In this carbon-sensitive era when counting greenhouse gas emissions is commonplace, it’s not always easy to declare yourself a fan of recreational vehicles.
Small vehicles are in and the pendulum is swinging to recreational pursuits that are easy on the planet. In the collective mind set, the RV is often seen as a gas-guzzling throwback to the age of bigger-is-better.
And, unfortunately, the RV industry is still introducing models that fuel that perception.
At the recent RV Salon in Montreal, there was no escaping the “sport-utility RV,” because it is so huge and it draws crowds of tire-kickers. Up to 11.9 meters (39 feet) in length, these SURVs feature a swing-down rear wall that can be lowered to the ground and used as a ramp to run an all-terrain-vehicle up into the vehicle’s interior so the RV and ATV can travel together.
But, fortunately, the industry also offers alternatives to the SURV and bus-size motor homes that clog up the roads every summer. These are smaller, lightweight units often outfitted with solar panels or powered by diesel engines.
The show-stopper among this year’s greener offerings at the RV show in Montreal was a made-in-Quebec camper called Alto.
It’s a teardrop-shaped trailer whose skin is made from a single sheet of aluminum. One distinctive feature is the retractable roof that opens up the trailer’s interior to a comfortable height. Made by Safari Condo, a family-controlled company in the Beauce region, the aerodynamic Alto can be hauled by compact cars or small SUVs.
“We wanted to create an ultra light travel trailer with the lowest possible drag ratio,” explained company spokeswoman Dominique Nadeau.
“The weight of a trailer is important but when you are driving 100 km/hr on the highway, weight is not what is holding you back … the wind is really trying to stop your car.”
Safari Condo, which also produces camper vans, tested three shapes before settling on the teardrop-shape. The patented electric retractable roof offers an interior heightof 2.08mor82incheswhile introducing light to the interior via a crescent of tinted tempered glass windows.
The first model, the Alto 1713, was unveiled in 2007, followed the next year by a model with a shower integrated in the toilet stall. These models are 5.26 meters in length and 2.11 meters wide and can be pulled by cars such as the Toyota Camry or Ford Fusion.
Introduced as a prototype in 2009 was the Alto 1733. With a slightly narrower interior -by 41 centimetres -and slightly lighter -by 38 kilograms over the 1713 -it was designed so it could be pulled by a compact car such as a Honda Civic or Toyota Corolla.
The price for an Alto starts around $24,000 and can reach $30,000 for a unit that is fully equipped with solar panels and air conditioning.
The base price includes a built-in sink with a glass lid that can be used as a work surface, a king-or queen-size bed in the back and a guest bed in the front of the unit. The units also come with a fridge, stove and pedestal table.
Flexible solar panels that lie flat on the trailer’s roof are optional on all models. One panel provides 68 watts; two panels provide 138 watts.
“With two solar panels, you are fully autonomous. You don’t need to plug in anywhere with that,” Nadeau said.
As much as possible, the company uses local products. The “eco-intelligent” fabric used for the Alto’s seats and cushions are from a local company and are chemical-free and recyclable, she noted.
The genesis for the 12-year-old company was the family’s love of campervans which, “are great in the city and great in the wild,” she explained.
The first Safari Condos used 16-foot General Motors chassis and in 2000 the company expanded the line to include 18-foot and 20-foot chassis. This year, the company has launched production of a new series that uses a Mercedes chassis and diesel engine.
The company, which employs about 50 people at two plants, “can’t keep up with the demand” for Alto trailers, Nadeau said. About 90 per cent of their Alto sales are for custom orders. Last year, about 75 units were produced and this year’s goal is 125 units. i
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RV ing a green way to go
The coalition representing much of Canada’s RV industry, is also trying to focus on the greener side ofRV s. GoRV ingCanadacites its 2008 study in which a third party compared the total carbon dioxide emissions of RV vacations with those that involve flying, renting a car and hotel stays. It found that for a family of four, RV vacations had a smaller carbon footprint.