There’s a strong argument that VW started the camper van craze, way back with its Westfalia pop-up campers on the original Microbus. Camper vans are all the rage now (I live in one myself), yet you can’t get VW’s version in North America, despite being named the California. Why?
The Drive did some digging and found out. The entire article is worth a read, but in summary, it comes down to a few factors.
Entering the North American camper van market would require VW to enter the North American van market. While their Transporter is common elsewhere in the world, it’s never been sold here. It would cost millions to go through the safety and emissions certification process just to be able to offer it. Although the 25% “chicken tax” on imported commercial vehicles may be a factor as well, there are easy ways around that. Just ask Mercedes how they sell the Sprinter here. The California accounts for only a small fraction of all Transporters sold, and it simply wouldn’t be worth it just for that.
Still, RV and camper van sales have boomed during COVID-19. Especially in 2020, there simply wasn’t anything else to do, because everything was closed. Wouldn’t it be worth it for VW to cash in on that? Actually, no. Even if they were already perfectly positioned to start selling the California when demand for camper vans surged, it’s likely only a short-term bubble. We’re not out of the COVID-19 woods yet as variants keep spreading around, but society has decided it’s over anyway and reopened just about everything. As life returns to normal, and other forms of travel and entertainment take over again, the demand for RVs and camper vans will likely plummet. Value and prices will probably drop like crazy, taking all the profitability out of it.
Another factor is the overall economy. It’s already been on shaky ground during the pandemic, despite government relief efforts. If the bottom drops out, not only will people not be able to afford RVs and camper vans, they’ll have to sell the ones they have just to make ends meet. The end result is the same: prices plummet, and there’s no profit.
So as much as we’d like to see the return of the iconic VW-branded camper van, it’s not going to happen. From a business perspective, it makes perfect sense why.