Home » Westfalia Is Back In America After Nearly 20 Years With The New Wave Camper Van

Westfalia Is Back In America After Nearly 20 Years With The New Wave Camper Van

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The Class B RV, also known as the humble camper van, has been enjoying renewed popularity in America in recent years. People who want an RV but don’t want to tow a travel trailer or invest in a large motorhome have found the camper van to be a sweet spot. Class B RVs are so popular right now that people who don’t camp may have heard of “vanlife” and big names like Ford are flirting with the space. Now, after a nearly two-decade hiatus, one of the most recognizable names in camper vans is coming back to America. Later this year, you will be able to buy a Westfalia van once again with the Wave. Let’s check this six-person sleeper out.

A pre-production prototype of the Westfalia van made an appearance at the closed-to-the-public Indiana RV Open House back in September. Unfortunately, the media at the RV Open House was put on a tight schedule, and I never saw Westfalia while trying to speedrun the event with the time I had. Now, the van has a name and it will be making its first public appearance at the Florida RV SuperShow next week. You bet I will be right there to give you a tour of the return of this fabled brand.

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This new Westfalia Americas effort will not be based on a Volkswagen or Mercedes-Benz product as it was in the past, but on the Ram ProMaster. I think this is a good idea and we’ll touch on that in a bit.

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Why This Is A Big Deal

Westfalia’s American operations began winding down in the 2000s. Back in 1999, DaimlerChrysler purchased a 49 percent stake in Westfalia before taking a 51 percent controlling share in 2001. Until 2003, Americans could buy a Volkswagen EuroVan MV Weekender, which featured one of Westfalia’s iconic pop-tops. When the EuroVan was discontinued, DaimlerChrysler carried the Westfalia torch in America. In the mid-2000s, Westfalia vans were built on the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter platform, badged as the Dodge Sprinter Westfalia, and sold through Airstream dealerships. In Europe, they were sold under the name James Cook.

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Airstream

I could not find any official press release, but owners of Mercedes-based Westys began finding out about the discontinuation of Westfalia in America in 2006. Reportedly, Airstream moved only a couple hundred of the Sprinter Westfalias before calling it quits. So, this return comes about 18 years since those dark days for American Westfalia fans.

Let’s talk about why Westfalia is so famous in the first place. Westfalia says its story began in 1844, when on October 1 of that year, Johann Bernhard Knöbel started a forge in Wiedenbrück, Germany. At first Knöbel’s shop built and repaired farming equipment and carriages. In 1876, Knöbel built a horse-drawn carriage of his own design meant to carry goods from train depots.

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Knöbel turned this into a family business, passing it down to sons Wilhelm and Franz. The second son, Franz, opened his own company in 1887 that manufactured coaches, harnesses, hunting carriages, and sledges. By 1918, Franz Knöbel had developed a powered coach and in 1922, the name “Westfalia” made its first appearance in Germany. Later, his company would construct open-box trailers.

Perhaps the most important invention in the history of Westfalia, one that’s arguably more important than the Volkswagen camper, came in 1931.

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Franz Knöbel saw the ball socket joint of a chicken bone and used it as the inspiration to invent a towbar. Today, Westfalia claims to have invented the first towbar that, today, is a tool found attached to so many tow vehicles. Westfalia would become famous 20 years later for its new “Camping Box,” from Westfalia:

The history of Westfalia conversions began in 1951 with one customer’s special wish. When Westfalia in Wiedenbrück created the so-called “Camping Box”, especially designed for an officer in the British Forces stationed in Germany, he had a simple request: equip a VW transit van as a home. This had to be neatly built into the vehicle and at the same time had to be suitable as a room for sleeping, living and working. So the people at Westfalia took a VW bus, installed a double door between the B and C columns and built in multi-purpose furniture and decoration behind the front seats. For example pretty ruffled curtains which matched the checked pattern of the furniture. A real zeitgeist combination. A studio couch, folding table, seat bench, roll-front cabinet and sideboard completed the interior ensemble. The result was such a success that the Camping Box soon went into series production and the converted VW Bus became the dream car of the 50s, because it was multifunctional and could be used as a hotel on wheels.

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It should be noted that Westfalia did not invent the camper van. The history of camping vehicles goes back to the 1800s! However, what Westfalia did was thrust the idea of camping in a van into the public consciousness. And Westfalia’s conversions of Volkswagen Transporter vans made it easy.

From that point forward, Westfalia became a brand known for its camping innovations. In the 1960s, Westfalia was a pioneer in building plastic RV furniture and its style included the fake wood veneers that are so common in RVs today. The Westfalia pop-top was also an invention of the 1960s. This is the era that Westfalia says it gained popularity in the United States, too.

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In 1977, Westfalia introduced the very first Mercedes-Benz James Cook, a camper van named after the 18th-century explorer of the same name. Westfalia sees the James Cook as a notable mark in its history as it elevated comfort, luxury, and safety while adding a wet cell, so campers could clean up in their vans. The Sven Hedin came the same year, and it offered a high roof, a shower, and hot water.

Westfalia continued to innovate over the years and it partnered up with Ford, Mercedes-Benz, and Volkswagen for camper vans. It also made the weird BMW Multi-Trailer. When Westfalia left America, it continued its business in Europe, continuing to slap its name on camper vans from Mercedes and Volkswagen. In 2009, it began conversions of Fiat vans, too.

The Westfalia Wave

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That brings us to today. Westfalia is coming back to America by way of Canadian RV firm Roadtrek. In 2019, France-based RV conglomerate Rapido Group purchased Roadtrek. Rapido already owned Westfalia since 2011, so Roadtrek gave Westfalia an easy way to get back into America, just as Airstream did in the mid-2000s.

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The Westfalia Wave is based on a Ram ProMaster 3500, a van 20′ 9″ in length. Westfalia already builds camper vans out of these vans in Europe, where they’re badged as the Fiat Ducato. Using the Ducato/ProMaster as a base vehicle is a good idea. These vans have low, flat floors and ProMaster-based conversions tend to be more affordable than the ones riding on Mercedes-Benz Sprinter vans.

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Westfalia will be producing these vans with a familiar interior layout and hopefully with the European style and fit and finish the German brand is known for. The layout is a common European-inspired one, featuring a bed in the rear, a wet bath in the center, a galley across from that, and a dinette plus seating up front. Of course, you’ll also get the important pop-top on the roof. Some neat Westfalia tricks include an extension of the dinette table to cover those sitting in the front seats, which swivel. The kitchen also has a slide-out countertop for more space.

Westfalia says that the rear bed area is adaptable, offering up seating, storage, and bed configurations including a twin, a double, or a queen. That storage comes in the form of cubbies under steps, alcoves, and side pockets. Westfalia will also be offering implements to carry large objects such as paddle boards and mountain bikes. That part is clever and involves a central pass-through for the bed area for skis and such while a section of the bed raises so you can fit in bicycles or other large items.

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Equipment will include a Truma Combi furnace and water heater system, a propane cooktop, a Vitrifrigo refrigerator, a microwave, and a cassette toilet in the wet bath. House power comes from 600 Ah of lithium batteries and a 3,000-watt inverter. Control of the electrical systems will come from a Firefly Integrations tablet.

You get all of this plus sleeping for six. Currently, Roadtrek pop-top vans sleep up to five, but the Westfalia vans distributed under the brand will have unique Westfalia interiors. How Westfalia achieved it is with a folding double bed that covers the dinette area and the driver seat. Combine this bed with the one in the rear and the one in the pop-top and the Westy can sleep six, provided you’re all at least pretty close friends. However, the van comes with only four seatbelts, so, realistically, it’s good sleeping for four people. Otherwise, you can have a couple of guests at camping stops.

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Power in the Westfalia Wave will come from a 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 offering up 276 horses and 250 lb-ft of torque. Westfalia is withholding additional information for now, so we do not know any holding tank capacities, the van’s price, or how much gear you can carry. Promotional images do show a tow hitch, so you should be able to haul additional gear or a trailer.

At least in pictures, it looks like a winner of a camper van. Some companies will charge you well over $100,000, or even over $200,000 for vans with unappealing interiors and rough quality. It looks like the Westfalia Wave may have the quality down, now we’ll have to see if the brand can hit the mark on pricing.

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Westfalia says it’s currently building out a dealership network. Then, the vans will be released into American hands. I’ll be there at the public reveal next week, taking a tour of the van and getting you the information Westfalia hasn’t provided just yet. Hopefully, this time Westfalia is here to stay.

(Images: Westfalia, unless otherwise noted.)

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Knowonelse
Knowonelse
4 months ago

Please find out more details about this bit, “House power comes from 600 Ah of lithium batteries and a 3,000-watt inverter.” What are the options for recharging the big batteries?

It would be so much easier if the base vehicle was hybrid to begin with. We use our Prius or Rav4 as a power source for the important house stuff when power is out. Even better would be having the base vehicle as a plug-in hybrid. I could daily that around our smallish town in EV mode.

Adrian Clarke
Adrian Clarke
4 months ago

I’m not seeing a cocktail bar or room service in any of these conversions.

Chairman Kaga
Chairman Kaga
4 months ago

I think where they’re going to struggle is pricing. Considering you can get a lightweight trailer (under 1.5 tons) with equal or more space in the $20-25k range brand new, and that these days most folks have a truck, SUV or CUV capable of towing up to 2 tons… It just feels like people who’d be interested in those vehicles are the target market, and maybe they’d be willing to pay more to have the tow vehicle essentially be part of the package… I just don’t know. I’d rather have a cheaper camper and also be able to unhitch my car.

Ok_Im_here
Ok_Im_here
4 months ago

I’m sure it will be great, but it will not be what I want. The VW version was famous for being compact. Sure, it was devoid of a wet bath, but you got everything else for a fairly reasonable price…not cheap, but not beyond insane, and you could get a weekender if you really couldn’t afford the kitchen. This will be well over $100K and possibly $150k. Ouch. All that money and you get a cassette toilet and wet bath. Not for me.

Mike TowpathTraveler
Mike TowpathTraveler
4 months ago

All this time and I thought Westfalia was an exclusive VW collaboration. Good info here, as usual.

Regards to the high cost of entry to own one of these things, or most any small camper these days reminds me of how alot of Japanese have taken to modifying Kei trucks with home built box camper shells in the back of the small pickup. THAT is how most everyone else not pulling in the big bucks will be able to get off the beaten track…..homemade solutions.

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
4 months ago

I want one-a lot. But, I’ll never pay what it would cost me to build a half-decent garage in my area for one.
Instead, when my E350 Quigley 4wd work van ends it’s official career, I’ll bid on it: I’ve taken it up mountains already & know what it’ll do. And it will have tie dye curtains just like my trusty old Westy did. RIP, Rocinante

Frank Wrench
Frank Wrench
4 months ago
Reply to  TOSSABL

Nice Travels with Charley reference! Need to re-read… again

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
4 months ago
Reply to  Frank Wrench

Yep. Love that book; probably read it every decade or so. I understood the slightly melancholic vein better when I found out the trip happened after he found out he had brain cancer.

His clothes-washing solution always makes me smile

Doug Kretzmann
Doug Kretzmann
4 months ago
Reply to  TOSSABL

we had an E150, with manual 4spd. That got 20mpg back in the 80s..
It had nice floral curtains 😉

We kind of envied the VW Westfalias, but the high clearance on the Ford was much better for dirt road adventures..

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
4 months ago
Reply to  Doug Kretzmann

This gets 9mpg. It’s a tall brick with the 4wd—and weighs 8500lbs with my equipment. 9500 with a 100 gallon water tank & pump on board in season.

That gives me pause because I dream of taking a leisurely trip out West, and the gas alone would be costly!

Andy Individual
Andy Individual
4 months ago

That Promaster schnoz tho…

Jim Stock
Jim Stock
4 months ago

I know the base van is half the price but $100K is wild for a camper van. I know the realities of it but wow I wish there were small versions of this that were obtainable. There are only so many rich boomers to buy these into the used market.

Last edited 4 months ago by Jim Stock
John Patson
John Patson
4 months ago
Reply to  Jim Stock

Buy a van with a good motor and gear box, and buy a good battery screwdriver, self tapping screws, plywood or particle board, insulation and you are good to go for 10 times less.
Things like camping fridges, sinks, big batteries and gas cookers are available now too — much more so than 20 years ago..

Arrest-me Red
Arrest-me Red
4 months ago

The main problem is the very low cargo capacity (of which passengers, water, waste, box of Kleenex are part of) and the fact that is so cramped inside someone would have to step outside while the other person goes down the hall.

Grant for a solo traveler it could work, but I go into hulk mode in the confined space.

Rabob Rabob
Rabob Rabob
4 months ago

Watched a Youtuber (BKXC) document his experience with one of these Ram Promasters. Maybe he got a bad one but he ended up blowing an engine, needed a $7000 replacement, plus a bunch of other issues. If there’s one product you absolutely cannot make unreliable a work van would be at the top of the list.

Jim Stock
Jim Stock
4 months ago
Reply to  Rabob Rabob

There is a bit of old school in me that questions a FWD work van in the first place.

Vic Vinegar
Vic Vinegar
4 months ago
Reply to  Rabob Rabob

My wife has had us shopping for one, and the idea of spending this much money on Dodge mechanicals does not give us a good feeling. We’ve been looking for Mercedes Sprinter based ones, there are a few Fords too out there. Not that Mercedes or Ford are like Toyota, but better than Dodge I guess. Need to do more digging on the Mercedes diesel in particular.

EmotionalSupportBMW
EmotionalSupportBMW
4 months ago

Get to know the locals in your James Cook camper van!

Ford_Timelord
Ford_Timelord
4 months ago

Yeah that model name is not going to work for many people in Australia and the pacific.

Millermatic
Millermatic
4 months ago

Sorry… going on a rant…

One of my dream “cars” is a Syncro Vanagon Westfalia… which are coming close to unobtainium these days. The beauty of _that_ Westfalia is that you can reasonably use it as regular transportation. This thing? Not so much. And I’m positive it will be well over 6 figures.

The moment Hyundai brings the Staria camper here (preferably as a hybrid)… I’ll buy one. The prospect of an idBuzz camper does nothing for me… as these are vehicles to road trip in (I’d want a hybrid range extender). And I’m sure it will end up costing 100K based on the projected price of the base van.

Give me what I want and I’ll buy it!!!

Doctor Nine
Doctor Nine
4 months ago

It’s not fine. Sprinter conversions failed because they cost too much. The engineering was just as good as any Westfalia before them.

The reason people chose VW vans was the low barrier to entry for college kids and retirees. What absolutely is needed, is something in the $28K -$35K window. Whoever comes to market in that range is going to do serious volume.

SoMuchBetterThanJalopnic
SoMuchBetterThanJalopnic
4 months ago
Reply to  Doctor Nine

You can’t even get a base van new for that kind of money.

The Promaster (The worst of the “New” Vans) starts at $43k
The Transit (My fav) starts at $51k
Sprinter starts at $71k for the tall roof cargo van.

If you could smuggle in a Toyota Hiace from mexico you could get it for $41k still outside the range of reasonable.

That Hyundai Staria is also in the $41k range if we could smuggle one in.

I’m with you on the desire for a cheap new camper van, but to get there we need cheap foundations… Those don’t exist at the moment.

Vic Vinegar
Vic Vinegar
4 months ago

Even a “regular” conversion fan in the classic sense – Chevy Express/Ford E-XXX with captains chairs, the fold down rear seat “bed”, and a TV, is like $80-90k these days.

SoMuchBetterThanJalopnic
SoMuchBetterThanJalopnic
4 months ago
Reply to  Vic Vinegar

True… You can get a pretty good deal on the used versions of those though.

We had a couple growing up, and they were awesome.

SoMuchBetterThanJalopnic
SoMuchBetterThanJalopnic
4 months ago

Couldn’t have said it better myself… hehe.

This did get me to go to one of those import cars from Japan sites though.

How do we get the stupid 25 year import ban down to like 1 year, or even better, removed.

There are a ton of 4×4 Hiaces for sale under 5 years old that cost less than what I can find anything (including express or econolines) for.

Autopian petition to DC?

Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
4 months ago
Reply to  Doctor Nine

Yeah, $30k is about what a late ’60s/early ’70s Bay Window Westy cost new in current dollars, but the Volkswagen Type 2 was about as basic as a motor vehicle could be and still be legally called a motor vehicle, which helped on the affordability front. There’s a limit to how cheap things can get now, due to regulations, but, with very high production volumes and some good, old-fashioned Chinese know-how, maybe $40k-50k could be achievable if someone really wanted to

Last edited 4 months ago by Ranwhenparked
Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
4 months ago
Reply to  Millermatic

Agree. One of the nice things about the VW Westfalia conversion was its dual purpose nature, whereas these, as Mercedes points out, are B Class RVs and thus not well-suited for doubling as a daily driver, unless all you do is tour the country. Good luck to them, it’s just not what I would consider purchasing.

Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
4 months ago
Reply to  Millermatic

FWIW, a Vanagon Sycro was pretty expensive back in the day, when it was new, the base MSRP for the van itself inflation adjusts to over $40,000 now, before the Westfalia conversion

DadBod
DadBod
4 months ago
Reply to  Millermatic

My daily is a 2003 Eurovan Weekender. It’s FWD but so far it’s been fine in the snow, I use it as a ski lodge. My only problem is the feeling of impending doom considering the reputation of the transmission. Otherwise it’s still going strong for a 20+ year old vehicle.
When I look at these modern takes I just don’t understand the need for a shower and toilet. Maybe a sink would be nice I guess.

Slow Joe Crow
Slow Joe Crow
4 months ago
Reply to  Millermatic

Any Vanagon is stupid money, I’ve been looking at Toyota HiAce campers. You can get AWD, a 2.8 diesel and either Toyota or Reimo camping fits for $20-25000. Yeah it’s 25 years old and RHD but that newer than a 90 Vanagon, the air conditioning is effective the engine is less gutless and the front engine means more usable space. A Delica is an alternative trading more off road capability for less space.

Ford_Timelord
Ford_Timelord
4 months ago
Reply to  Slow Joe Crow

Here in Australia we have abundant supply of Hiaces and Vanagons. I went the vanagon westy route as they are creeping up in price – 25years old means I pay a tiny registration as its a historic club vehicle and with a pop top and four seats with seatbelts. I’ve used the 4wd Hiaces in Japan but after converting one I’d have to go the high roof route and it wouldn’t fit into my apartment garage. But VW has nothing on the Hiaces reliability.

Ford_Timelord
Ford_Timelord
4 months ago
Reply to  Millermatic

I ended up with getting a syncro but 2wd westfalia and it has been awesome and never broken down yet. There are plenty of 2wd VW T3’s around with aftermarket LSD around that will get you places a Forester or other sorted SUVs will get you. Obviously not Syncro levels of grip but also without the parts issues of that driveline.

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