," says lead designer Mario Marchi, "and the goal was to build a mobile home combining all the things men like – motorsports, yachting and aviation – while giving it a royal ambience.
"Our clients are all affluent, mostly male, and they want something extraordinary," he adds. "We get performing artists, business people, sports celebrities – and we tailor-build each model to their individual needs and wishes. They usually just choose a few materials, colours and what-not, but we've redesigned entire floor plans before, and even had a couple of requests for bulletproof vehicles."
This doesn't surprise Piers Donnelly of Visibly Loud, who has been dealing with celebrities in the motorsports industry since the late-1990s and now sells the adaptable, customizable Articulated Dream. He explains that what lifts an RV to million-dollar status has less to do with the volume of amenities but rather the intelligence behind its design.
"I think of the Articulated Dream as a mobile cosmopolitan apartment, where you have this high-end feel in an area that doesn't exceed 60 square metres," he says. "Its popularity has to do with the layout."
He describes how a typical RV in the United States has an entry door in the front, leading straight into a lounge area with a sofa or two, then a dinette and kitchen, followed by a bathroom and bedroom. But most of Donnelly's clients don't want guests sleeping on sofabeds or relieving themselves next to the eating area, so the Articulated Dream rearranges everything while adding an extra bedroom and bathroom.
In Canada, swanky motorhomes with custom designs aren't as prevalent, but there's a growing demand for on-trend decor. Sarah Figley, a 27-year-old grad student from Saskatoon, has been RV-ing with her family ever since she was a child. Recently, her father purchased a brand-new 35-foot-long Forest River Sierra travel trailer for about $65,000 and it's a significant upgrade from before.
"It has all the bells and whistles," she says. "Oak cabinets, two air conditioners, a full stand-up shower, two queen beds, black and stainless steel appliances, tan furniture – it's very modern. I find that, for the most part, the newer models of RVs are all finished very nicely, so you can get marble floors, granite counter-tops; they're as fancy as a finished apartment in downtown Toronto."
Figley makes a point of clarifying, too, that vacationing with a motorhome isn't as low-budget as most people assume – RVs that can fit entire families tend to cost a fair amount, whether the client is renting or buying, and gas costs add up quickly, too. "We get 10 miles to the gallon (23.5 litres/100 km), I think, so if we go from Saskatoon to Canmore and back, you're talking about $1,000 in fuel just for the weekend. Plus if you stay at campsites, they usually cost at least $50 per night."
Because of these costs, Figley more often encounters wealthy vacationers who appreciate the free-spirited aspect of RV-ing than anyone she would label "trailer trash."
"There are a lot of misconceptions," she says. "A decades-old trailer that's being lived in 24/7 is one thing, but when it comes to new RVs built for vacation purposes, standards just keep improving."