VW designers pen a tiny house for the iGeneration
Let’s manage expectations right up front for the rabid aficionados of vintage Volkswagen campers—this baby ain’t slated for production, and even if given the green light, it’d be a long shot to be exported to the States—even the state it’s named for. That’s because VW has yet to climb on the Transit/ProMaster/Sprinter bandwagon and homologate the Crafter Transporter commercial van chassis this concept is based on. But the thing is so cool and filled with such clever space utilization features that it captured our attention on the Frankfurt show floor.
Note also that this is not a Westfalia product, springing instead from VW’s own internal design department, some members of which must live in tiny apartments and hence be well acquainted with the multipurpose furniture biz, as it’s chockablock with clever touches aimed at doing more with less. Although it’s tiny as a house, it is B-I-G as a vehicle, based on the Crafter lineup’s middle (143.3-inch) wheelbase. Its pano-sunroofed ceiling measures taller than the standard Crafter high-roof, at 114.2 inches. It also features a permanent bump-out at the rear, cantilevering the rear bed about 10 inches beyond the rear bumper (drivers might want to parallel park this one with a spotter).
Climb aboard through the sliding side door, and you’re in the kitchen/dinette area, which features a pop-up table that the front seats can swivel around to face. The kitchenette features two 1.8-cubic-foot fridges and gas range burners that recess to be flush when not in use so that the area can be used as a work surface. A spice rack holds jars magnetically to reduce rattles. Dividing the dinette from the bedroom is a clever bathroom with a fold-down sink over a toilet. You enter by pulling the inboard wall out along with its own floor—like a drawer—then sliding a pocket door closed behind you. The whole space becomes a shower if you like, using water heated by an onboard boiler. The big side windows in the back open and offer integrated slide-up screens and slide-down shades.
A picnic table folds up and stows in a slot under the dinette floor, sliding out of the step as you enter. Two folding camp chairs stow behind the rear-cargo-compartment hatch. The space inside that hatch is also accessible from under the bed inside. Come bedtime, the missing section of mattress in the back deploys from its stowage spot under the section behind the bathroom to form a bed that measures roughly 6.5 feet by 4 feet. A couple of kids can sleep up above the front seats and dinette area by sliding the back half of the mattress rearward on tracks and installing a small extender that gives one taller kid a bit more headroom or legroom. The main bed here measures just over 5 feet by 4 feet.
A decidedly modern touch is the tablet and app control of all the interior ambient lighting (including closing the skylight shades) and the infotainment systems, which include a projector TV in the back bedroom.
The California name originated on a line of VW-based, Westfalia-upfitted camper vans starting back in 1988 and continues today on VW-produced campers built off the T5 Multivan platform—itself a descendent of our late, lamented Eurovan. (DaimlerChrysler purchased Westfalia in 2001, marking the beginning of the end for VW-Westfalia campers, and Chrysler wriggled free of Daimler before building the Routan for VW, which might explain why we never saw pop-up camper versions of that van.)
Probably about the best we Yanks can hope for is that Mercedes and Westfalia are taking notes and planning to deliver us something equally cool to look at and use based on a Sprinter van.