Airstream's Nest RV

For the first time in its nearly 90-year history, RV manufacturer Airstream is producing a fibreglass trailer, the Nest. It’s lighter, more contemporary looking and cheaper than its metallic counterparts. (Airstream)

Features | From Pivot Magazine

Let it be light

Farewell, aluminum. Airstream is making a bid for the #vanlife set with a cheaper, lighter trailer.

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THE GAMBLE: For the first time in its nearly 90-year history, RV manufacturer Airstream is producing a fibreglass trailer, the Nest. It’s lighter (3,400 pounds, which means it can be towed by a small SUV as opposed to a truck), more contemporary looking (crisp, minimal, iPhone-esque) and cheaper (US$49,500 versus $139,000 for a full-size Classic) than its metallic counterparts. The company hopes to capitalize on North America’s expanding RV market, currently worth $20 billion. The towables market alone grew by 14.4 per cent in 2017, driven by sales of Nest-like campers. Still, the Nest poses a risk to the brand: while a proprietary gel coating makes the camper’s body more durable, such lightweight shells tend to break down after 10 to 15 years. That’s a dangerous game for a product that’s built a name on lasting forever. 

THE PLAN: According to COO Justin Humphreys, Airstream isn’t worried about brand damage. The Nest launch, he says, is all about “entering a new market. The small molded fibreglass segment of the RV industry is a space we feel we can compete in nicely and attract a new buyer.” RV enthusiasts have traditionally been older, but are increasingly young first-timers who are enamoured with the wanderlust of #vanlife, the social media phenomenon of travelling in small, mobile digs and documenting it with aspirational Instagram posts. 

THE RESULT: Since the Nest launched in April, Can-Am RV Centre, in London, Ont., has sold a few of them, according to sales representative Dan Meyer, and interest from customers is strong. “The question, for that price, is whether or not the RV will hold its value in the long term,” he says. “It costs quite a bit more than traditional fibreglass RVs. I’ve sold 40-year-old Airstreams that are structurally sound. I’ve never even seen a 40-year-old fibreglass trailer.” In other words, it’s too soon to draw conclusions. Meyer says that Airstream is currently producing only five Nests per week and, as a result, the higher level of craftsmanship going into these campers could set them apart from cheaper, mass-­produced fibreglass models. There’s certainly no shortage of those on the market (see Happy Trailers, below). Last year, revenue at competitor ­Winnebago surged with the introduction of small, millennial-friendly trailers, which at their most expensive—the comparably sized Minnie Drop—are still $28,000 cheaper than the Nest. 

HAPPY TRAILERS

These lightweight campers make it easy to hit the road (or the water).

Sealander camper

For vacationers who can’t decide between a boat and a trailer, there’s the fibreglass Sealander. The 70-square-foot camper (with a bedroom/dining space and kitchenette) has a built-in motor that converts the vessel into a mini yacht. 
From $27,250

Vistabule camper

At 50 square feet, the tear-shaped Vistabule is tiny (the sofa folds into a bed; the kitchen unfurls from the trunk), but offers expansive views through the moon roof and the front and rear panoramic windows. 
From US$17,995

Little Guy MyPod

MyPod is microscopic (less than 50 square feet), lightweight (630 pounds of fibreglass) and can be towed by almost any sedan. For claustrophobic types, an optional, attachable screen almost doubles the floor space. 
US$10,000