“My customers enjoy the simplicity of our vans and not having to drive an eight mile per gallon rig and find a place to park it.”
Anyone who has traveled through Europe may have seen the smart, efficient, and tiny camper vans available to people across the pond. Put niggling jealousy aside, these types of vans are thankfully becoming more readily available to buyers in the U.S. thanks to independent companies willing to experiment.
"We often follow economic functions," Kurt Campbell, owner of Caravan Outfitter, says. "Europe is more densely populated and they do have the higher fuel prices, but I really honor them that they work so hard engineering-wise to keep things simple, but attempt to give more for small size vehicles. They are amazing engineers. America has always had the mentality that bigger is better, but now we are starting to see people asking themselves if they can get by with less. My customers enjoy the simplicity of our vans and not having to drive an eight mile per gallon rig and find a place to park it."
Campbell owns several new car dealerships in Washington that specialize in Nissans and Volkswagens. He started Caravan Outfitter to sell his own camper van design, the Free Bird. The components are placed into brand new Nissan NV200s and feature everything you need for simple, but comfortable camping.
"We take on an assembly line approach, build multiple vans at one time and then retail them to the customer without the customer having to buy a van and leave it behind for a conversion. We are a one stop shop."
The Free Bird design took over two years to engineer and offers exclusive components. The Slide and Glide floor allows the bed, dinette, and kitchen components to be installed by two people in about two minutes. The first component is a storage box that holds a deep cycle auxiliary battery that powers the LED lighting and two USB power ports. The second component is the kitchen box that includes a portable butane stove and a 31 quart fridge that is also powered by the aux battery. The two boxes are connected by the dinette table (complete with two cup holders) and the entire system is topped with wood-backed cushions that make a 54” wide by 76” long bed. The cushions can be folded up to be used as the dinette seating; while the van and the bed only fits two, the dinette can accommodate four people. The Free Bird also has the only screened and vented windows available in a Nissan cargo van. The windows can be shaded with rollup curtains, included with all the vans.
The Free Bird comes in only one layout, but customers can choose their exterior color or a Formica or wood interior. Customers can also order a van with optional batwing awning, rooftop storage pod, or bike carrier.
The NV200 gets 25 mpg, is backed by a 5 year/100k mile drive train warranty and can be conveniently parked in a garage. While it can be converted quickly into a useful cargo van or used as a seating and work area with the table, Caravan Outfitter recommends that the camper van only be driven in the bed configuration in case of an accident.
"My favorite part of the Free Bird is the versatility. In two minutes with two people you can have either a bed, a dinette or a cargo van. Also, we were able to fit a full size bed that uses every inch of the length and the width of the van."
Campbell says that most of his buyers have an average age of about 65 and are "living out their dream", with a van that can also be an everyday driver. In addition, these little vans can seemingly go anywhere. Campbell says that one of his customers took their honeymoon to Banff in a Free Bird, one owner drove cross country, and Campbell and his wife like to take their van to the Cascade Range and to the beach.
“The Free Bird gives our customers a lot of flexibility, much like the old European vans did,” Campbell says.
Christina Nellemann writes for the Tiny House Blog, the Tiny House Magazine and her own camping blog, Tiny Yellow Teardrop. www.tinyyellowteardrop.blogspot.com