Inspired by recent kite-surfing adventures. We let our imagination run riot to create the perfect SUV antidote
Last year, I spent a week kite-surfing in Sicily. Needless to say, I was about the oldest person at the kite-surfing centre and was surrounded by incredibly fit and healthy looking youngsters.
Actually, they looked a lot like the people I see in the videos that we’re shown during the press conference at the launch of a new SUV or crossover. I’m not sure I have too many of these events left in me. If it’s not a load of twaddle about how fast the latest SUV is around the Nürburgring, it’s a fantasy land of young people buying £35,000 crossovers. Youngsters who are most likely either saddled with student debt or haven’t actually got around to learning to drive.
The kite-surfing beautiful people in Sicily did have vehicles, as do those I’ve seen in Cornwall and North Devon. More accurately, not cars but vans. Either they have old Volkswagen Californias or other conversions such as Devons or a van they’ve converted themselves. Or possibly a works van they’re allowed to use on the weekend. I also went climbing in the Lake District and in the Alps last year and it was the same story: vans everywhere. So Hyundai, Kia, Toyota and everyone else who’s been selling me the dream of young windswept and interesting people buying your vehicles – sorry, they don’t.
But they might buy the vehicle that Autocar’s Ben Summerell-Youde and I have been busy creating. Ben is extremely talented with the crayons, young and, most importantly, has what my friends in the car company marketing departments refer to as a ‘young active lifestyle’. He is also the owner of a VW T3 Multivan Syncro.
Our plan is remarkably simple: we are going to do a Dacia. Literally. We’re going to take the current Renault Trafic, which was launched in 2014 and will presumably be replaced or at least facelifted fairly soon, and turn it into a Dacia campervan. Just as Renault does with the Dacia Duster and Sandero, we’ll be fitting powertrains that will meet current and impending emissions regulations but that might not be state-of-the-art or to the highest specification in power or sophistication. Our customers won’t mind because they’ll be coming from old clunkers. Something that has a long warranty and is brand new will be thrilling enough.
Before we start on the mechanical specification of our wonderful vehicle, we need a name for it. And here it is: the Dacia Sandman. Now, Australian readers will be about to email us pointing out that a Holden pick-up from the 1970s was called the Sandman and came complete with a psychedelic sticker on its tailgate. I shall have to get my legal department to look into the trademark issues. But for now you’re looking at the new Dacia Sandman.
We start with a short-wheelbase Trafic. You don’t need anything bigger and an LWB is a pain to park. A high top is nice, but it means that some car parks are out of bounds. And, of course, we’re trying to keep the cost of the Sandman as low as possible. It is the body detailing, rather than its length and height, that are more of an issue. The Trafic is available with barn doors or a tailgate. The latter has one fundamental advantage: it gives you an extra covered area outside the van. I’ve seen (on a van in Chamonix) a simple but effective curtain system that clips to the tailgate and forms a tent-like structure, which enables you to remove filthy clothing, or a sandy wetsuit.
Glazing is a tricky one. We want security but also some natural light. I’m thinking smoked glass in the one sliding door that the van will have and then glazing on the offside of the vehicle and in the tailgate itself. It could come down to a matter of cost and, if it is expensive, we might offer the glazing on the tailgate as an option only.
Now to the interior, starting in the front. This is where the real Dacia philosophy will come into play: what is really needed by the customer? Certainly no infotainment or multimedia. Our customers have all that on their smartphones and don’t want to pay for it twice.
A cleverly designed phone holder will be fitted to the dashboard and owners will be able to buy a cheap insert for it that fits their phone. A simple digital radio will be standard, as will Bluetooth. Air conditioning, but not climate control, will also be fitted. I suspect that fitting wind-up windows would cost more than simply using the electric window system from the Trafic. If it’s a cost saving, then wind-ups it is.
The really challenging part of the design of our Dacia Sandman is the rear area. One thing’s for sure, the Sandman will not be fitted out like VW’s California or Mercedes-Benz’s Marco Polo with luxury kitchens, cooker, sink and numerous wardrobes. I borrowed a Marco Polo last year for one of the climbing trips and, although it was wonderfully comfortable, there was barely enough space for all our kit. And outdoor old farts with over-ambitious adventurous lifestyles (like me) carry a lot of clobber.
Many summers ago, I lived for a year in a splitscreen VW bus in Australia. We carried a couple of 20-litre water containers, a plastic bowl for washing up and cleaning teeth etc, and slept on a mattress that was laid on a homemade wooden bed frame that could be folded away. The only impractical bit about that van was the half-height bulkhead that separated our living space from the front of the van. The Dacia Sandman won’t have a bulkhead at all.
For the less practical or imaginative owner, we’ll offer some option packs such as the curtain device for the tailgate, a gravity shower and possibly what in modern parlance would be referred to as ‘storage solutions’. Anything else that you might need for a camping vehicle we’ll let the customer buy for him or herself.
Ben has been in charge of exterior design. We’ve got to have a few sticker packs, of course, and some lively graphics. Steel wheels will be standard with one or two cheap alloy alternatives. No Sandman will come without a spare wheel. White with grey bumpers will be the base Sandman suit, but we’ll have a choice of very bright and lurid colours as options. The magnificent lime green used on the current Trafic will be one of them.
We’re nearly there, we’ve just got to deal with pricing and, of course, the launch of the Dacia Sandman to the world’s press. Our target price for the basic Sandman is £15,000. Financing will be available. What more could you want?