Concept vehicles have been part of the automotive industry’s annual new-model-year debuts ever since legendary General Motors designer Harley Earl unveiled the Buick “Y-Job” at the 1938 National Automobile Show.
One thing all of them have had in common, however, is an inability to translate intricate design studies into mass assembly. So, while certain features of concept cars find their way onto production vehicles few if any of those new concepts ever see the floor of a dealership’s showroom.
And while the RV industry isn’t known for creating such prototypes, the few that have been revealed over the years have likewise fallen victim at least in part to the limitations posed by production lines — except, perhaps, for the Sonic X from KZ RV subsidiary Venture RV — selected by the RVBusiness staff as the 2020 RVBusiness RV of the Year.
“The Venture RV Sonic X really does bridge the gap between creative thinking and sheer marketability,” noted RVBusiness Publisher Sherm Goldenberg.
Initially created as a design study of sorts for the RV Industry Association’s 2019 “RVX: The RV Experience” trade show last March, the Sonic X was never really intended to go into production. As a testament to the industry’s creativity, however, the completely self-sustainable Sonic X pushed all the buttons expected of a prototype: It showcased new technologies, engaged public interest and, of course, created a lot of “buzz” for the Shipshewana, Ind.-based firm.
“We knew there was nothing else out there with the Sonic X’s capabilities, especially under 6,000 pounds, so we thought ‘let’s build it,’” said Venture RV General Manager Dave Boggs. “Aram (Koltookian, president of KZ RV) gave me the approval and we worked to create a version while keeping the costs reasonable.”
What Venture RV came up with captures most of the features of the original concept vehicle.
For instance, while the prototype’s nine solar panels and batteries might have punted the Sonic X into practical dreamland, the production unit utilizes four solar panels, a 250-amp lithium-ion battery, Go Power! 2000-watt inverter and 100-amp charger for easy off-the-grid operation.
“Before we built the prototype, we asked dry campers how much power they needed,” explained Koltookian. “They said 300 watts could get them through. Well, our production unit offers 400 watts.”
The Sonic X also retains its visual off-road cues — 15-inch off-road tires, rock guards, high-definition LED light bars front and rear as well as a trademark tubular “nerf bar” bumper system.
And, while those carbon fiber walls of the original have given way to high-gloss laminated fiberglass mounted to aluminum framing, price did not dictate every decision. In fact, the production version has actually been improved in certain instances.
“We upgraded the water filtration system to truly be a one-of-a-kind system that will draw water up to 75 feet away, from a six-foot drop,” said Koltookian. “It first goes through a five-micron filter, then through an active oxygen generator and yet another micron filter. So, it removes all of contaminants — iron, lead, sulfur, all of those things that make water taste foul — and sanitizes the water system.”
The Sonic X is currently available in two floorplans — the rear-bath 26-foot, 11-inch SN220VRBX and the SN211VDBX, which incorporates rear twin beds into its 26-foot, 6-inch dimensions – both of which offer a single streetside slideout.
“It wasn’t an easy choice, by any means,” noted RVBusiness Editor Bruce Hampson. “There were a number of impressive motorized and towable units at Open House this year that could easily have made the cut. In fact, winnowing our list down to just five finalists was a drawn-out debate.”
Among the five finalists:
- Keystone Sprinter 3610FWFKS: Keystone RV Co. pioneered the modern front kitchen concept in fifth-wheels with its Montana line and the Sprinter 3610FWFKS takes it a step further, creating an open, airy floorplan with a bartop dining area rather than freestanding dinette, dual kitchen entry and an exterior kitchen as well.
- Camp 365 by AWOL Outdoors: This intricately designed towable weighs in at a base of less than 1,500 pounds, yet opens up at the campsite to create a comfortable environment with 700 cubic feet of living space.
- Newmar Supreme Aire: Newmar’s second Super C model, this Cummins-powered unit features a unique “bridge” between the cab and house, which allows Newmar to retain the chassis air-cab system and puts the cockpit on the same level as the coach.
- nuCamp Aria: First seen at last year’s Open House as a prototype, the sleek 5,185-pound (dry) Avia offers a front wraparound telescoping dinette, rear queen bedroom suite with telescoping bathroom and sleeps four.
Be sure to read the November/December issue of RVBusiness for more information on these vehicles as well as the RVBusiness “Top Debuts” selections for the 2020 model year.