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Friday, March 1, 2024

Ventje VW campervan evaluate: ‘do business from home’ from wherever

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Volkswagen would possibly construct the Transporter cargo van, however Frank Westland and his crew at Ventje within the Netherlands are liable for turning it into one thing particular: a camper that permits you to take your work or household off-grid for an prolonged weekend and nonetheless function your day by day driver upon return. It’s “the only car you need,” in line with the Ventje web site.

That’s an attention-grabbing proposition at a time when versatile work preparations carried out in response to the COVID-19 pandemic have gone from momentary to everlasting. As many as 38 % of American employees at the moment are in a position to do business from home full time, according to a new McKinsey survey, with much more — 58 % — in a position to work remotely no less than half time.

As a full-time flex employee myself, I organized a four-day journey in a Ventje (which roughly interprets to “little man” in Dutch) with my spouse and canine to see simply how adaptable this campervan actually is. I drove it 600 miles (1,000km) on a mixture of dusty dust roads, the über-fast German autobahn, and the dense city middle of Amsterdam. I additionally introduced my laptop computer and a Starlink RV internet kit alongside for the experience as a result of I nonetheless needed to present up for work — in Slack.

Afterward, I sat down with Westland and toured Ventje’s manufacturing traces to raised perceive how an organization of 33 staff is ready to create such a intelligent automobile.

Westland and crew ship about one new Ventje every day, incomes a loyal following within the course of. A group occasion held in June playfully titled “Eventje” noticed about 700 friends and 50 Ventje vans descend upon the corporate’s residence in Culemborg, positioned an hour exterior of Amsterdam. It’s right here, in a sprawling facility outlined by dozens of empty VW Transporters, the place the Ventje inside is manufactured and assembled to create a multifunctional residence on wheels.

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Ventje interiors convert from bed room to workplace to kitchen to lounge and again once more with stunning ease. Westland’s crew completed this by means of some creative engineering and computer-aided design, by assembling components produced with CNC precision, and with the help of over 100 magnets to maintain all these sustainable picket surfaces aligned and locked into place.

Ventje’s structure took 10 years to maneuver from Westland’s mind to sketchbook to computer-aided design.

Inside Ventje’s facility the place CNC machines lower wooden panels used all through the inside, together with this kitchen module.

“You’ve lots of designers drawing up one thing lovely that may’t be produced. Or engineers making one thing actually cool that’s not very usable. For me, that mixture is essential,” says Westland, who accomplished a mixed training in design and engineering on the age of 21.

Ventje’s design was solid from Westland’s personal journey experiences. It began after he graduated and set off to discover New Zealand with a tent and small automotive. He returned to Europe after a 12 months and discovered that he couldn’t simply pop up a tent wherever he parked. That led to ideas of a van. Missing any expertise with campers, he was unencumbered by conventional enthusiastic about layouts. So Westland started drafting his concepts in a sketchbook earlier than cobbling collectively his first automobile.

“I purchased an {old} VW T4 and constructed a easy kitchen within the again with easy seating,” says Westland, who then headed to Spain with it for a month and a half. “I might cease someplace and pop up the again and everyone would begin trying. ‘Oh, that’s straightforward. You possibly can simply stand exterior and {cook}.’ That’s once I first acquired the sensation that some individuals would love this structure and this manner of touring.”

Greater than a decade later and other people nonetheless cease to marvel on the kitchen — now extremely refined — any time I popped the tailgate on the Ventje T5 I used to be testing. At one level, I had a half-dozen strangers concurrently asking me questions concerning the van whereas parked at a competition campground. I heard literal gasps once I slid open a hidden drawer to start assembling Ventje’s flat-packed furnishings set that makes use of the inside’s cushions to create plush out of doors seating, full with a picnic desk.

Frank Westland and his private Ventje on the firm’s headquarters in Culemborg.

Eat

Westland’s crew has developed a relatively intricate basis onto which all the things is assembled contained in the van. (I wasn’t in a position to {photograph} it out of Westland’s concern that others would possibly copy it). This meticulous system avoids hinges that may break over time but nonetheless holds the seat cushions securely whereas permitting them to be simply eliminated and reconfigured. The crew even designed particular rails contained in the kitchen drawers to allow them to slide in each instructions and nonetheless lock in place with the assistance of magnets. It’s a pleasant contact that provides you entry to all the things within the kitchen from each inside and outdoors the van.

My take a look at van was one of many firm’s leases that got here stocked with all the things wanted to {cook} meals from scratch. My spouse and I largely cooked whereas standing exterior for the reason that climate was nice, with the open tailgate offering shade from the new solar. Hidden magnets maintain the big chopping board in place when chopping or opening the fridge upon which it rests, whereas different magnets maintain a lighter (for the gasoline range) and catch bottle caps sprung by the built-in opener. We solely accessed the kitchen from contained in the van when making easy breakfasts — it was good to begin the day slowly earlier than rolling up the magnetized window coverings to disclose ourselves to the world.

Applied sciences like Starlink RV made working from this competition in Germany straightforward.

Work

The Ventje proved to be comfy and succesful as a cell workplace. My van was fitted with a 180W photo voltaic panel that fed energy to a 95Ah battery that additionally acquired cost from the VW’s alternator when driving. Every Ventje van has 4x USB charging factors, 1x 12V socket, and 3x 230V European wall sockets conveniently positioned across the inside. As a bonus, the big out of doors tabletop may be hooked up (magnetically) to the small inside foldout desk for a extra expansive workspace when you must unfold out papers or share the desk along with your touring accomplice(s).

My day by day energy wants consisted of operating the van’s 26-liter fridge all day and evening, a Starlink RV web equipment for a number of hours, a 12V transportable Nespresso espresso machine for about an hour, a conveyable fan and the van’s personal air flow system for about eight hours every evening, and a water pump for a couple of minutes when washing dishes. (The kitchen is fitted with two propane burners as a substitute of induction to assist save on the wattage.) The van additionally needed to preserve a handful of USB units topped up, together with two units of AirPods, two telephones, and a MacBook. Though my MacBook can cost over USB-C I nonetheless wanted to make use of the much less environment friendly AC adapter since Ventjes are solely outfitted with 5V/2.1A USB-A jacks. Nonetheless, I used to be blissful to discover a pair inside straightforward attain of the pop-top the place I slept.

The ability meter on my take a look at Ventje by no means confirmed lower than 68 % (extra on that later) remaining throughout my testing, however driving a number of hours every day and parking in full solar actually helped preserve issues charged.

“I by no means change off something,” says Westland, who drives his Ventje year-round. “As a result of I’ve the photo voltaic panel, my fridge is at all times operating and all the things is at all times switched on. I by no means run out of battery.”

Nonetheless, if you happen to’re planning to take a seat within the wilds below cloudy skies for a number of days, then it’s good to know that there’s sufficient cupboard space inside a Ventje to pack a type of big batteries with transportable photo voltaic panels and nonetheless have ample room for all of your additional garments, linens, and toiletries. I introduced alongside a Jackery Explorer 2000 Pro that I by no means wanted. By sheer coincidence, it was precisely the best top to suit below one of many rear seats, and its 200W folding photo voltaic panel may very well be laid flat on the ground below the desk to completely fill the area between benches.

There’s even a spot to your slippers.

Sleep

Ventje vans can theoretically sleep 4 individuals: two above within the pop-top and two beneath when the seating is organized right into a mattress. However the slim 120cm x 200cm (47 x 80 inches) pop-top mattress is likely to be uncomfortable to share if you happen to’re touring in heat climates the place skin-on-skin contact should be prevented in any respect prices. The decrease mattress is a bit roomier, measuring 140cm at its widest level however continues to be akin to sharing a double mattress. My spouse and I ended up sleeping individually on the 2 very heat nights we had the van. That’s not ultimate for intimacy, but it surely did present a little bit of privateness, which is a luxurious when tenting. The canine slept within the area beneath the decrease mattress and didn’t complain.

I stay within the metropolis, so it’s an actual privilege to get up on a Monday morning within the forest. From my distant base, I might simply pursue passions like path operating or mountain biking earlier than returning to the van to begin work. In that manner, the Ventje T5 I used to be testing allowed me to maximise the worth of my very own versatile work association.

General, the inside structure was tremendous practical and clearly developed by a crew of skilled campers. The design was locked a number of years in the past, with solely minor tweaks within the time since to make issues extra accessible and cozy. The largest current change is that Ventje’s Transporters can now legally carry as much as 5 passengers because of the addition of two seat belts within the rear.

Navigating dense European cities is feasible because of the Ventje’s small measurement.

Drive

My take a look at Ventje dealt with each highway I threw at it. On uneven dust roads, the customized inside didn’t rattle or squeak on the way in which to off-grid campsites. The whole lot remained secure on the German autobahn, even at speeds above 140km/h (87mph), and the van proved nimble sufficient to be parallel parked (on the primary try!) within the dense metropolis middle of Amsterdam. Is a camper constructed atop the VW Transporter platform the most effective automotive for all these conditions? No, in fact not — however no single automotive is. Ventje’s “the one automotive you want” pitch is likely to be rooted in compromise, however there may be some reality to it — particularly for working households who dream of off-grid journey however can’t afford (or need) multiple automobile.

The plain draw back to this nomadic existence is the present spike in gasoline prices, particularly in Europe, the place costs have been hovering round $8 per gallon throughout my take a look at drive. Over 4 days, my gasoline complete got here to $198 (€190) in a modified VW T5 Transporter that averaged 24.7mpg. That’s solely barely beneath the EPA average of 25.4mpg for US automobiles, which is both spectacular for a European camper or a condemnation of America’s outsized automobiles.

Different observations:

  • One oddity I observed is that the battery’s show commonly confirmed 100% regardless of being partially depleted from in a single day utilization. It was solely when the 12V Nespresso machine was plugged in and lively that I noticed the share drop. Even then, you get a worst-case estimate earlier than the show stories the precise battery capability remaining, in line with Westland. For instance, the day I noticed the battery drop to 68 %, it confirmed 91 % a couple of minutes later, which was apparently the right studying.
  • There’s no pass-through from the entrance to the rear of the van. Which means stopping to get out and open the facet door must you want any snacks whereas driving.
  • Ventje employees gave me a 10-minute walkthrough earlier than driving away. Good factor as a result of I doubt I might have found each potential configuration and have in any other case.
  • The van’s inside didn’t rattle in any respect whereas driving. We solely heard some plastic cups (I feel) knocking round often since they have been poorly saved within the drawers of our rental.
  • There are such a lot of stunning little touches in every single place: an emergency rest room that matches between the seats (we didn’t take a look at this); magnetic privateness curtains that may be put in place and eliminated pretty rapidly; an built-in wine rack and shoe rack; pockets of storage in every single place together with a big recess to accommodate all of the linens through the day; and quick access to the van’s lights, AC inverter, air flow, and heater from a central console that’s conveniently positioned in the primary sitting (and sleeping) space.
  • There’s quick access to recent water, brown wastewater, trash, and gasoline bottles for fast servicing.
  • The ten liter fresh- and brown-water tanks are simply sufficient for about three days of frugal utilization for 2 individuals and a canine — however provided that you’re carrying your personal consuming water individually.

Ventje HQ about an hour exterior of Amsterdam.

I actually loved my time with the Ventje van. However, as a full-time flex employee with a car service subscription, any camper I purchase can be devoted to supporting three adults and a canine parked off-grid for greater than per week at a time — particularly when gasoline costs are excessive. So Ventje’s vans aren’t for me.

That’s high quality with Westland. His greater concern is that individuals available in the market for a camper don’t even know that his vans exist. “We labored so lengthy on the design, spent a lot effort and time to get all the things good that it seems like a waste if any person hasn’t seen it,” says the Ventje founder. “After I’m touring, I’ve so many individuals come as much as me and say ‘Oh shit. I simply purchased this factor right here.’ It seems like bragging, but it surely’s actually what occurs.”

If you wish to buy a Ventje, you’ll have to attend about seven months for the supply of your personalized VW Transporter T5, T6, or T6.1, with tax-inclusive costs starting from €50,000 ($50,000) for a used T5 to €99,000 ($99,000) for a brand new T6.1. Relying upon choices and nation of buy, that makes Ventje’s campers a bit cheaper than VW’s personal California camper collection. Ventje’s goal markets are the Netherlands, Belgium, and Germany at the moment, but it surely’s additionally labored with clients overseas who need to import Ventjes into nations just like the US.

As to the long run, Ventje’s trying to develop to new platforms. Volkswagen simply began manufacturing of the all-electric ID Buzz however has but to make a campervan model regardless of its microbus origins. It does make a bare-bones cargo van, although. “I’d actually wish to make a Ventje of that one,” says Westland, who thinks he might have a model prepared in about two years.

“We already ordered a pair and are engaged on the design.”

All Images by Thomas Ricker / The Verge



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