Trakka Road Tests
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Explore Outback Queensland's Legendary Pubs!
Image: Tourism & Events Queensland 1. Step into a Time Capsule at North Gregory Hotel, Winton Known as "Australia's Queen of the Outback," the North Gregory Hotel is not just a pub; it's a living time capsule. Imagine the echoes of the first public performance of "Waltzing Matilda" in 1895 and secret meetings that took place in the hotel, that locals met to form a small airline called QANTAS in the 1920s. Even President Lyndon B. Johnson sought refuge here during World War II. As you explore, don't be surprised if the ghostly resident, Edgar Peters, plays tricks on you. Grab a coldie, soak up the stories, and step back in time with a wink and a smile! Image: Tourism & Events Queensland 2. Embrace Neon Oasis on the Matilda Way at Blue Heeler Hotel, Kynuna If you spot a glowing blue and pink neon sign while traveling down the Matilda Way, you're being summoned to the Blue Heeler Hotel , established in 1889. This classic pub is where Banjo Paterson strummed the first chords of "Waltzing Matilda." Cozy up to the fireplace and feel the spirit of RM Williams, the Aussie icon who built it. Banjo Paterson was a regular, and both the swagman and squatter from the famous song had their final drinks here. Experience the echoes of Australian history and legends in this warm outback embrace. Image: IMDB Paramount 3. Walk in Crocodile Dundee’s Shoes at Walkabout Creek Hotel, McKinlay While on your Julia Creek adventure, detour to McKinlay and visit the iconic Walkabout Creek Hotel , famous from the movie Crocodile Dundee. Inside, discover a treasure trove of memorabilia from Paul Hogan's Mick Dundee days. Enjoy hearty pub meals and warm hospitality. Whether it's a cold beer, mouthwatering pizza, or a stroll through history with old photos and movie relics, this is an adventure you can't miss. And for the adventurous souls, there's a camping ground out back to fully immerse yourself in the outback experience! Image: Tourism & Events Queensland 4. Outback Meets the Sea at Sunset Tavern, Karumba Witness a breathtaking sunset over the Gulf of Carpentaria at the Sunset Tavern , where the outback meets the sea. After a day's journey from the coast along the scenic Savannah Way or rugged Matilda Way, unwind with a cold pint and enjoy the freshest prawns in town as the sun gracefully dips below the horizon. It's the perfect end to a day on the road, a moment of reflection, and a taste of outback tranquillity that will enchant you. Image: Quamby Pub 5. Celebrate the Rebirth of the Legendary Quamby Pub In the heart of the once-thriving Quamby township stands the Quamby Pub , a historic road stop dating back to 1860. Abandoned a decade ago, it was revived in 2021 by Gold Coast mates, Karen and Nigel Sheiles and Greg and Wendy White. In April last year, the iconic venue proudly reopened its doors, boasting new ablution blocks, accommodation buildings, and a campsite. With cold beer on tap and a menu featuring country basics, the small venue has already welcomed hundreds through its halls, ensuring the legacy of the Quamby Pub lives on in the heart of Cloncurry. Image: Purple Pub 6. Purple Reigns Supreme at The Purple Pub, Normanton You can't miss The Purple Pub in Normanton, thanks to its eye-catching purple exterior. It's proudly touted as the most photographed pub in the entire western region, and for good reason! This iconic watering hole invites you to enjoy a refreshing cold beer while rubbing shoulders with friendly locals. Immerse yourself in the vibrant, jovial spirit of The Purple Pub, where every moment is a colourful adventure!
Ford's E-Transit has a 68 kWh lithium battery for a factory-quoted range of 307 km, or about 240 km in this motorhome conversion application. The question has been raised about could an e-motorhome be self-sustaining for it’s main power battery. In theory it sounds a little bit like the concept of a perpetual motion machine, but theoretically it is doable. Let's look at the following hypothetical example. The number of solar panels required to recharge a 68 kWh battery, like the one in Ford's new E-Transit would depend on a few variables, including: Panel Efficiency: This determines how much sunlight is converted into electricity. Most commercial panels currently have an efficiency between 15% to 22% Sunlight Duration: How long the panels receive effective sunlight each day, and varies based on location and time of year Panel Capacity: The power output rating of each panel. Let's make some assumptions… You're using a 300 W solar panel. You get an average of 5 hours of effective sunlight per day. The efficiency losses (from the inverter, potential shading and other factors) is around 10%, so we'll only get 90% of the theoretical value. Using the above assumptions: The daily energy production per panel equals 300 W X 5 hours = 1.5 kWh Considering 90% efficiency, that equals 1.5 kWh * 0.9 = 1.35 kWh To charge a 68 kWh battery, the number of panels required = 68 kWh divided by 1.35 kWh per panel = 50.37 So, you'd need about 50 panels, using these assumptions! In 2017, Dethleffs debuted the e.home, a self-charging motorhome with 31 sqm of ultra-thin solar panels producing 3000 watts to recharge its 228 Ah NiCad battery. Range was claimed at 160 km, with a battery life good for some 250,000 km of charging cycles. It quietly disappeared not too long after release, but shows there is potential when technology improves. Keep in mind, this is a simplified calculation. In reality, the number of panels you'd need would vary based on many factors, including panel rating and efficiency, local weather conditions, orientation of the panels and any potential shading. Still, it's an interesting thought experiment and no doubt somebody will achieve it some day. Of course, as solar panel and battery technologies continue their rapid advance, the possibility of the elusive “perpetually free travel" moves ever closer and is a tantalising prospect…
New YouTube & Facebook Up & Running!
The iMotorhome YouTube channel has been dusted off and new videos uploaded from the 2023 Düsseldorf Caravan Salon. Keep checking back for new videos as this is where much of the future action will be! Also, after working hard for years to build a great following on Facebook, in December 2020 we were hacked and lost control of the iMotorhome Magazine page. So, there's an all new iMotorhome page starting from scratch and if you can please like it, share with your friends, follow us and interact, that would be greatly appreciated! Finally, the iMotorhome website is evolving and has new links from the home page. Be sure to regularly check back to see what's happening...
The Caravan Salon - A Potted History
By Alan Inveraray Origins In 1962, the Caravan Salon started as a small exhibition in Essen, Germany. In its debut year it attracted 34,500 visitors and had 61 exhibitors showcasing their products. The fair's initial success indicated the growing interest in caravanning in Europe. Move to Düsseldorf Due to its rapid growth and the need for a more spacious venue, the Caravan Salon moved to Düsseldorf in 1971. The Messe Düsseldorf offered a more expansive exhibition space, allowing for a broader range of exhibitors and more visitors. Expansion During the decades from the the 1980s to 2000, the fair witnessed steady growth both in the number of attendees and exhibitors. The focus expanded beyond just caravans and motorhomes to include tents, mobile homes, camping equipment and other travel accessories. Technological advancements in the industry also started to take centre stage at the fair. By the late 2000s, the event was attracting well over 160,000 visitors annually, while the number of exhibitors crossed the 500 mark. 21st Century Innovations and Trends The fair became a platform for showcasing innovation in the caravan industry, with a focus on sustainability, luxury, and digital integration. As environmental concerns became paramount, many exhibitors showcased eco-friendly models, electric RVs and sustainable travel solutions. Digital technology integration became a trend, with smart motorhomes and caravans featuring prominently in the late 2010s and early 2020s. COVID-19 Impact Like many global events, the Caravan Salon also had to navigate the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the interest in caravanning and motorhomes grew during this period as it offered a safer, individualised travel alternative. This was reflected in the fair's continued relevance and attendance. Statistics While specific year-by-year statistics are extensive, here are some notable figures: 1962: 34,500 visitors and 61 exhibitors. Late 2000s: Over 160,000 visitors annually, with exhibitor numbers surpassing 500. Last Year: More than 235,000 visitors from 72 countries, plus 736 exhibitors from 34 countries in 16 halls
Postcard from Dusseldorf!
There are 17 halls and this is just a quiet corner of one... It's difficult to believe it's four years since I attended the Caravan Salon here in Düsseldorf. So much has happened in that time – from the drought and bushfires close to home to the global Covid pandemic and – on a personal level – the loss of my wife (aka Mrs iMotorhome) to cancer.
I have to say it's good to be back and with this being my third attendance, it also feels quite familiar. That doesn't, however, diminish the sheer scale and initial overwhelm when confronted with something like 2500 vehicles in 17 halls, sprawling over 25 hectares, on day one! The Dusseldorf Caravan Salon is orders of magnitude bigger than what we're used to Downunder... Reportedly the world’s largest RV show, first and foremost it's a German show for a domestic audience – and what an audience: You might be surprised to know that Germany manufactures more motorhomes than any other nation, including the USA – some 66,000 in 2022, compared with something like 58,000 across the Atlantic. Having said that, the Düsseldorf Caravan Salon attracts visitors from around the world and isn't just a showcase of vehicle design and innovation – it also showcases RV componentry and engineering. Düsseldorf is also the place global RV insiders visit for ideas that often appear ‘reimagined’ at home. To be fair, no other market has the combined resources – technical, financial and creative – to invest so much in research and design, and the building of myriad prototypes. Hymer wowed the world with a crazy, futuristic Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 4x4 concept in 2018 and here is the production version, almost unchanged. More than a just a breath of fresh air, it literally throws away the rule book on RV design. In Australia, we seem to struggle to produce more than 1000 to 1200 new motorhomes and campervans annually, which makes the genuine innovation by a small number of manufacturers all the more remarkable. It also explains why the volume builders seem to churn out the same products year after year, occasionally making a song and dance about a repositioned fridge or whatever as a great leap forward! While the number of vehicles on display is mind-boggling, there is a lot of repetition within and between manufacturers. As in the automotive world, many RV brands seem to have a sub-brand or even two – think Hymer with Burstner and Carado, or Knaus with Weinsberg – with mostly identical models only appearing to vary in equipment levels and trim. That seems to be the way of things amongst mass-market manufacturers, but at the other end of the scale you have the small-volume builders producing everything from the largest, most exquisite and expensive A-Class motorhomes to the ultimate, continent-conquering expedition vehicles. There truly is something for everybody here, but you have to do a bit of wandering to find the gems of innovation. Just a small corner of the Burstner stand in Hall 6 – motorhomes everywhere you turn and so many more besides... As iMotorhome evolves I see it becoming a place to find out what’s happening at RV shows around the world. That will give us a unique position, as there are plenty of websites, social media pages and magazines catering to local markets and interests. And starting with Dusseldorf, you’ll see much more video content from shows I can attend, as a moving picture is worth many thousands of words. Finally, rather than bombard you with email updates, be sure to regularly check the website and new Facebook Page ; the latter necessitated since being hacked in late 2020. Both will continue to evolve, so please give iMotorhome a big ‘Like’ and be sure to tell your RVing friends. There’s a long road ahead and it will be good to travel with like-minded enthusiasts. See you out there!
Here We Go!
A sneak-peek from the 2023 Düsseldorf Caravan Salon Friday 25 August is the Press Day at the 2023 Düsseldorf Caravan Salon and here is the first official release of one of the new models on display: The Knaus Tourer CUV 500. It's a proper coachbuilt motorhome on a VW Transporter cab-chassis and the sort of compact motorhome solo travellers (and tidy couples!) dream of. It's also another example of how European manufacturers lead the world in innovation and space efficiency. Heck, they've even created a whole new category: The Caravanning Utility Vehicle or CUV! Will we ever see it in Australia? Probably not, not least because A'van Australia has done an abysmal job of marketing Knaus Downunder; the brand being all-but invisible – if indeed it's even still on sale. Anyway, we can dream on, especially as it might inspire a local manufacturer – imitation being the sincerest form of flattery. Following is the official press release for your entertainment. Watch for more pics and any extra details from the show, and be sure to let us know what you think "KNAUS has unveiled the series version of the VW Bulli T6.1-based TOURER CUV 500 LT. Its CUV (Caravanning Utility Vehicle) combines the best of two worlds. With its variable roof, the TOURER CUV offers several advantages: when retracted (lowered) when driving it is manoeuvrable and compact, like an Urban Class vehicle. This means that the new model is pleasingly low and has less wind resistance to reduce fuel consumption and help the environment. This solution also makes it possible to enter some underground car parks. When you arrive at your holiday destination, the Tourer CUV reveals its full standing height of 2.17 m, thanks to a unique lifting roof structure, which is operated electrically at the push of a button on a remote control and offers around 70 cm more headroom. The modern 500 LT layout is a new addition to the Knaus portfolio. Its plus points: The layout is progressive and practical. With a total length of just under 5.9 m, the touring CUV 500 LT can sleep up to four with the optional slide bed in the front. The TOURER CUV is suitable for city driving, and makes manoeuvring through narrow streets and looking for a parking space easy. With a standard permissible total weight of 3200 kg (or optionally 3500 kg), the TOURER CUV is ideal for category B driving licence holders, and is synonymous with flexibility and full camping suitability. With four seats for when it is being driven, up to four beds and plenty of storage space, it is a perfect family vehicle. There is a comfortable face-to-face seating area at the front, which can be converted into a double bed. No leisure vehicle would be complete without a fully-fledged kitchen – with a two-hob stove, a sink and a 90-litre compressor refrigerator – or a comfortable swivel bathroom. The storage space in the stern is also remarkable. Thanks to the FoldXPand design, this ample area can bear up to 150 kg, and can be easily loaded and unloaded through a large door to the left, measuring 1.48 x 0.43 m. The five-kilo bottle in the gas locker is also easy to fill up. This is only used for the two-hob stove. Heating is provided by a Combi 4 diesel heater, which is installed under the floor in the rear to save space.The Tourer CUV is based on a VW 6.1 chassis, with a 110 hp entry-level engine and standard six-speed manual transmission. More powerful engines and a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission are also available as options. The new Tourer CUV is also available in a KNAUS Tourer CUVISION model – a special edition in Ascot grey with a standard 150 hp drive and seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, extensive standard equipment such as 17-inch tyres on alloy wheels, LED headlights, air conditioning in the driver’s cab, heated front seats and a “Discover Media” navigation entertainment system with an inductive charging station for smartphones. The Tourer CUVISION also has a reversing camera. Three generously dimensioned roof hoods let air and light into the vehicle. The CUVISION also includes a side-mounted awning. And that’s not all: the so-called “Bridge Light” between the KNAUS CATEYE evolution rear lights – a continuous light band – is always included. This makes the vehicle even more visible and gives these new CUVs a high recognition value. The CUVISION tourer is also a frontrunner when it comes to safety systems. Its state-of-the art features include emergency brake assistance, adaptive cruise control (ACC), drowsiness detection and multi-collision braking. The start-stop system with brake energy recovery also protects the environment. Compared to the series model with corresponding equipment, the TOURER CUVISION has an enormous price advantage.
Meanwhile, back at the Ranch...
Hello again, time to update you on developments. It’s a good thing I said not to expect to see changes soon, because as soon as I sent out that email, I was enticed into a week’s work that became two weeks and then three. Essentially, that was most of July and so it’s only now I have the time to begin getting on with ‘things’. The work that progressively consumed my July was driving a mobile billboard, built on the back of an Iveco Daily. You can actually read the backstory in the Dec/Jan 2020/21 issue of iMotorhome Magazine, but since then the company has added two more Dailys to its fleet, spanning two model updates.
The original truck was the first of the dramatically-updated Daily; the model that introduced the excellent eight-speed automatic transmission. In July I drove that particular truck on a four-day ‘adventure’ that from Sydney covered Wollongong, Goulburn, Gundagai, Wagga Wagga, Gosford, Newcastle and Nelson’s Bay. Yes, that was a heck of a drive, but it was good to reacquaint myself with their original Daily, especially as it has now covered some 63,000 km, mostly in stop-start city conditions. I’m pleased to report it still drove perfectly; the gearbox shifting smoothly and the engine pulling strongly, although there was one particularly annoying rattle/buzz somewhere un-locatable around the passenger-door quarter window. Before and after that ‘adventure’ I did two separate trips in a newer Daily; the model with Apple CarPlay, adaptive cruise control and a completely new instrument cluster, steering wheel and controls. Those updates significantly improved the driving experience – from adaptive cruise reducing the fatigue in traffic to Apple CarPlay allowing the use of my favourite nav app and also easy access to my iPhone’s messages, calls, audio books and other features. The engine is the same three-litre unit, although it’s now Euro 6 compliant and requires AdBlue, which I’m pleased to report is much more readily available at the pump. The gearbox remains the same sweet eight-speed auto and the driving experience is just as pleasant. Areas covered in that truck included the Southern Highlands, Kangaroo Valley, Bomaderry and Nowra, plus Tamworth and Port Macquarie (via the Oxley Highway). Interestingly/frustratingly, it had the same buzzy rattle in the passenger door, which also manifested itself from time-to-time in the driver’s door. Hmmm… All these drives demonstrated the Iveco Daily’s ability to deal with widely varying terrain and road conditions, plus its reliability and easy driving characteristics. It also feels truck-tough rather than like an up-rated delivery van, and should last well in any motorhome application. Cab build-quality was the only disappointment, but these are working trucks operated by many drivers and they’re certainly not mollycoddled. How Much? I’ve been keeping an eye on used motorhomes and find it difficult to believe the prices some people are asking. In many cases it seems that after a decade they want their original purchase price back – possibly more – and so I’m asking, am I just out of touch after two years (quite possible) or is this real? Speaking of gouging, just last week a little bird told me of a new motorhome for sale for around $275,000, which a year ago was about $190,000. How is this possible beyond sheer greed? New Polly Dreaming? Since closing the magazine and selling Polly, I’ve become heavily involved in motorcycles (there are four in the garage now!) and motorcycle touring. I’ve also become deeply involved with my local club – including building its new website and sitting on the committee – and have been on some sublime two-to-four-day trips. Still, I’m now hearing the siren call of another motorhome for the first time and so the thought process has begun.
I’m torn between an off-the-shelf solution and a custom build, and cheaper old-tech in a used model or the latest tech in something new. I have specific wants as a solo traveller with an e-bike I want to keep safe from the elements and the attention of undesirables, and so have narrowed my search to a few production models and/or what could be achieved with a clean-sheet design. There’s no time frame and of course, half the fun is looking/researching/planning, but the process has begun. If/when ‘she’ arrives, will she be a Polly? I think so. The spirit of Mrs iM is strong and so it seems a given. Will she be Polly 2, Polly Too or Polly Also? We loved word play and so time will tell. Thankfully, there is time to plan. Perhaps Polly2? Inspiration Now I have time to get down to business, I’m diving in at the deep end. On August 22nd I fly to Germany to spend 10 nights at the 2023 Dusseldorf Caravan Salon – the world’s biggest RV show – and then a month later I’ll be across the Ditch for the New Zealand Motorhome, Caravan and Leisure Show in Hamilton. Both experiences will, I hope, supercharge my interest in and knowledge of the wider RV world. In Dusseldorf I’ll be looking at the latest European design trends and innovations, not only in vehicles but also materials and components. In NZ I’ll be keen to catch-up on what’s happening and to see if its market has yet surpassed ours in term of sales (long ago it passed ours in terms of model diversity and innovation). I’ll bring updates from both shows, plus in the mean time continue the thought process of how best to update the website to reflect iMotorhome’s new direction and global outlook.
It’s an exciting if daunting time and good to have something to sink my teeth back into. It’s just gone nine months since Mrs iM left me and I’m still not sure if this is what I really want to do, but it feels right for now and so I’ll give it a go. Just remember, it will be a while until you see website changes, but watch for updates and please spread the word. Oh, and thanks for all the input on what you’d like to see in the ‘new’ iMotorhome website. I’m not sure it’s all possible, but I like your enthusiasm. Safe travels! Richard .
It's two years today since the final issue of iMotorhome Magazine, and just gone eight months since my beautiful Kelsey – aka Mrs iMotorhome – passed.
To be honest it has been a hell of a journey, but this anniversary seems an ‘auspicious’ time to say hello again and share some news. Before you get too excited, no, iMotorhome Magazine isn’t coming back. What is coming is a redesigned and expanded website to encompass literally the world of motorhoming: Australia and New Zealand, North America, Europe and the UK, Asia, and the rest of the world. Each will be a source of news and information and, as it develops, reader travel stories, experiences and more. It's very early days and there is much planning remaining before you see any changes, just know that they are coming. In the meantime, I invite you to email me with the top five things you’d like to read about. Do you want reviews, news, show reports, DIY articles, travel stories, tours, accessories, destinations, dining or whatever? You choose and five is fine, but if you have more – knock your socks off.
Finally, a heartfelt thank you to everyone who phoned, emailed, messaged or commented on the website, following Kelsey’s passing. It was unexpectedly overwhelming and to be honest, I wasn't able to reply to many of you at the time. If you didn't hear from me, know that I read and appreciated every word, and that I sincerely thank you for your kindness and support. Perhaps we'll catch up at a show, rally or on the road, as this new phase of iMotorhome develops. Whatever happens, it feels ‘right’ to be back and I look forward to sharing the adventure with you…
Kind regards, Richard.
Vale Kelsey Robertson
1964-2022 It’s with unfathomable sadness I advise the passing of my beautiful wife Kelsey – aka Mrs iMotorhome – on Saturday 29 October, just a month and a day after her 58th birthday. The cancer Kelsey had so bravely fought for three months and which we believed conquered, returned with a vengeance, to the disbelief of everyone, including her treatment team. It was just two weeks from re-diagnosis until her peaceful passing in palliative care, whilst I held her hand… Kelsey genuinely lived life to the full, especially her 32 years as an international flight attendant with Qantas, 25 of which were as a Customer Service Manager. A nurse by training, her first job was with Woolworths whilst still at school. Ironically, Kelsey said she had come full-circle, returning to Woolworths due to COVID-19 after taking voluntary redundancy from flying. Many of you had met Kelsey and some of you were fortunate to count her as a friend. Thank you. She loved the motorhoming life and as we were transitioning to retirement, we'd just decided to downsize and invest in a ‘proper’ motorhome. As anyone who has lost the love of their life knows, there are no words to comfort or console. In time I will return to motorhoming and hope to run into some of you in my travels. Until then, please raise a glass to Kelsey's memory, she would love that. If you are fortunate enough to have someone special, cherish every moment and take nothing for granted. Life is fragile and tomorrow is promised to no-one, so make the most of it. See you on the road…
Best Laid Plans...
Once again, it's been awhile since my last post and on Sunday we should be heading off to Düsseldorf for the 2022 Caravan Salon.
I say should be, because for Mrs iMotorhome and me the 2020s continue their appalling record of disappointment and disruption. Early in July, Mrs iM went to see about a muscle strain in her side that wasn’t repairing. A CAT scan revealed a large abdominal mass that a biopsy indicated as cancer, and in short order she ‘boarded the train’ at Chris Obrien’s Lifehouse (COBLH) – a specialist cancer hospital attached to Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney – and it departed the station at high speed.
A flurry of appointments followed, including a PET scan that confirmed the mass to be a rapidly growing malignant tumour.
Chris O’Brien pioneered the concept of treatment by an integrated team of cancer specialists, before tragically succumbing to brain cancer in 2009. As Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said at the time, “Chris' vision was for an integrated cancer treatment centre so that patients would no longer have to navigate their way through all the different elements of dealing with their illness alone.”
It has been and is a lifesaving godsend…
After initial surgery was aborted due to a tumour-induced anaesthetic reaction that nearly caused a stroke, the second attempt succeeded and the tumour was removed. Unfortunately, so was quite a bit more. As I write, it is one week since the operation and Mrs iM is on the slow and difficult road to recovery. She will remain in hospital for at least another week and we are still awaiting the results of pathology, plus a follow-up PET scan to determine what, if any, ongoing treatment is required.
I find it impossible to adequately express my thanks to the surgical team that navigated the eight hour operation, which included calling in a third specialist surgeon to deal with an unexpected situation. Ditto the astonishing compassion and care of the largely-Irish nursing staff in Intensive Care (and now on the ward). There are no words… Going forward, this is a life changing event and we are still coming to terms with what has happened and its ramifications. Of course, all travel plans are cancelled, including any thoughts of tours, as the priority is simply recovery. It's frightening how, as the Americans say, life can turn on a dime. For the moment we are taking things one day at a time and that will be the pace for some time to come. If all goes well, Mrs iM should reach her best level of ‘new normal’ in about six months, but life will never be the same. That’s it for now. Until next time, hold your loved ones close and look after your friends – ours have been truly remarkable. And don’t take today or tomorrow for granted.
Finally, if you’ve got an ache or pain that’s not going away, please get it checked out. Tomorrow isn’t guaranteed…
Chinese Take Out!
Suncamper's Sovereign Custom: Australia's first coachbuilt motorhome on a Chinese cab-chassis. Here's my take-out...
By Richard Robertson It might seem inevitable Chinese light commercial vehicles will enter the Australian RV scene and eventually rule, but that isn't necessarily the case. Consider the Japanese: Despite dominating car, SUV and ute sales in Australia they have little presence in the RV industry beyond campervans, some big motorhomes and specialist 4x4 models. Still, when Chinese manufacturer LDV released its Deliver 9 van and cab-chassis range back in 2020 I wondered when, not if, the first local manufacturer would see an opportunity/be brave enough to bring one to market. At this year’s Sydney show, Belle RV debuted its budget-priced Deliver 9 van-conversion motorhome – the Runaway – while Suncamper displayed its C-class Sovereign Custom on a Deliver 9 cab-chassis. Each manufacturer has taken a different path with its LDV-based product and it's the Suncamper Sovereign Custom that's the subject of this review. First, however, let's take a close look at the LDV Deliver 9. Imitation Transit? They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and it appears LDV thinks the Ford Transit is well worth copying. There’s more than a passing similarity between the pair and a cynic would say it goes to prove the Chinese are good at copying but not innovating. You could also argue that when someone else has done all the groundwork, why not improve on it rather than reinvent the wheel? Interestingly from a motorhome point of view, the Transit has been out of favour with local manufactures for years. Initially due to the lack of an auto transmission, I’m not sure what the reason is now, beyond development costs. But I’ve digressed… Like the Japanese and Koreans before them, Chinese auto manufacturers bought their way into the local market by producing cheap and often cheerless cars and light commercials, whose sole redeeming quality was price. Those models have been quickly followed by better looking, better equipped and safer vehicles backed by extended warranties, but still maintaining a price advantage. Indeed, the rate of development of the Chinese automotive manufacturing industry has been breathtaking and in very short order it has leapfrogged into the 21st century. Today, brands like MG, GWM and Haval are some of the fastest growing and Australians are wholeheartedly embracing Chinese-built vehicles.
In the commercial space, success has been less spectacular, with early GWM (Great Wall Motors) and LDV light commercials earning reputations for poor – okay awful – build quality, reliability, parts supply and resale. Progress has been rapid, however, and now the likes of the Deliver 9 are making significant inroads. In fact it has now passed the Ford Transit in sales in this country. So, how good is the Deliver 9 and, importantly, is it a viable motorhome base vehicle? Delivering the Goods? Let’s cut to the chase: For an RV manufacturer the LDV’s greatest appeal is price and at the time of writing (July 2022), LDV is advertising its one-size-fits-all Deliver 9 cab-chassis for $44,990 drive-away for ABN holders. That’s before any discount for volume sales or promotions to help get the model into a new market. While LDV is open about retail pricing, Ford, Renault, Fiat and others aren’t. Suffice to say, the Deliver 9’s cab-chassis price advantage is likely a minimum $10,000 over its closest Euro rival. That’s a good starting point and it’s backed by a 3 year/160,000 km warranty with roadside assistance. There’s also capped price servicing for 3 years or 95,000 km spread over 4 services. The first is due at just 6 months/5000 km ($287), then it’s 12 months/35,000 km ($400), 24 months/65,000 km ($580) and 36 months/95,000 km ($695).
The Deliver 9 chassis uses a traditional ladder-type frame. The vehicle is 6.20-metres long, has a 3.76-metre wheelbase and a 14.2-metre turning circle. Power is delivered to the dual 16-inch rear wheels with their 195/75R16C Light Truck tyres, and it has a gross vehicle mass (GVM) of 4495 kg. That means it can be driven on a car licence, plus it has a useful 2800 kg braked towing capacity. Suspension is McPherson struts up-front and tapered leaf springs at the rear, while braking is by disc brakes; ventilated on the front wheels and solid on the rears. Speaking of power, the engine is a 2.0-litre single-turbo diesel that meets the old Euro 5 standard, meaning no AdBlue fuel additive is required. Output is a relatively modest 110 kW @ 3500 rpm and 375 Nm @ 1500-2400 rpm and its delivered through a conventional 6-speed automatic. Fuel capacity is 80-litres and it comes with a fuel saving stop/start system. Claimed fuel consumption is 7.6 L/100 km and I’d expect 13-15 L/100 km with the motorhome body. However, the trip computer was showing an average of 17.4 L/100 km since new (I’m thinking), which reflects the more ‘spirited’ driving I’d expect for this specific unit. All-in-all the Deliver 9 is mechanically conventional and, would you believe it, almost a dead ringer for the Ford Transit. But what about safety and technology? Read on… Safety Firsts Light commercial vehicle safety is a bit of a grey area in Australia, with few vehicles actually crash tested. Even the lauded Mercedes-Benz Sprinter is untested, but in October 2021 the Australasian New Car Assessment Program – ANCAP – released a Commercial Van Safety Comparison that will be the subject of an upcoming story. For now, suffice to say that of the four vans actually crash tested, the Ford Transit Custom (2012), Mercedes-Benz Vito (2014) and the Toyota HiAce (2019) each earned five stars. Scarily, the Mitsubishi Express (2021) earned zero stars – a humiliating first for its Japanese manufacturer… For LDV, the Deliver 9 brings new firsts in safety and technology, but it’s a mixed bag compared with its rivals and a long way behind the Ford Transit. On the active safety front it features an Antilock Braking System (ABS), Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD), Electronic Stability Control (ESC) , Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB), Lane Departure Warning (LDW), Brake Assist System (BSA), Hill Hold Assist (HHA) and Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC). What it lacks in electronic wizardry to equal the best is AEB that also detects pedestrians and cyclists, Lane Keeping Assist (LKA), Blind Spot Monitoring (BSM), a Driver Monitoring System (DMS) to help stop you falling asleep, and a Speed Limiter. In its defence, the Sprinter doesn’t have all these as standard either, while a Renault Master wants for AEB of any kind, LKS, LDW, BMS and DMS in standard trim, but does come with a speed limiter. Woohoo! What of the Transit? It comes with all the systems and earns an ANCAP gold star… On the passive safety front the Deliver 9 has front, side and curtain airbags, while it also has expected features like remote central locking, electric windows (not one-touch), electric mirrors, cab air-conditioning (not climate control), a multi-function steering wheel (not leather), an 8-way manually adjustable driver’s seat, a 4.2” digital display between the instruments plus a 10.1” touch-screen infotainment system with Apple Car Play (but not Android Auto), a pair of USB charging outlets and more. As to how the Deliver 9 might fare in a crash, if LDV’s engineers have been as diligent ‘replicating’ the Transit’s structure it should do quite well. Of course that’s speculation as the current Transit cab-chassis also hasn’t been crash tested, but it’s difficult to believe Ford wouldn’t use the same engineering that helped the Transit Custom van earn its five star rating. Driving Experience Nuts and bolts aside, what's the Deliver 9 like behind the wheel? Good – mostly. The cab is modern and well laid out, visibility is good, steering is well weighted and the big infotainment system is easy to use and read, especially in Apple CarPlay mode. The seats are a bit basic, despite the driver’s having a good range of adjustments, and lack a bit of padding plus lumbar support. In the test vehicle, the two-place passenger seat was fixed and not where you’d want to sit for long distances, but there is a single-seat option that should provide more comfort. The lack of one-touch electric window operation was a small but annoying omission, but not as much as the absence of a rest for the left foot, compounded by the slightly odd shape of the driver’s footwell. Like the Transit, the deliver 9’s little turbo-diesel is on the lower powered side compared with its competitors, while the 6-speed auto lacks a few ratios compared to the latest opposition. The nett effect is this is a vehicle – in a motorhome application at least – requiring a fair bit of ‘wellie’ to get and keep moving, and which runs out of puff on hills sooner than others. Apart from that the engine and gearbox are smooth and cab noise levels aren’t particularly noticeable, except on concrete roads. Also, the suspension is quite ‘crashy’, lacking European levels of control: It quickly helps you remember this is a delivery truck first and motorhome base-vehicle second. Speaking of refinement, this is where Chinese auto manufacturers’ rush to quickly span development generations becomes apparent. Having driven a range of current generation Chinese-made vehicles and read quite a few reviews, the single most common issue is the lack of technological refinement in the driving experience. It’s not just an LDV thing, this is common across brands and will, no doubt, be addressed sooner than later. What this translates to on the road is electronic driving aids either too sensitive and intrusive or not sensitive enough. On the test Deliver 9, adaptive cruise control (ACC) was annoying and even dangerous. Good ACC smoothly slows you when there's a vehicle ahead and smoothly accelerates when the road is clear. It's not distracted by terrain or vehicles outside the lane and works almost imperceptibly in the background. And then there’s this one… Speed changes could be, but weren't always, abrupt, and there appeared no consistency in when it would begin to decelerate when approaching a slower vehicle from behind. Similarly, when the road was clear the engine would surge at what sometimes seemed near-maximum effort to regain the preset speed. Most alarmingly, however, was its tendency to think vehicles in adjoining lanes, roadside obstacles and things like rock faces in a cutting were obstacles and rapidly slow us down. On the freeway this was downright dangerous as you never knew when it would happen and you could easily end up with a B-double up your backside if not careful. In the end it proved best to use ACC only on open and preferably straight roads. A quick online search shows this isn’t an isolated case, so it’s something LDV needs to immediately address. It’s probably a blessing in disguise the Deliver 9 only has Lane Departure Warning rather than Lane Keeping Assist as well, as that might have become an additional, unwelcome battle ground! Body Matters Of course the Deliver 9 is only half this story; the other half being the Suncamper C-class motorhome body on its back. The Sovereign Custom is a made-for-rental model that carries and sleeps six, and as such makes perfect sense being attached to the LDV. It’s a spacious if no-frills design as rentals often are; one that parents holidaying with a small tribe or a couple of couples could happily holiday in. However, it’s built the same way as all Suncamper motorhomes, as this description from the company website explains: “All motorhome models boast a steel frame base and aluminium, fully welded framework for the walls, rear, nose and single-piece roof. Walls and roof are fully insulated with fire-retardant foam and pressed.
“Framework is extensive so every fitting is screwed into a solid spot, not into insulation. The walls are more than 30mm thick and the roof is more than 45mm. This is more than double (and in some cases triple) other manufacturers. A rust-proofing and sound deadening agent is applied under the floor to protect from noise and road damage”. It’s also worth noting cabinetry is plywood, not foam-board coated in wood look-a-like and it’s glued-and-screwed like home furniture, not stapled together. Size Matters Dimensionally, the Sovereign Custom is 6.95 m long, 2.4 m wide and 3.3 m tall. It has a gross vehicle mass (GVM) of 4490 kg and tare weight of 3300 kg as tested, providing a healthy max payload of 1190 kg for 6 souls and all their necessities, plus water and fuel, LPG and so on. Speaking of water, fresh capacity is 130-litres while grey is 83-litres. Electrically, things are good thanks to a pair of 120 AH deep-cycle house batteries, topped up by a 175 W solar panel. Naturally, LED lighting is used throughout. Big and boxy to suit its intended purpose, the first things that strikes you is the unusually high floor level, which requires double electric steps and even then, a considerable step-up to the first one. At 165 cm, Mrs found it quite a chore, compounded by the lack of an external grab handle that was yet to be fitted. I found this puzzling and also noted the sizeably deep fairing between top of the cab and the bodywork above. It tuns out that because the Deliver 9’s cab roofline curves upwards quite a bit at the rear, the body had to be mounted higher on the chassis to accomodate the over-cab bed. Thus, the floor is higher than usual, necessitating the extra steps. Bugger… External storage is limited to single locker on the kerb-side rear, which accesses space under the corner bed. It has room for a table and chairs, hoses, etc, but as a rental not a lot of travel bags would also fit. There’s a locker close by for the pair of 4 kg LPG cylinders, plus an access hatch for the toilet cassette on the driver’s side. Apart from that the body sides are smooth and easy to clean, while a large roll-out awning and double-glazed acrylic windows are fitted. There’s plenty of room on the back wall for a bike rack too, something rental customers would no-doubt appreciate. Inside Story Climbing inside reveals a ton of headroom and a spacious floorplan, especially considering there’s no slide-out. It has an over-cab bed (that’s why it’s called a C-class), central kitchen and four-seat cafe-style dinette, and a kerb-side corner bed, with the bathroom in the driver’s-side rear corner.
Glossy white walls, light-timber cabinetry and darker wood-effect flooring deliver a bright if somewhat minimalist feel, as do the flat-fronted cabinets. However, the black upholstery and mattress covers seem a bit severe and could be lightened-up to help customers into holiday mode. There’s plenty of natural light too, aided in no small part by the large hatch above the corner bed. The over-cab bed, accessed via the usual aluminium ladder, seems to be the larger of the two permanent beds; the rear corner bed – also known as a French Bed – suffers from the chamfered corner usual with this design. The dinette converts to a child-friendly double, with bed boards and the ladder stored in a slim cupboard just to the left of the door as you enter. The over-cab bed doesn’t lift, which is no issue as the current seating arrangement precludes walk-through cab access, but future models will have a single passenger seat and a tilt-up bed would be handy in that situation. Four diners are well catered for, but two extras will likely be sitting on the corner bed, given the lack of swivelling cab seats or cab access. Those lucky enough to score a proper dining position will appreciate the decent table size, view from the large window and comfort from the well padded, belt-equipped seats. The family chef will appreciate the good bench space, triple burner gas cooktop with grill and oven, sink with drainer and the excellent 150-litre 2-door fridge/freezer that runs solely on 12-volt power. There’s also a microwave above the fridge, but of course it requires mains power. Whilst there’s no range-hood there is a large window that runs almost full length behind the kitchen unit. Cupboard space is good, but some has no shelving, or just one in a big cupboard, and a bit of extra thought could make this valuable space more efficient. Come wash time, people will appreciate the well proportioned bathroom with its separate shower and sufficient space to dry-off and dress (or just change) – a feature not found in every motorhome bathroom. There’s a swivel-head cassette toilet, handbasin with the cupboard storage below, a height-adjustable shower, bright lighting, a roof fan-hatch and lots of mirrors. The only downside is a shower curtain rather than a screen or door, as there’s nothing worse than being chased by a cold, clingy curtain whilst washing! Food for Thought My main interest in reviewing the Suncamper Sovereign Custom was to spend time in the new LDV Deliver 9. Summing up, it looks good, is modern, seems well built, has good equipment levels and is a ‘nice’ drive. Surface ‘wow’ disguises some ‘oh’ issues, but an owner would soon come to terms with its few foibles and feel at home. It’s also backed by a decent warranty and a capped-price service plan, although again, neither is class leading. For the price, however, it appears a good buy and only time will tell in terms of reliability, service support and parts supply.
Suncamper’s Sovereign Custom is a purpose-built rental model that will also appeal to larger families or people looking to mix-and-match private ownership with income production via a company like Camplify. Suncamper has a solid reputation for sturdy construction and longterm durability, and the generational change taking place within the company is a positive sign for continued service and support, not to mention product development. Given the LDV Deliver 9’s relative bargain status the Sovereign Custom’s $169,000 base price surprises, but then what are the 6-berth alternatives? Apollo/Winnebago have a couple of models in the low $190,000s and while Jayco doesn’t list a 6-berth motorhome on its website, its rental arm – Let’sgo – does. Go figure. Avida seems to have quietly dropped the Ceduna as it’s no longer on its website, so the Sovereign Custom doesn’t appear to have too much competition. So, what’s my Chinese ‘take-away’ from all this? The LDV Deliver 9 has genuine promise as a budget motorhome base vehicle, but needs some tweaking and will benefit from further development. Chinese auto makers are quick to update even current models in response to feedback and so it can only get better. Suncamper’s Sovereign Custom targets a niche market and so is unlikely to find many buyers amongst Mum & Dad motorhomers. Given the rushed prototype status of this particular vehicle it has held-up well to more than 19,000 km of staff and rental customer operation, and only needs a few tweaks to be top of its game. Will other motorhome manufacturers follow Suncamper’s lead? Again, only time will tell.
As the song says, “Hello it’s been a while. Not much, how ‘bout you?” Actually, it’s a year today that the final edition of iMotorhome ‘hit the stands’. Sometimes it seems like five minutes and at other times, a lifetime. My apologies for being a stranger and not living up to the vague promise of “the occasional email”. Truth be known I couldn’t find the motivation: After nine furious years I think cumulative fatigue had taken its toll. Thanks to those who emailed after the final issue; your kind words and good wishes were most heartening! Funnily enough, ‘retirement’ lasted about a week as I was approached by a former colleague to supply content for the re-born Ken Tame Insurance brand – now KT Insurance as you’re probably aware – for its newsletter and new website. A mix of rehashed articles and new, it’s under the heading The Big Lap and you can find it here: https://ktinsurance.com.au/the-big-lap . That kicked off last September, which frankly was too soon for my liking, but you know what they say about gift horses and mouths… In other news, Polly found new owners some months back and is somewhere out there (and hopefully treating them well). We sold her on consignment as we didn’t want any hassle and got a fair price. Although missed, it was time for the old girl to move on.
Consignment selling was a bit of an opaque process. I know the dealer was initially asking $20k over ‘my’ price and I had to give a bit in the end, but I don’t know what the final figure was. So while it was painless and relatively quick – a month or two – it’s obviously not the best way to sell if you’re chasing maximum dollars. On the plus side, the new owners got some kind of warranty that would have taken care of a couple of niggles, which is good to know. Moving Ahead! Seeing as I’m writing for KT Insurance and the world is reopening, it seems time to dust-off the iMotorhome website and perhaps reinvent it. I’ll be posting news and other articles, and sending out the odd email (promise!) to morph it into a general-interest motorhome website rather than being magazine centric. Interestingly, yesterday we test drove Suncamper’s new C-Class Sovereign, the first coach-built motorhome I’m aware of on the Chinese LDV Deliver 9 cab-chassis. Watch for upcoming review! Mrs iM and I are off to Dusseldorf in August for the first time since 2019 and we’re looking forward to immersing ourselves in the wider motorhome scene again. Would you be interested in 360º virtual tours of the best RVs we find over there? It’s something I started doing just before closing the magazine and is a great way to have a proper look through a vehicle.
Then, in November we are doing a reconnaissance run around New Zealand’s stunning South Island for a new escorted tour we’re planning for late 2023. It will immediately follow an updated version of our Taste of New Zealand tour, from Auckland to Christchurch, and the two will be able to be combined for the ultimate NZ motorhoming holiday experience. Full details will appear early in the new year, so watch this space! Finally, my Facebook account was hacked last December and consequently I’ve lost access to the IMotorhome Facebook page. Facebook is an impenetrable monolith that answers to no one, least of all those it locks out after criminals take over their account and start to run political ads for Hong Kong elections. There might be a new Page at some stage – the shell is already there – but we’ll see.
I have to say it’s already feeling good to be back – sort of – and I hope you’ll be happy to pick-up where we left off and see what the future holds. For now I wish you safe travels and let me know what you think: firstname.lastname@example.org still works!