AL-KO's Best Aussie Vans 2017: Caravan technology


Studio Engineering Manager Peter Dunlop for GM Holden Australia explains how motoring’s influence played out at BAV.

Pacific -Islander

Having spent a week inspecting our line-up at Best Aussie Vans, Peter Dunlop, Senior Manager Studio Engineering - GM Australia Design, shares his thoughts on caravans today and how automotive trends could influence their design tomorrow. Here’s what we discovered.

ONE VISION

There’s no doubt about it, the way we experience the road is fundamentally changing with cameras and sensors playing a vital role. And, as interest in camping holidays booms, the caravanning industry is seeking out the opportunities.

Man -assessing -a -caravan -at -AL-KO-Best -Aussie -Vans

"Caravans having reverse cameras [like we saw at BAV] is a great step and integrating these into the vehicle screen is even better, as it ensures all information is in the same spot for the driver," Peter explains.

"This is an obvious plus in being able to see objects and people behind the caravan."

But as vehicles become increasingly autonomous Peter reckons the next logical step would be more feedback between their tow vehicle and caravan.

Already, he says, motorists enjoy the benefits of 360-degree vision, full-vision rear panoramic views and parking feedback due to camera and sensor technology in their vehicles.

"A lot of new cars park themselves and adjust the steering position as the technology advances," says Peter.

"For caravans, I could see the next step is parking sensors and radars.

"Currently, the vehicle rear sensors need to be switched off or they’ll keep thinking the caravan is an object to avoid."

If caravans and vehicles work closer together to identify blind zones and assist in reversing and parking, Peter says tow rigs will eventually have the capacity to automatically park a van.

Anti-lock brake systems (ABS) communication is another area in which vehicle and caravan connectivity could improve the driver experience.

"A lot of modern cars have cameras that will detect an imminent crash and prepare the vehicle (by adjusting the airbags and brakes). If the caravan and vehicle smarts were there caravans fitted with ABS could also be prepped," Peter explains.

LIGHTER AND STRONGER

Managing fuel economy is a major challenge for the automotive industry and Peter believes caravan manufacturers can help by investing in aerodynamics, and managing weights in the build and what’s on board.

Dreamseeker -F14-Tomcat

Although pleased to see the overwhelming uptake in solar among the BAV constituency, he wonders whether lighter options down the track will improve mileage.

"In the future, I can see the potential for thin-film solar or even photovoltaic coatings or paints to replace solar panels," Peter says.

Likewise, Peter is optimistic that lithium-ion battery technology, adopted by Roadstar in the Sirius, will eventually deliver weight savings on a larger scale. But he wonders whether the technology is still cost prohibitive.

"As the future sees more vehicles go electric hopefully the costs [will] come down around lithium and be more readily used in more caravans," he says.

Peter is pleased to see some manufacturers like Pacific Caravans are using composite bodies to reduce weight, add strength and insulation.

"Weight is obviously important for towing vehicle options," he says.

The use of composite floors, walls and roofs and lightweight chassis seen in the AusRV Finke as well as aluminium frames and hot-dipped galvanised chassis’ also help to minimise weight.

"To me the use of materials like carbon fibre could help reduce weight and strengthen vans (especially used as part of the composite body)."

Peter believes the cost of carbon fibre could change down the track.

"Yes, carbon fibre can be expensive but again, as the auto sector uses it more, then costs will be driven down," he says.  

IT’S ALL ABOUT AERODYNAMICS

Peter says a focus on aerodynamics or ‘Aero’ will reduce drag on the vehicle and lower running costs now and into the future as automotive needs change.

"Caravans like the Atlantic Endeavour have a chamfer on the leading edge of the van, which would help with Aero. But in the future more is needed, especially as electric vehicles increase in the market, as EV range will be seriously affected by Aero," he explains.

Pop -top -caravan

Peter wonders if fold-out front panels connecting the vehicle to the van will reduce resistance caused by air trapped between the vehicle and the caravan.

"This, coupled with adjustable van-roof heights would also help. This could be taken further with active panels (similar to active grilles in vehicles) that adjust depending on speed. Improvements will come from looking at ways of channelling the air around, under, over or through the caravan and prevent turbulence caused by protrusions/cavities," Peter explains.

Peter also imagines a future where caravans share the driving load.

"Eventually, with the onset of electrical vehicles, the caravan could almost take on an extension of energy contribution," he says.

"If the van had an electric motor with its own battery storage (could also have regenerative braking) then with the right smarts it could talk to the vehicle and contribute to the overall range and power.

"It would need to have its own independent system as running 400V between van and vehicle wouldn’t be practical."

ERGONOMICS AND COMFORT 

Peter says the models he saw at Best Aussie Vans were well thought-out in terms of space, storage and comfort.  

"Being able to move around the environment without feeling enclosed is important. We (GM) spend a lot of times in vehicles looking at occupant seating comfort, in leg angle, amount of cushion, proximity to controls and vision and overall feeling of spaciousness," says Peter.

Colorado -interior

From the perspective of a caravan owner, the ways in which a van’s drawers slide out or doors hinge matter.

"The collapsing table in the Olympic Javelin X8 is easy to use and provides a nice small table for relaxing with drinks and folds out quickly for dinner," he says.

Peter says the Big Red 19ft Ensuite Slide uses space well, providing punters with a spacious kitchen and lounge by placing the bed across the van in a slide-out wing.

"Slide-out steps are good and give the option depending your height," Peter says.

Peter remarked that some interiors vans – like the Dreamseeker F-14 – had very nice finishes and touches like the stand-alone basin. He also thinks the Atlantic Endeavour has a well-zoned and balanced layout.

But overall, the external designs were a very similar and he wonders if a more passionate or exciting exterior, balanced with a great interior space, could shine in the showroom.

One van, the Dreamseeker F-14 Tomcat to be featured in our next edition, has a separate zoned area which opens out and closes off to a large undercover outdoor area that’s quite useful depending on the weather.

Aesthetics with details such as embroidered headrests seen in Roadstar’s caravan or the configurable LED strips on the Dreamseeker models were also noteworthy.

Overall, Peter likes the use of interior strip LED lighting but believes it could be improved upon if the LED sources were concealed to create "waterfall lighting".  

The full feature appeared in Caravan World #571. Subscribe today for the latest caravan reviews and news every month!