I admit it, I Like camper vans. I want a camper van, but family aren't so keen on the idea. Recently, to satisfy my camper van passions, I went to meet our local camper van dealer - though he calls them "recreational vehicles".
Summer is coming and over the next few months, the highways and byways of France will be clogged with motor homes on the move. The camper van has become an increasingly popular holiday option over the last few years. Gone are the days of the cramped combi, some vans are palaces on wheels that boast master bedrooms and fully fitted kitchens. Recently, I nipped down to my local recreational vehicle dealership, Inter Services Loisirs in Bourges,(www.inter-services-loisirs.fr) and talked to owner Philippe Gaudry about the camper van phenomenon.
Why do you sell camper vans?
Because they’re brilliant. I’ve been selling vans since 1987 and my parents started selling vans and caravans back in 1968. It’s a family tradition and a family passion.
How much does a van cost?
For a fully equipped van – all mod cons – you’re looking to spend anywhere between 40,000€ to 60,000€. This might sound expensive. For 40,000€ you can get two half decent family cars, however you have to look closely at camper van economics. To start with, whereas you might pay off a loan on a car over 3 or 4 years, loans for camper vans run over 10 to 12 years. Camper vans also have a far slower depreciation rate than cars. If you sell your van, even after years, you’ll still recoup 50% of the initial cost. You also have to consider the price of holidays. Imagine that you take the family a couple of weeks self-catering by the sea for ten or twenty years. In high season, a holiday flat can for a family of 4 can cost over 1500 Euros a week. Over time the cost is higher than that of a camper van. If you add mobility into the holiday equation, the camper van is a clear winner.
What do I get for my money?
Apart from mobility and freedom, you get a luxury home from home. For 40,000 Euros you get a fully fitted, two to three berth, transit-van sized camper van. For 60,000 Euros plus you get a fully equipped four to six berth model.
What about second hand vans?
A fully refurbished two to three berth van will set you back about 20,000 Euros. If you think that older vans will be cheaper though, think again. A fully restored 60’s or 70’s Volkswagen dormobile or combi will set you back almost 50,000 Euros. Vintage vans are big business at the moment
Size is a problem. There are many towns in France that have banned large camper vans.
True, some towns have banned very large vans, however they always lay on special facilities, specific out of town sites equipped with water points and recharging points. Such is the life of the modern van owner though. You just have to accept local byelaws on vans. Of course if you are consigned to the far flung edges of popular destinations, you can do what many van owners do – sling the family bikes, or even a scooter in the in the hold for on the spot transport.
Who actually buys camper vans? Is there such a thing as a typical client?
There is no such thing as a typical camper van buyer. Everyone wants a van for a different reason. I get anglers, cyclists and sports enthusiasts of all sorts who buy vans so they can attend weekend competitions all over France. I have quite a few seniors – they buy the big vans – some retirees spend as much as nine months of the year touring France and living in their van. There are also clients, who either out of choice, or for professional reasons buy a van as a permanent home. More and more people are living in vans nowadays.
There was a camper van boom a few years ago, how are sales nowadays?
True, from about 2005 to 2008, there was a real boom in sales. I think people looked long and hard at holiday economics and decided investing in a camper van was a viable, holiday option. Families go away for shorter periods now. A week by the sea, or perhaps a few weekends over shorter distances. Camper vans are ideal for this. Since 2008 sales have fallen off, but I still sell enough vans to make a living.
What about camper van trends?
Small vans are getting smaller and big vans are getting bigger. As we mentioned, many towns have banned the larger vans, so there is a call for smaller two berth vans that can park overnight in town centres. These are very much vans for weekenders. At the other end of the scale, family vans are getting even bigger. These are the kind of vans you might live in for a month by the sea – veritable mobile homes on wheels. Prices on holiday lets are going through the roof and large vans now offer the same, if not more luxury than most self-catering flats, and they are your home. You’re going to see more and more large vans on the road this summer, most of them towing small cars.
What about your holidays?
In the van of course. Winter and summer, whether we’re heading for the ski slopes or the beach, we always go in the van.
Van Words and Facts
In French, camper vans (or motor homes if you prefer) are called camping cars. Professionals however prefer to call them véhicules de loisirs. In 2011, there were an estimated 200,000 vans in France. Van owners are referred to as campingcaristes. The typical campingcariste is around 55 years old and spends an average of 53,000 Euros on the purchase of a van. 97% of campingcaristes spend their time touring France. The average stopover in any one place is 36 hours. Excluding official campsites or campings, there are just under 6000 fully equipped stopover sites or aires de camping cars in France where owners can park for a maximum of 48 hours.
For more camper van info, you can consult the French camping and caravan club website
For a full list of camper van friendly sites and stop overs with full facilities
Inter Service Loisirs