Camper Vans have celebrity fans — actor Matthew McConaughey convinced girlfriend Penelope Cruz to go on holiday with him in his camper van this year. He said: “I love my mobile home, I can feel my independence. I have everything I need.” The film About Schmidt, in which Jack Nicholson played a man who set out on a cross-country journey in a camper van, apparently led to a rise in sales of luxury camper vans to pensioners.
US households with RVs (i.e. motorhomes, or camper van as they are called in the UK) will reach 8 million by the end of the decade, according to the RVIA 2005 business indicators. There are just 3 million camper van owners in Europe – 500,000 of them in Italy. Last year a record 8,487 new motor homes and camper vans were registered for use on British roads. The market for camper vans grew in France by 3.7% per cent and in Germany by 6.6%.
In the United States, the core market for RVs has always been the over 55s, a combination of early retirers and empty nesters heading out for life on the road. But that is changing , and 35-55s are now the fastest growth area. In addition there is another 8.8 million people currently living in static homes in the US – trailer parks, that is. But they are often beset by social problems and the stigma of residents being labelled “trailer trash”.
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According to a recent report by social scientists Sonya Salamon and Katherine McTavish many US trailer park dwellers end up “quasi homeless”, at the mercy of unscrupulous park owners, poor safety standards and exorbitant fees.
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The situation is very different in the UK, where about 250,000 people live in park homes on about 1,700 sites. At the moment they are mostly retired people, with many sites barring entry to anyone under 55.
UK’s park home manufacturers are booming, with sales increasing by more than 20% a year. Park homes, which can include everything from a static caravan to something resembling a bungalow, can cost as little as £20,000 to buy although a chalet in a desirable part of the country such as the Lake District can cost as much as £250,000. Some 2,800 new homes were manufactured in 2003, according to figures from the National Caravan Council.
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But these were largely replacements for older models. In order to significantly increase the number of residents the industry needs a more favourable planning environment.
The UK government has recently brought in legislation to clamp down on unscrupulous park operators who force occupants out of their homes to claim the land – and to give local authorities a duty to monitor and enforce site standards. Residents were last year given the same rights as people living in flats or houses. It is currently holding roadshows around the country to explain the changes to park operators, residents and local authorities.
McConaughey doesn’t just use his personal Airstream trailer as a babe magnet. The actor, who stars in and is an executive producer of the upcoming action-adventure “Sahara,” has been on a cross-country promotional tour for the movie in his Airstream, which was specially outfitted with art from the film.
McConaughey kicked off the tour in Daytona Beach where he served as Grand Marshal for the Daytona 500. Following that, he will make stops in big cities, small towns and military bases from Orlando to New York to San Diego during the six-week tour.