Catering to a small niche market, a handful of manufacturers are building luxury laden recreational vehicles designed for the off-road, according to a report in the New York Times.
Earthroamer is a rugged motorhome with factory four-wheel drive built by a small Colorado company. Designed to take its owner in comfort from the depths of Baja to the wilds of Alaska and along extreme outback routes like the White Rim Trail in Utah, the Earthroamer is a no-holds-barred off-road machine.
With a customized camper mounted directly to a pickup frame, it is built for people who want to experience life off-road but take many of the comforts of home along with them.
Randy Hansen, a 50-year-old Phoenix resident recently purchased a $200,000 truck, with amenities that include two 50-gallon water tanks, a standup shower and a European-style cassette toilet. Unlike most RVs, which rely on propane, the Earthroamer taps into its 60 gallons of diesel fuel for cooking, cabin heat and hot water.
While driving, hot water is continually supplied through a direct line from the truck’s radiator. Solar-charged batteries can power the satellite dish, the hyperefficient Norcold refrigerator and the Sharp air-conditioner for several days, even weeks, without a generator.
Off-road RVs are made by just a few companies, including Tiger Motorhomes, based in South Carolina. And many of the makers have struggled to stay in business: Revcon Motorcoach in Orange County, Calif., has suspended production of its large six-wheeled Trailblazer, while Chinook, a maker of van-based RVs in Yakima, Wash., recently suspended production of its Baja model, with aftermarket four-wheel drive.
Last year, Xplorer Motorhomes was put up for sale. It quickly found a buyer, however, and the new owner, Bob Helvie, who has based the company in Indiana, said he would be happy to build anyone a custom Xcursion model camper based on a Dodge or Ford four-wheel-drive pickup.
Earthroamer’s chief operating officer, Michelle Connolly, would not say how many vehicles the company had sold. Tiger Motorhomes said it produced fewer than a hundred four-wheel-drive CX models annually. Dave Rowe, Tiger’s president, said that sales were up over last year, thanks partly to a revamped website and a new web-based Tiger owners group. “Our dealer at the moment,” he said, “is the Internet.”
Bouncing along a rugged road in California’s Ortega mountain backcountry, Hansen’s Earthroamer rolled easily along a route that would be all but inaccessible to most RVs. Like many Americans, his first move toward a four-wheel-drive motorhome was to put a slide-in camper into the back of a full-size pickup. Such campers generally have a limited walking area and significantly raise a vehicle’s center of gravity, making it more prone to tipping. Besides, removing the slide-in can be a chore.
“You think, ‘Well, I can use the truck to drive to work and put the camper in when I want to go somewhere,’ ” he said. “With the amount of work you have to do to load and unload a teetery, tippery camper onto four jacks, over four years I found I never took it off.”
Mike Brodey, 67, of Woodland Hills, Calif., spent around $80,000 for a Tiger CX motorhome after pricing an Earthroamer. “My original premise,” he said, “was something with four-wheel drive that I could take out in the boonies for my photography.”
Built on a Chevrolet Silverado 2500 chassis, the Tiger is lighter than the Earthroamer and comes in three lengths – 19, 21 and 24 feet. It can be bought with a gasoline or a diesel engine. Equipped with propane appliances, a standard RV sewage connection, air-conditioning, an internal generator, ample cabinets, a stand up shower and easy sleeping for four, the Tiger is a much more traditionally equipped Class C vehicle. It is also available with solar panels and additional batteries.
Brodey liked his Tiger so much that he founded the user group on the Internet, which is now up to 80 members.
Robert Moore, 46, of Roan Mountain, Tenn., a kayaker and avid hiker who has covered more than 1,000 miles of the Appalachian Trail, is one of them. “I always looked down at RVers because they pull up to a state or national park and they pull out their little lights, sit and drink and that’s all they do,” he said. “I call them slab sitters.”
But in 2004, he took delivery of a 19-foot Tiger, which he planned to use as a kind of roving base camp for hiking expeditions. “We do a three-day hike on the Appalachian Trail and come back,” he said, “and what’s waiting at the trailhead? The Tiger. As a backpacker, what I need for life, I can carry on my back with 32 pounds. I look at the Tiger and think, my God, that’s a mansion. Instant shower, overhead sleeper and a refrigerator? Give me my Mountain Dew.”