Dan Cartwright has over 12 years of experience in the caravan and motorhome industry. He is a judge for a number of prestigious leisure vehicle awards and regularly heads off in his motorhome with his family. Every week, Dan shares his insights with the community. Here’s what he has to say this week.
I’ve just returned from Birmingham, having spent the last five days at the Motorhome and Caravan Show at the NEC. I got there on Saturday to spend a few days during setup adding the finishing touches to the judging of the Caravan and Motorhome Club’s Caravan Design Awards 2024.
For those unaware of the event, manufacturers submit models to certain categories, including layout, price or specific attributions to family caravanning. Then, they’re judged by a panel of eight expert judges – or seven expert judges and me!
We spent two weeks scrutinising every little detail against predefined scorecards digitally, in the same way a customer would when conducting research online. Then, we had four days at the show visiting each and every caravan submitted to ratify our results.
Physically, we inspect all of the things that, unfortunately, caravan manufacturers are not always entirely accurate or forthcoming about online. This allows us to double-check our scores in person.
Like I’ve said many times before, it’s truly a pleasure to be a judge at these events. Sometimes, it’s incredibly eye-opening, too!
For the full list of winners, head to the Caravan and Motorhome Club website. And for my judging highlights, get comfy and read on.
Adapting to the digital age
The caravan market is typically slow to adopt new technology. When it does, it’s usually implemented on the high-end ranges before funnelling down to more affordable models.
However, this year, I’ve seen what I would almost describe as an explosion of wonderful new tech, designed for people entering the market and in line with how we live at home, utilise media and consume entertainment.
Now, caravans have had USB sockets for a long time, but we’re finally starting to see the slightly more useful USB-C standard creeping into certain models.
Well done to Adria, who seems to be leading the way on this. It’s so useful to have USB-C ports available in the modern world because so much technology relies on them to charge. Now, I know that with my phone, laptop and other devices, I can rely on a caravan with the correct sockets and a reasonable amperage.
In certain Eriba and Adria models, we noticed lights that could be detached, with their own batteries. How useful that would be to guide you to the toilet block in the middle of the night!?
Obviously, most people would be using these to light up the awning on a nice evening and, surprisingly, you can even charge your phone from the same battery. No more big torches by the door, these are stylish, innovative and incredibly functional.
The caravan industry is starting to pivot away from car stereos and favour Bluetooth technology.
Bailey of Bristol implemented a SONOS speaker with a dedicated cradle, in which it can charge, but also can be detached to take anywhere you’d like – the beach, awning or even the toilet block if you want to!
It’s high quality, well thought out and much more in line with how people utilise technology in other areas of their lives. Another interesting point from Bailey is that this technology is in their entry-level Phoenix model, not hidden behind the curtain of luxury ranges.
I’ve noticed a proliferation of wireless charging points this year. If you’re relaxing in your caravan, just pop your phone or other compatible device on the unit for a few minutes for a little boost, without cables going everywhere.
Many also pop up to reveal additional USB sockets if your device isn’t compatible with wireless charging, which is fantastic to see.
Mood lighting, dimmer switches and lighting modes are now a thing you can use to embrace a feeling of zen in your caravan and create the perfect atmosphere.
Some of these are controlled by apps, others by switches, but with LED lighting being so popular in features like edging, awning rails and countertops, controlling the colour, tone and overall mood is a welcome addition.
I’m sure some of my fellow judges would argue they’re not all that new, but I’ve noticed some really innovative family layouts this year.
Previously, the options were just bunk beds, side dinettes and the like. Now, there are so many layouts, including those with full-sized bunks and rear lounges.
Regardless of how old your children are, the variety of large family layouts means you’re much more likely to find one that’s perfect for you. I think more families are now entering the caravanning world than ever before and to see manufacturers respecting this and considering the best use of space is fantastic.
The first integrated electric caravan
Finally, there’s an integrated electric caravan – the KNAUS YASEO. Whilst it didn’t win in its category, it must be said that the technology is really cool.
This two-berth caravan is designed to take loads of kit on an active holiday. It can plug into your EV and charge directly from your car, which is perfect if you want to do some wild camping.
The YASEO has induction hobs for that full off-grid experience and not having to worry about your leisure battery going flat is very reassuring. It’s fair to say there’s a little bit of work to do on the layout, but this kind of tech is amazing to see coming onto the market.
Final thoughts and the winners
If you’re visiting the NEC show this weekend and thinking about purchasing a caravan, the awards aren’t saying the winners are the only models you should consider.
However, if you’re looking within a specific category or pining for a certain layout, I’d strongly recommend you go and take a look at these as a guide. Use them as a benchmark to ascertain what’s considered to be good, as well as the specification and equipment for the price.
The full list of winners:
- Any caravan up to £25,000: Swift Sprite Major 4 SB
- Any pop-top caravan over 1,150kg: Eriba Touring 630 Legend
- Any two-berth caravan: Bailey Unicorn Seville
- Conventional caravan with three or four berths: Bailey Unicorn Madrid
- Any fixed-bed caravan with three or four berths: Bailey Alicanto Grande Evora
- Any caravan with five or six berths: Adria Adora 623 DT Sava
- Any eight-foot wide caravan: Swift Elegance Grande 780
- Any family caravan: Adria Altea 612 DL Tyne
- Any large family caravan: Bailey Phoenix GT75 762
- Any caravan over £45,000: Swift Elegance Grande 860
Photo credit: Caravan and Motorhome Club