With gas prices somewhat normalizing, there are fewer and fewer excuses not to put your life into a truck and hit the road. Even one company will help you do that. VanLab USA makes flat-pack DIY conversion kits designed to turn your car into a home on wheels, with a bed, a kitchen, and plenty of storage. The company says all you need is a day or two and a screwdriver.
“You assemble the interior of a truck together the same way you assemble Ikea furniture—using labeled pieces and a guide,” says Ian Fitzhenry, VanLab co-founder.
Built-in tables, beds and benches with storage compartments are made of half-inch birch plywood that are marked with letters and numbers and fit together via an in-hole mounting system. Once assembled, the pieces are designed to be taken out just as easily, and the assembly can also be removed section by section for added flexibility.
“It’s designed as a single unit that fits snugly into the truck’s interior and doesn’t move—we’ve made the whole thing completely removable for people who rent or use vans for work and pleasure,” says Fitzhenry, noting that the panels fit snugly to the other panels and actually nothing. It attaches to the truck itself. “Anyone can put the kit on vacation and then take it back when it’s time to go back to work.”
As it happened, Fitzhenry was planning his own vacation when he came across the idea. He and his wife were heading to New Zealand to do what many people do there: cruise in a rickshaw. Some Googling led him to his now business partner, Andy Jones, an aeronautical engineer by trade, who started VanLab New Zealand. The company was offering custom builds and conversion kits, and Fitzhenry, who has a background in creative production and branding, was impressed. “Andy’s designs were simple, and cleaner than other rental camps I’ve seen,” he says.
Fitchini reached out, and the two started talking. “We really kept working,” Vizzini says. “We found out we grew up only thirty minutes away from each other in England – Andy from Nottingham and I from Sheffield.”
During their conversations, Vitzini couldn’t help but think about how he had never seen anything like what Jones was doing in the US “As far as I know, there has never been a company like it in America,” Vitzini says. “So I finally convinced Andy to partner with me and bring VanLab to the States.”
Jones sold VanLab New Zealand and in 2019 he and Fitzhenry started again in the US selling kits everywhere in the country. “We focus on kits versus customization because I’ve seen a lot of designs that are very expensive and on time,” says Fitzhenry. “Kits can be shipped to the most remote parts of America, where truck conversion services aren’t available on the street corner.”
The kits come in a few different sizes and work with a range of trucks, the company says. Currently, the designs fit Nissan NV 200 or Chevrolet City Express, Mercedes Sprinter 144, and Ford Transit Cargo / Crewe. Ultimately, the company plans to develop one in a smaller size to fit the Ford Transit Connect and Ram Promaster City, and a larger kit to fit the Ram Promaster. “We also plan to offer additions like upper cupboards in case people want or need more storage,” says Fitzhenry.
The kits are priced reasonably enough when compared to what it would cost you to become a full DIY. Before shipping, the small set costs $4,750, while the medium and large sets cost $8,995. These numbers become more handy when compared to other similar offerings, such as the DIY Kit from zinfan At a price of 18 thousand dollars, or one of the Wayfarer Vans At a price of 11 thousand dollars. But, at least for now, VanLab USA’s collections don’t include wall or ceiling panels, although they will appear soon, the company says.
VanLab USA hopes to make going on the open road more achievable. The time a YouTubing class could spend on truck conversions, not to mention trips to the hardware store, is enough to stop anyone from getting started. But what if modifying your truck was as easy as setting up an Ikea Ektorp in your living room? “We want everyone to get a taste of Vanlife,” says Fitzhenry. “It’s not just the lucky few who can afford custom construction.”
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