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Eco-van man… on the factory floor of the zero-emissions, off-grid staycation



In fact, it already has. Last week it appeared as the only electric vehicle at the Caravan, Camping and Motorhome Show at the NEC in Birmingham.

At a trade show, where almost all its equivalents ran on diesel, it stood out. By next year, its makers predict, there will be many similar models, following in its emissions-free trail.

From its gleaming white kitchen to its removable seats, this, the first fully emissions free – including appliances – campervan, demonstrates how ingenuity can drive low-carbon innovation, and how a net zero future is about more than just developing emissions-free engines.

“I think what’s particularly clever about this,” the minister, Michael Matheson, said, “is that it’s been designed so that it can be repurposed.

“You can take the seats out, turn it into a full van, or incorporate another set of seats in it, and make it into a seven-seater, you can have an awning on the side and actually take the cooker unit and the sink unit outside, so you can have the kitchen outside.”

CampervanCo’s innovation, said Mr Matheson, went beyond the scope of just this van – it was impressive because of the way it embraced “the circular economy”.

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“This company are,” he said, “very often taking second-hand vehicles and converting them for a new purpose.”

Tall, bearded, dressed in walking boots, CampervanCo founder and CEO Gary Hayes led the tour of the factory. A climber and canoeist, he started the business back in 2006 as a campervan hire company, because he realised that friends were finding the hire of most vans too expensive. When he put the Mazda Bongos he bought up for hire, they instantly booked out – and he gave up his job as a journalist.

The first van he designed was sketched out on a sheet of technical graph paper he took into Alloa district court as something to keep him occupied whilst doing jury duty.

When the sales of that took off, he kept on expanding, moving up the scale in premises, from a lock-up behind a pet shop in Tillicoultry to Grangemouth and ultimately this latest factory space in Denny.

He said: “The key growth really started in 2016, when I personally set the business on the route to reduce our emissions. We originally were designing vehicles which were repurposed. My strapline was ‘exploring for all’ – it was about getting everybody out there to explore the countryside and do it responsibly.”

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Arranged across the factory floor is what seems to be at the same time both a museum-tour of the company’s recent history, and also the spectrum of green leisure travel now. Roofs are tilted to highight a patchwork of solar panels.

Modular kitchens, at various levels of development, are stacked in one corner. Vehicles range from repurposed petrol vans to hybrids and EV.

The answer to our transport emissions problems may ultimately be electric, but, as this factory demonstrates there are multiple useful steps along the way to green.

When Mr Hayes launched his first repurposed Toyota hybrid it became an overnight success.

He said: “We demonstrated that there’s a business model for going green and this was back in 2016. So we have just been endeavouring, looking and pushing that path and seeing how we can improve our vehicles and reduce our emissions.”

Now, in Denny, parked on the floor close to the R&D department is a Ford Transit hybrid.

He added: “We were the first hybrid campervan in the world. We introduced a cooking system whereby you could cook on the move.

“What the hybrid was doing was doing regenerative breaking, so every time you brake, you recharge the hybrid battery – which is now universal. What we looked at was what we could do with all this kinetic energy that could be captured. And we thought, why wait till you get to the campsite to cook, when you can cook en route?”

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Similar ingenious ideas have been incorporated into the new Proace Eco REVOLUTION zero-emissions van. It has been fitted with infrar-ed hob and heated bed, has removable units and seats so it can be adapted to take seven people.

Its kitchen can be pulled out into an awning to allow cooking outside.

CampervanCo is also benefitting from a rising wave of campervan travel popularity, as well as the drive towards low carbon.

Mr Matheson added: “We saw very considerable increase in campervan use over the course of the last few years particularly off the back of the pandemic – and that’s likely to just continue to grow as more and more people want to enjoy staycations, not just through the summer months, but right throughout the course of the year.

“This offers a whole range of opportunities for people and not just for here in Scotland, but for travelling across Europe as well.”

Among the innovations that the minister highlighted his appreciation for was its heated bed – ideal for that all-year round travel in the Scottish climate.

Mr Matheson added: “It’s interesting to see how they have taken heated-seat technology that is very often taken for granted in cars, and incorporated it into beds – so you actually have a heated bed as well.

“I’m a camper but not a campervan user – so this would be a real trade-up. I’ve used bothies over the years – where it wasn’t so much running water and heated seats, more a case of hot and cold running mice.”

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