For more than 60 years, Volkswagen has allowed some very clever and talented engineers to transform its basic bus or van into its iconic Camper. For many, the VW van and its better outfitted Camper sibling evoke a wave of nostalgia from hippies and peace signs to wholesome family trips in those halcyon days when people actually had time to vacation as a family and Route 66 beckoned millions to the promised land: California.
In das vaterland, the name “California” must evoke the very spirit of the outdoors, adventure and freedom. Think camping in the Yosemite Valley or surfing on Malibu Beach. The Germans must really love it here because, for the past few years, the VW Camper has carried the proud name California. And in typical VW form, the California Camper is not available in California or any other of these United States.
Volkswagen hasn’t sold the Camper in the US since the 2003 model year. The Touareg SUV replaced the Camper in 2004. Ugh.
Since then, a cottage industry has sprung up around buying, selling, restoring and loving these rare manatees. VW’s CEO, Martin Winterkorn, says VW is looking to fill niches in the US market; but so far, the braintrust in Wolfsburg and it’s American minions don’t think Americans will buy enough California campers to justify the cost of certifying and importing them to the US.
There is also the obstacle of the high price. For example, in the UK, a new California starts at £40,000. At current exchange rates, that’s around $60,000; but my experience is that when comparing UK and US car prices, pounds often equal dollars.
But here’s some evidence of US supply and demand. Recently, a nice 2002 Eurovan full Camper with only 56,000 miles was listed on Poptopheaven.com (located in Yucipa, CA) for $39,700. The fully-loaded price of a new 2002 Eurovan camper was $42,000. And that price wasn’t an anomaly. I’ve always had a secret desire for a German bed on wheels so I’ve followed these prices for years. They are hard to find, particularly in good condition, and even examples 20 years old sell for as much or more than their original sticker price. So there is definitely a niche market for this German Swiss Army Knife of campers.
Unfortunately, instead of selling a US version of either the Caravelle (the current name for the VW van) or the California in the US market, VW went with the cheap, rebadge option of partnering with Chrysler to turn a Town & Country minivan into the moribund Routan. Through November 2010, despite heavy subsidies and expensive marketing campaigns, VW sold only 14, 714 units. I guarantee that if VW sold its own product in the US, sales of the Caravelle van alone would easily exceed that number.
I mean does anyone want a VW badge on a Chrysler-built vehicle? We know how well the shot-gun marriage of Daimler Benz and Chrysler went. There was a very unhappy divorce. Is there any reason to believe VW would fare any better? No.
I thought I’d torture myself by checking out the California on VW’s UK website. Here are some marketing highlights and pictures.
Take one Volkswagen California. Equip it with a two-burner hob, kitchen sink and 42-liter cool box. Mix in two chairs and a table that folds away neatly into the tailgate. Then top it off with an optional awning for some alfresco dining. There you have it. The recipe for a perfect holiday in the great outdoors.
The new California’s high tech, innovative interior gives you maximum flexibility, ensuring escaping is easy, whether you want to follow the surf or the sun, or take to the open road and sleep where you like.
Seating: Luxury front seating gives you all the support you need, to the side and below. Each fixed-height seat has two armrests and swivels through almost 180 degrees.
Combined Cooker and sink. Fire up the two-burner hob with Pizeo-ignition and you’re ready to cook. Wash up with the removable bowl in the high-grade steel sink and fold everything away under the glass top.
Flexible worktop: When you need some extra space, just make use of the moveable worktop which is suspended from the kitchen unit and rests on a single-fold-down leg.
Sleeping and Pop-up Roof: Four people can sleep very soundly in the Volkswagen California. The rail system moves the back seats smoothly and converts into a bed measuring 114 x 200cm (45 x 78 in). And at the press of a button, the electro-hydraulic roof pops up to reveal a double fold-out bed. The high quality mattress opens on its slatted frame to a generous 120 x 200 cm (48 x 78 in). So when the night-time comes, simply relax in the knowledge that you’ll be ready for the adventures tomorrow brings.
Rear gas bottle cupboard: You can tuck away a 2.8 kg bottle (about the size of a propane tank for your BBQ) of camping gas in the California’s rear cupboard. It’s just another way of saving valuable space.
Upholstery: Inside the California there’s a choice of comfortable yet hard-wearing seat upholstery that’s ready to face your next adventure.
Performance and Safety features:
Safety: As well as an Electronic Stability Program (ESP) that adjusts power to the wheels to help avoid under and over steering, the California also comes with ABS, EDS, ASR, MSR, and hill hold assist as standard. 4Motion all-wheel drive is available.
Airbags for driver and passenger with passenger airbag deactivation. Front and side air curtains.
Engine Specifications and Fuel Consumption: The California boasts a selection of TDI common rail engines that let you pick the ideal power band for your needs. There are four to choose from; each engine is quieter and more fuel-efficient than ever before, and all comply with Euro V emission standards. And every time you make a gear change you’ll save even more pennies, thanks to our 7-speed Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG), with gearshift indicator technology as standard.
The largest engine is a 2.0 liter TDI. It’s good for an average 29 mpg. Not bad considering the front drive Camper is a heavy boy – 3,000 kg or 6,614 lbs. Zero to 60 is a glacial 12.4 seconds with a top speed of 117 mph. But hey, when you’re on holiday in a VW Camper, savoring the Great Outdoors at a slower pace is part of the charm.
The California’s not just heavy, it’s big all over:
Key Dimensions and Capacities:
Wheelbase: 3000 mm; 15 ft 1 in
Length: 4892 mm; 16 ft
Width: 1904 mm; 6 ft 3 in
Height: 1995 mm; 6 ft 7 in
Turning Circle: 11.9 m; 39 ft
Fuel tank capacity: 80 liters; 21 US gallons
So there it is my friends, another great product, modeled on the California lifestyle, desired by many and available to no one in the U.S. market.
Contact Mr. Browning to complain and ask VW to import the California:
Volkswagen of America, Inc.
2200 Ferdinand Porsche Dr
Herndon, VA 20171