2022-Ventje VW campervan review: ‘work from home’ from anywhere

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Volkswagen would possibly construct the Transporter cargo van, however Frank Westland and his crew at Ventje within the Netherlands are answerable for turning it into one thing particular: a camper that permits you to take your work or household off-grid for an prolonged weekend and nonetheless function your each day driver upon return. It’s “the only car you need,” in keeping with the Ventje web site.

That’s an attention-grabbing proposition at a time when versatile work preparations applied in response to the COVID-19 pandemic have gone from non permanent to everlasting. As many as 38 p.c of American employees at the moment are in a position to work at home full time, in keeping with a brand new McKinsey survey, with much more — 58 p.c — in a position to work remotely a minimum of half time.

As a full-time flex employee myself, I organized a four-day journey in a Ventje (which roughly interprets to “little man” in Dutch) with my spouse and canine to see simply how adaptable this campervan actually is. I drove it 600 miles (1,000km) on a mixture of dusty filth roads, the über-fast German autobahn, and the dense city middle of Amsterdam. I additionally introduced my laptop computer and a Starlink RV web equipment alongside for the experience as a result of I nonetheless needed to present up for work — in Slack.

Afterward, I sat down with Westland and toured Ventje’s manufacturing traces to raised perceive how an organization of 33 workers is ready to create such a intelligent car.

Westland and crew ship about one new Ventje every day, incomes a loyal following within the course of. A group occasion held in June playfully titled “Eventje” noticed about 700 visitors and 50 Ventje vans descend upon the corporate’s house in Culemborg, positioned an hour outdoors of Amsterdam. It’s right here, in a sprawling facility outlined by dozens of empty VW Transporters, the place the Ventje inside is manufactured and assembled to create a multifunctional house on wheels.

Ventje interiors convert from bed room to workplace to kitchen to lounge and again once more with stunning ease. Westland’s crew achieved this by way of some creative engineering and computer-aided design, by assembling elements produced with CNC precision, and with the help of over 100 magnets to maintain all these sustainable wood surfaces aligned and locked into place.

Ventje’s structure took 10 years to maneuver from Westland’s mind to sketchbook to computer-aided design.

Inside Ventje’s facility the place CNC machines lower wooden panels used all through the inside, together with this kitchen module.

“You’ve gotten lots of designers drawing up one thing lovely that may’t be produced. Or engineers making one thing actually cool that’s not very usable. For me, that mixture is essential,” says Westland, who accomplished a mixed training in design and engineering on the age of 21.

Ventje’s design was cast from Westland’s personal journey experiences. It began after he graduated and set off to discover New Zealand with a tent and small automotive. He returned to Europe after a yr and realized that he couldn’t simply pop up a tent wherever he parked. That led to ideas of a van. Missing any expertise with campers, he was unencumbered by conventional enthusiastic about layouts. So Westland started drafting his concepts in a sketchbook earlier than cobbling collectively his first car.

“I purchased an outdated VW T4 and constructed a easy kitchen within the again with easy seating,” says Westland, who then headed to Spain with it for a month and a half. “I’d cease someplace and pop up the again and everyone would begin wanting. ‘Oh, that’s simple. You’ll be able to simply stand outdoors and cook dinner.’ That’s once I first bought the sensation that some individuals would really like this structure and this manner of touring.”

Greater than a decade later and folks nonetheless cease to marvel on the kitchen — now extremely refined — any time I popped the tailgate on the Ventje T5 I used to be testing. At one level, I had a half-dozen strangers concurrently asking me questions concerning the van whereas parked at a competition campground. I heard literal gasps once I slid open a hidden drawer to start assembling Ventje’s flat-packed furnishings set that makes use of the inside’s cushions to create plush out of doors seating, full with a picnic desk.

Frank Westland and his private Ventje on the firm’s headquarters in Culemborg.

Eat

Westland’s crew has developed a somewhat intricate basis onto which all the pieces is assembled contained in the van. (I wasn’t in a position to {photograph} it out of Westland’s concern that others would possibly copy it). This meticulous system avoids hinges that may break over time but nonetheless holds the seat cushions securely whereas permitting them to be simply eliminated and reconfigured. The crew even designed particular rails contained in the kitchen drawers to allow them to slide in each instructions and nonetheless lock in place with the assistance of magnets. It’s a pleasant contact that provides you entry to all the pieces within the kitchen from each inside and out of doors the van.

My take a look at van was one of many firm’s leases that got here stocked with all the pieces wanted to cook dinner meals from scratch. My spouse and I largely cooked whereas standing outdoors because the climate was nice, with the open tailgate offering shade from the recent solar. Hidden magnets maintain the massive slicing board in place when chopping or opening the fridge upon which it rests, whereas different magnets maintain a lighter (for the gasoline range) and catch bottle caps sprung by the built-in opener. We solely accessed the kitchen from contained in the van when making easy breakfasts — it was good to start out the day slowly earlier than rolling up the magnetized window coverings to disclose ourselves to the world.

Applied sciences like Starlink RV made working from this competition in Germany simple.

Work

The Ventje proved to be comfy and succesful as a cellular workplace. My van was fitted with a 180W photo voltaic panel that fed energy to a 95Ah battery that additionally acquired cost from the VW’s alternator when driving. Every Ventje van has 4x USB charging factors, 1x 12V socket, and 3x 230V European wall sockets conveniently positioned across the inside. As a bonus, the massive out of doors tabletop might be connected (magnetically) to the small inside foldout desk for a extra expansive workspace when it’s essential to unfold out papers or share the desk together with your touring associate(s).

My each day energy wants consisted of operating the van’s 26-liter fridge all day and night time, a Starlink RV web equipment for a couple of hours, a 12V moveable Nespresso espresso machine for about an hour, a conveyable fan and the van’s personal air flow system for about eight hours every night time, and a water pump for a couple of minutes when washing dishes. (The kitchen is fitted with two propane burners as a substitute of induction to assist save on the wattage.) The van additionally needed to hold a handful of USB units topped up, together with two units of AirPods, two telephones, and a MacBook. Though my MacBook can cost over USB-C I nonetheless wanted to make use of the much less environment friendly AC adapter since Ventjes are solely geared up with 5V/2.1A USB-A jacks. Nonetheless, I used to be joyful to discover a pair inside simple attain of the pop-top the place I slept.

The ability meter on my take a look at Ventje by no means confirmed lower than 68 p.c (extra on that later) remaining throughout my testing, however driving a couple of hours every day and parking in full solar actually helped hold issues charged.

“I by no means change off something,” says Westland, who drives his Ventje year-round. “As a result of I’ve the photo voltaic panel, my fridge is all the time operating and all the pieces is all the time switched on. I by no means run out of battery.”

Nonetheless, for those who’re planning to take a seat within the wilds below cloudy skies for a number of days, then it’s good to know that there’s sufficient space for storing inside a Ventje to pack a kind of large batteries with moveable photo voltaic panels and nonetheless have ample room for all of your additional garments, linens, and toiletries. I introduced alongside a Jackery Explorer 2000 Professional that I by no means wanted. By sheer coincidence, it was precisely the suitable peak to suit below one of many rear seats, and its 200W folding photo voltaic panel may very well be laid flat on the ground below the desk to completely fill the house between benches.

There’s even a spot in your slippers.

Sleep

Ventje vans can theoretically sleep 4 individuals: two above within the pop-top and two beneath when the seating is organized right into a mattress. However the slender 120cm x 200cm (47 x 80 inches) pop-top mattress could be uncomfortable to share for those who’re touring in heat climates the place skin-on-skin contact should be averted in any respect prices. The decrease mattress is a bit roomier, measuring 140cm at its widest level however remains to be akin to sharing a double mattress. My spouse and I ended up sleeping individually on the 2 very heat nights we had the van. That’s not ideally suited for intimacy, but it surely did present a little bit of privateness, which is a luxurious when tenting. The canine slept within the house beneath the decrease mattress and didn’t complain.

I dwell within the metropolis, so it’s an actual privilege to get up on a Monday morning within the forest. From my distant base, I may simply pursue passions like path operating or mountain biking earlier than returning to the van to start out work. In that manner, the Ventje T5 I used to be testing allowed me to maximise the worth of my very own versatile work association.

Total, the inside structure was tremendous useful and clearly developed by a crew of skilled campers. The design was locked a couple of years in the past, with solely minor tweaks within the time since to make issues extra accessible and cozy. The most important current change is that Ventje’s Transporters can now legally carry as much as 5 passengers because of the addition of two seat belts within the rear.

Navigating dense European cities is feasible as a result of Ventje’s small dimension.

Drive

My take a look at Ventje dealt with each highway I threw at it. On uneven filth roads, the customized inside didn’t rattle or squeak on the way in which to off-grid campsites. All the pieces remained steady on the German autobahn, even at speeds above 140km/h (87mph), and the van proved nimble sufficient to be parallel parked (on the primary try!) within the dense metropolis middle of Amsterdam. Is a camper constructed atop the VW Transporter platform the very best automotive for all these conditions? No, after all not — however no single automotive is. Ventje’s “the one automotive you want” pitch could be rooted in compromise, however there may be some reality to it — particularly for working households who dream of off-grid journey however can’t afford (or need) a couple of car.

The apparent draw back to this nomadic existence is the present spike in gas prices, particularly in Europe, the place costs had been hovering round $8 per gallon throughout my take a look at drive. Over 4 days, my gas whole got here to $198 (€190) in a modified VW T5 Transporter that averaged 24.7mpg. That’s solely barely beneath the EPA average of 25.4mpg for US vehicles, which is both spectacular for a European camper or a condemnation of America’s outsized autos.

Different observations:

  • One oddity I observed is that the battery’s show frequently confirmed one hundred pc regardless of being partially depleted from in a single day utilization. It was solely when the 12V Nespresso machine was plugged in and energetic that I noticed the proportion drop. Even then, you get a worst-case estimate earlier than the show reviews the precise battery capability remaining, in keeping with Westland. For instance, the day I noticed the battery drop to 68 p.c, it confirmed 91 p.c a couple of minutes later, which was apparently the proper studying.
  • There’s no pass-through from the entrance to the rear of the van. Which means stopping to get out and open the aspect door do you have to want any snacks whereas driving.
  • Ventje workers gave me a 10-minute walkthrough earlier than driving away. Good factor as a result of I doubt I’d have found each attainable configuration and have in any other case.
  • The van’s inside didn’t rattle in any respect whereas driving. We solely heard some plastic cups (I believe) knocking round often since they had been poorly saved within the drawers of our rental.
  • There are such a lot of stunning little touches in all places: an emergency rest room that matches between the seats (we didn’t take a look at this); magnetic privateness curtains that may be put in place and eliminated pretty rapidly; an built-in wine rack and shoe rack; pockets of storage in all places together with a big recess to deal with all of the linens throughout the day; and easy accessibility to the van’s lights, AC inverter, air flow, and heater from a central console that’s conveniently positioned in the primary sitting (and sleeping) space.
  • There’s easy accessibility to recent water, brown wastewater, trash, and gasoline bottles for fast servicing.
  • The ten liter fresh- and brown-water tanks are simply sufficient for about three days of frugal utilization for 2 individuals and a canine — however provided that you’re carrying your personal consuming water individually.

Ventje HQ about an hour outdoors of Amsterdam.

I actually loved my time with the Ventje van. However, as a full-time flex employee with a automotive service subscription, any camper I purchase can be devoted to supporting three adults and a canine parked off-grid for greater than every week at a time — particularly when gas costs are excessive. So Ventje’s vans aren’t for me.

That’s high quality with Westland. His larger concern is that individuals out there for a camper don’t even know that his vans exist. “We labored so lengthy on the design, spent a lot effort and time to get all the pieces good that it seems like a waste if someone hasn’t seen it,” says the Ventje founder. “Once I’m touring, I’ve so many individuals come as much as me and say ‘Oh shit. I simply purchased this factor right here.’ It seems like bragging, but it surely’s actually what occurs.”

If you wish to buy a Ventje, you’ll have to attend about seven months for the supply of your personalized VW Transporter T5, T6, or T6.1, with tax-inclusive costs starting from €50,000 ($50,000) for a used T5 to €99,000 ($99,000) for a brand new T6.1. Relying upon choices and nation of buy, that makes Ventje’s campers a bit cheaper than VW’s personal California camper sequence. Ventje’s goal markets are the Netherlands, Belgium, and Germany at present, but it surely’s additionally labored with clients overseas who need to import Ventjes into nations just like the US.

As to the long run, Ventje’s seeking to broaden to new platforms. Volkswagen simply began manufacturing of the all-electric ID Buzz however has but to make a campervan model regardless of its microbus origins. It does make a bare-bones cargo van, although. “I’d actually prefer to make a Ventje of that one,” says Westland, who thinks he may have a model prepared in about two years.

“We already ordered a pair and are engaged on the design.”

All Images by Thomas Ricker / The Verge

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