Conversions Are All the Rage in Recreational Van Market

by Wendy on May 24, 2016

by: Dylan Darling (

Matt Carr stepped into a Sprinter conversion van Tuesday morning and explained why he hopes such small-gear haulers could be the next big thing for the Eugene company he just bought.

Oregon Motorcoach Center converted the commercial van for Mercedes-Benz of Eugene and plans to convert more vehicles. Carr expects demand from outdoor enthusiasts. Depending on customer request, the company can outfit vans to hold an ATV, carry snowboards or hold stand-up paddleboards.

Workers recently completed the prototype van for the Mercedes dealership and geared it for mountain bike riders.

“It gives them what they need,” said Carr, who this month completed his purchase of Oregon Motorcoach. “It is functional.”

The conversion includes bicycle racks, a 150-PSI air compressor and an electric cooler, as well as a table and bed.

About 30 percent of the 100 Sprinter vans that Eric Voss, commercial vans manager at Mercedes-Benz of Eugene, sells each year are destined for conversion. He said the vans have proved popular for conversion because of fuel economy, longevity and resale value. It helps that the vans can come from the factory with raised roofs tall enough for most people to stand inside.

Sprinter vans provide “something that is roomy,” Voss said.

The Mercedes three-pointed star ornament has been on Sprinter vans in the United States since 2010, he said. The brand’s parent company first made the vans, which had been a popular design in Europe, available in the United States in the 1990s as Freightliner vans. They then carried the Dodge logo before becoming Mercedes vans.

Converting vans is not a new phenomenon. Greg Storm, owner of Van Specialties in Tualatin, said his company has been making “Magic Vans,” conversion vans suited to all sorts of outdoor activity, since 1973. What has changed is converting vans that were not originally built as converted vehicles.

Dodge, Chevy and Ford panel vans used to be the base models for conversion. Sprinters now make up the bulk of the about 120 conversions that Storm does each year.

“The van is very versatile,” he said.

His company has a 14-month wait list for customers wanting a Sprinter conversion.

A couple of years ago, Mercedes added a 4×4 Sprinter to its lineup, increasing the demand for the vans, said Chris Schey, marketing director for Outside Van. The Troutdale company also converts vans.

Along with mountain bike riders, their customers include rock climbers, windsurfers and kiteboarders. The vans serve as gear haulers and campers, with some equipped with toilets, showers and kitchens.

He said the van is “not too big, but big enough that if you design a lot you can get a lot out of it.”

The company is booked until February with Sprinter conversions.

Cost of converting a Sprinter at Oregon Motorcoach ranges from $15,000 to $50,000, said Oregon Motorcoach owner Carr. The cost goes up with whatever customers add to the design.

The vans themselves sell for $33,000 to about $60,000, said Voss, the Mercedes sales manager in Eugene. The price goes up with bigger engines and larger vans.

Oregon Motorcoach’s addition of Sprinter and other smaller van and vehicle conversions to its offerings represents a broader change in the recreational vehicle market. Customers once wanted RVs with the creature comforts of home, Carr said. Now, many people are looking for something to be a mobile base camp.

Carr’s background is in big RVs. For 23 years he worked at Country Coach, a RV manufacturer based in Junction City.

Bob Lee, who founded Country Coach, established Oregon Motorcoach in 2008, and the company has done well even as RV manufacturing overall in Lane County dropped. Carr declined to say how much he paid for the business.

The repair center offers a range of services, including chassis work, painting and air conditioning maintenance.

The company employees 14 people, and Carr said he is hiring a couple more, expecting an increase in business with the firm’s entrance into van conversions.

Mercedes-Benz of Eugene also has expansion plans. The dealership is looking to break ground on a new commercial van center, where Sprinter vans will be sold, Voss said. The center, in the former home of the Eastside Faith Center along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, should open by the end of the year.

A scuba diver, Carr said he might buy a Sprinter van for himself. He would set it up to haul tanks, flippers and wetsuits.

“This will take you to all the roads you want to travel,” Carr said, standing in the Sprinter.


To read the original article, go to Conversions Are All the Rage in Recreational Van Market

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