Tell us about the Club and why you joined SMMT?
The Club was formed in 1907 with 11 members and we now represent the interests of around a million leisure vehicle users. We operate a network of around 200 campsites in the UK and license a further 2,300 small (maximum 5 units) sites in rural areas.
We’re prominent in leisure vehicle insurance, which initially led us to joining SMMT and we now help to represent a growing number of light trailer, towbar, caravan and motorhome manufacturers – many of whom are low volume companies without the resources to attend in person – at discussions and focus groups. Of the 550,000 touring caravans and 225,000 motorhomes and campervans in the UK vehicle parc, over 90% of new caravans, around 60% of motorhomes and an overwhelming majority of smaller campervans are built in the UK.
We changed our name from The Caravan Club in 2017 to better reflect the steady growth of the motorhome sector.
You have evolved to provide industry support?
We’ve worked with manufacturers and dealers to help support the sector with positive news and advice on buying and using leisure vehicles safely. Our monthly club magazine continues to put tests of new towcars and leisure vehicles in front of members and we support the industry with sector insight, customer feedback, promotional partnerships and assistance with creation of specialist literature.
Our design competitions for towcars, caravans, motorhomes and campervans are usually hands-on assessments run in conjunction with major consumer shows or, in the case of Towcar of the Year, with a week of practical testing.
This year has had to be different, but we’ve continued to give manufacturers the opportunity to show off the best of their new models through virtual assessments, drawing on our decades of experience of doing this ‘for real’. We’ll conclude this annual cycle of competitions with a virtual version of our Motorhome and Campervan Design Awards Buyers’ Guide early in 2021.
Which commercials were recognised in the Caravan and Motorhome Club Tow of the Year Awards?
This year we evaluated 40 vehicles, which were carefully classed by weight and assessed by an independent panel of judges. The Nissan Navara dCi190 Double Cab N-Guard Automatic was named as Best Pick-Up, with judges commending it for, ‘providing the best of both worlds: a refined driving experience and cabin, yet rugged enough to handle all manner of caravanning paraphernalia in the load bed’.
A turbo diesel long wheelbase variant of the Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles Caravelle was named Best Large Family Towcar. Judges praised it for being a ‘problem solver’, offering versatility, payload and towing capability. The Skoda Superb Estate was the overall winner and full results can be found at the website.
2020 must have been a challenging year for the Club and leisure vehicle manufacturers?
There have been lots of negatives, but 2020 has had some positives. Many motorhome and campervan converters have had a phenomenal year – a lot are smaller companies who have found it easier to transition to socially-distanced working. The industry has also found a way to keep trading during restrictions by embracing contactless selling and home deliveries.
However, dealership and campsite closures during lockdowns and restrictions have undoubtedly been challenging. We initially helped more than 4,000 club members return home from winter holidays abroad, and kept 17 of our campsites open to accommodate key workers, those unable to return home or those caring for relatives.
The recruitment of new campers since touring has restarted has been phenomenal. . We’ve seen record recruitment figures, and will finish 2020 with our best membership figures for years, reflecting growth in the activity as a whole. People clearly appreciate the benefits of a holiday that is naturally socially-distanced: no travel with strangers, your own accomafation and little reliance on shared facilities.
Are you confident that the club’s buoyancy will be sustained through 2021?
The industry will probably see an overall drop in new leisure vehicle sales this year, but strong sales of both new and secondhand vehicles in the second half of the year has done a lot to make up for lost ground.
Our market is unusual in that it is still dominated by diesel engines, although we are seeing a gradual transition to hybrid and electric power. We recently opened our first campsite which will have dedicated EV charging points available in the communal parking areas, and on selected individual pitches at Cayton Village, near Scarborough.
Martin Spencer, technical manager, Caravan and Motorhome Club