A Glasgow company that is a UK leader in wheelchair accessible vehicles is transferring its expertise in vehicle conversions to launch a fleet of three-berth campervans designed and built in Scotland.
Wildcat Campervans – which launches today with the Panther – is the brainchild of David Facenna, Corporate Culture Director of the family-owned Allied Vehicles Group, who came up with the idea in between pandemic lockdowns when people were still allowed to travel.
“I saw them everywhere,” said David. “I put a business plan together 18 months ago and our operations board approved it basically straight away.
“Once we’d drilled down into all the numbers, it made perfect sense because we’ve got everything in house and the key part for me when I was doing the research on other camper convertors was the lack of any backup service.”
As part of this research David trawled through online campervan forums, where owners’ main complaint was all too familiar: “The running theme through all of these complaints was that once they [suppliers] take your money, they’re not interested. Something goes wrong and you’re on your own.”
One story in particular stuck in his mind ¬– a man who had spent around £70,000 on a new motorhome and taken it up to the North Coast 500 in its first month, only for the trip to be ruined when the van’s water pump died, leaving them unable to use the shower or sink.
The owner phoned the agent who sold him the van and was told it wasn’t their responsibility and he had to phone the manufacturer. However, they also denied responsibility and referred the unhappy camper back to the selling agent, who eventually agreed to carry out the repair.
There was one small problem – a lengthy waiting list – which meant he had to drive it back to Bristol and leave it with the garage for three months until they could repair or replace the pump.
“The owner lost a whole summer with their new motorhome and that was the running theme through all the horror stories,” said David. “Once they take your money they’re not interested in you.
“That was the biggest thing for me and because we’ve got an already established mobile technician team based across the UK, when we start to sell these campervans ¬– we’re only renting them just now – our unique selling point is going to be that we can come and fix it
within a 48-hour period, no matter where you are in the UK. That will be one thing that will set us apart and disrupt the industry – we can not only provide servicing, but we can also provide the parts because we’ll have them on site.
“And if your motorhome has an issue, say in Ullapool, we’ll come up to the campsite or wherever and fix it for you within 48 hours.”
Allied have a dozen of their bespoke campervans available for rent this year, which David said will give them time to iron out any teething troubles.
“This will let us get it really streamlined so that next year when we put 25 or 30 on the road, we know what the issues are going to be, and all the processes will be in place to sort them.”
Research and development work on the Wildcats, which seat four people and sleep three, has resulted in very well equipped and stylish vehicles.
David said he was delighted with the end result: “There are things that we want to change and improve, but for our first attempt and for them to build it from scratch is fantastic.
“The first one was basically hand-built by a coachbuilder, and we had an engineer who could reverse engineer the parts. So, the coachbuilder might cut one section, say a set of cupboards, and we would scan it with a 3D scanner and cut all the parts, components, cabinets, with a CNC (computer numerical control) machine without having to do it all by hand.”
Rebecca Bridges, who is leading the Allied Rentals team responsible for the pet-friendly Wildcats, said they can be driven on an ordinary licence, and the feedback had been excellent.
Rebecca said: “David had the idea and the guys have run with it and they very quickly have built a campervan that functionally is fantastic. We got excellent feedback from staff who took them out before we released it to customers. It’s actually a real honour and privilege to be involved and trusted in launching a new product for Allied.
“I think that with the team we’ve got we’ll be able to develop it even further and grow our side of the business to become one of the players in the market like we have with wheelchair accessible vehicles (WAVs). There’s no reason why we can’t. We’ve got some of the best minds in the industry in Allied, so I’m really excited.”
The Wildcats are built on a stripped-down Citroen Relay window van frame at Allied’s Possilpark headquarters, and David said they are planning to expand the model range: “We’re looking at growing the different models and we’re going to build a Ford custom camper, which will just be a four-berth, but it will also have a pop-top, so the roof pops up.”
Designers are already working on that development, and he said the future of the Wildcats looks bright: “I’ve got high hopes for them and I hope it works out for all the team who’ve put in a massive effort to make it work.”