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Behind the motorhome scenes: Laika SpA interview

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Laika, the Italian arm of the massive Erwin Hymer Group leisure vehicle empire, has always had a reputation for quality, with sumptuous traditional-looking interiors

Last year, that all changed with the relaunch of its new top-range Kreos, which sported a completely different style inside and out.

So we caught up with Michel Vuillermoz, the Head of Product Management at Laika Caravans S.p.A to find out more.

 
Michel Vuillermoz, Head of Product Management, Laika

(Photo courtesy of Laika)

Q: When did Laika start renewing its motorhome range and what was the goal in this process?

We started renewing the range in 2020 – it was a very long process because it was not only a renewal of the product but also the idea of the brand and its positioning on the market. Laika has always been a premium motorhome brand and the first aim was to bring back the top values of the brand, while exploiting the new technologies and partnerships available.

The first product we wanted to launch was the flagship, from a top-down logic. To introduce the latest materials and style, the best way to do it is with something totally new, with no limits to express the power of your company.

To show the vision of our future we started with the Kreos. It has been a great adventure because we did it in a true Italian way, a very dynamic and emotional way. We focused on the new values for the very important relaunch of the brand.

Q: Now that the whole range has been updated, what are you most proud of?

Honestly, I am proud of what the company is expressing now through the vehicles because we have 23 models in our range and all of them, in different levels and for different customers, express the ideas of the company. There is a common family feeling and when you see them you are not just seeing another white motorhome but something different with a common image.

We have the same family feeling throughout but we balance it with different technical content and different price levels. All the vehicles represent in a unique way the vision we have to build iconic motorhomes.

We want differentiate them from our competitors and bring something new outside and inside, with new solutions – even hidden new solutions – and a very strong identity. A vehicle has to represent you; it’s something into which you’re putting your work and your reputation, your affection and skills. It’s not just done with aluminium and wood; it has to be part of you.

Q: Clearly, GFG Style played a significant role in the renewal of the Laika range, but why were external consultants brought in?

If you want to bring excellence to the product you have to work with excellent partners. In the past, too many times the motorhome industry used a nautical approach but the two worlds are totally different for regulations and the size of vehicles.

Our approach was to go with a legend of car design that could give us different shapes and materials, not just from the automotive industry but planes and trains. Many of the challenges we face, including the weight of the vehicles, is common for the aeronautical industry, too.

The Giugiaro family has created more than 500 different cars, over 300 going into serial production. We want to be closer and closer to the automotive business but also to exploit the expertise of Giugiaro in interior design.

Designing the new Laika Kreos low profile motorhome

(Photo courtesy of Laika)

Q: What was it like to work with such ‘design royalty’ and did their automotive expertise need to be adapted to suit the leisure market?

It is now four years that we have been working together and we are working with them for further development. They are really passionate about this business and they have a very young but expert team, with a lot of guys who are motorhome owners. We speak the same language that you can only understand if you really know the motorhome world.

They are open to our suggestions, we give them our wishes and ideas and then we go into details of industrialisation, quality and weight reduction. It is very important for us to learn from their automotive approach; the caravanning industry is still too related to handcrafting.

Q: To what extent have other trends influenced the interior décor of Laika motorhomes?

GFG has a specialist in interior design company, sister firm, Giugiaro Architettura, which proposed three different designs – we chose the most futuristic one. We really want to push forward and create something unique and now we are seeing some of these colours are getting more trendy in normal home design.

But the biggest influence was to have the same comfort as you get at home. It was very trendy 10 to 15 years ago to take a nautical approach but the aim of our motorhomes is to allow you the same comfort as you get at home.

In the Kreos it is especially evident as you can have a Bosch dishwasher (which only weighs 23kg and uses just eight litres of water per cycle) – 35 to 40% of vehicles ordered have this option, which is unique in this size of vehicle (7.89m). Then, there are components normally used in domestic kitchens, such as the hinges, the real wood and the Corian elements. It’s also the shower, the ergonomics.

Q: How does Laika maintain its ‘Italian-ness’, especially as part of the Erwin Hymer stable?

We are a big family but we are totally independent. We celebrate and cooperate together but, in the end, we have to bring our uniqueness to the market. We are not asked to make copies – our ‘brothers and sisters’ are competitors. We share investment and knowledge but all the brands express their own ideas for recreational vehicles.

We are pleased to be in the premium part of the group and all our developments are designed to increase this position.

Q: Your website refers to La Dolce Vita – how does that phrase translate to motorhoming?

It is a feeling of pleasantness you have to have once you are in a motorhome. It can be expressed in 10,000 different ways because every customer has his unique way to live in the motorhome.

What is important for us is that we are creating some tools to allow you to spend your spare time in the best possible way. We really want the customer to feel well in our vehicles, so we pad the ceiling, we put eco-leather on the bedroom walls and we offer the air-conditioning in the double floor or on the roof, three kinds of kitchen, the wine cellar in the garage.

Everything must be for him to enjoy his travels because the customer is investing a lot of money and his most precious time – for the same money you could go to the US or the Caribbean, have a cruise or whatever.

We also have a global approach. There is no difference between a vehicle leaving here for Spain and 40 degrees in summer or one being sent to the north of Sweden and 30 degrees below zero. We create vehicles to be your partner in every season, without any difference from market to market.

La Dolce Vita isn’t just a motto, it is our Italian philosophy to enjoy every moment of life.

Laika Kreos H5109 A-class motorhome

(Photo courtesy of Laika)

Q: Is there anything apart from aesthetics that differentiate Laika motorhomes from their mostly German competition?

The approach is totally different. We want to have a lot of space, we don’t want little working areas because the pleasantness of living in a vehicle is expressed in every single way.

In practical solutions, the toilet area must be usable for little people and tall people. In too many vehicles you have to close the door to join opposing toilet and shower rooms but we don’t want this. In the Kreos we have a 70cm aisle, so you don’t have to ask someone who is cooking to let you past.

In the A-class, the pull-down bed is often seen as an emergency bed and it has curtains just to hide the mechanism, the gas struts, etc. With the new Kreos’ pull-down bed we wanted the same comfort as in the rear bedroom, with space for the glasses or the iPad, and no curtain. You just press a button and an electric blind provides privacy, while the bed has better air circulation, there is less weight and the vehicle’s strength is increased because of the safety cage in the front of the vehicle.

Q: It must be relatively easy to create a flagship Kreos that feels truly like a Laika vehicle, but how do you make a more affordable Kosmo different from its rivals?

There is a weight limit because most Kosmo orders are on 3.5 tonnes, but the vehicle must still have the uniqueness of a Laika. We don’t use the real wood or the Corian because they are too expensive, but we don’t accept any other compromise in the materials, so we have a lot of common developments from the Kreos to the Kosmo.

The table, kitchen and toilet worktops use the same Fenix material that is light and strong and, if scratched, can be repaired using a hairdryer! We only use XPS insulation in our vehicles and the windows are the latest Dometic S7 and the doors are always a Hartal unit with gas strut, too.

The Kosmo’s biggest difference to an Ecovip is that lack of a double floor, but you enter and still feel the uniqueness of a Laika. All the knowledge learnt from the Kreos has filtered down to the Kosmo, so it takes advantage of all the work of the last four years.

Q: Laika is also present in the campervan market, where layouts and exterior design (Fiat) are largely the same across the sector. So, how does an Ecovip campervan feel like a Laika?

Along with the Kreos, the Ecovip campervan was my first project when I joined the Laika team. The Ecovip name has been in the range since 1992 and it has always been successful and we wanted something that was a true Laika.

The campervan uses the same materials, shapes and solutions as in an Ecovip motorhome. We took a lot of care over the insulation, so the vehicle could go to South Korea, Japan, the UK, New Zealand and be fit for every climate. All models have 6kW heating (even the small 540) and we’ve tried to close every thermal bridge.

I am a motorhome user and I’ve been twice to Nordkapp in winter, so I know what it’s like to be at minus 30 and stay at minus 30 for days. We took care over the heating pipes, the distribution of warm air and then climate chamber testing. For the regulation 1636, you have four hours to go from minus 15 to plus 20 degrees inside but we achieved the target in two hours 21 minutes with a standard Ecovip campervan.

Then we have features like the integrated TV, the folding table to give more legroom, the rake adjustment on the seat. In the 6.36m van you still have only 1.10m to live in and you have a lot of space that’s only for the bedroom, so in the Ecovip 645 we have created something more multifunctional.

Q: The Kreos won our Luxury Motorhome of the Year title but there is only one layout currently. When and how do you expect the range to expand?

A good question, the low-profile has been on the market for two years and the A-class has just been launched. This is just the start of the development. It’s just the beginning of a very interesting trip!

There is a lot of possibility concerning layouts because we have a lot of people offering more or less the same solutions, so there will be something new from Laika in the future.

Q: The UK market is different to our European markets in terms of tastes and expectations. How does Laika hope to appeal to the British buyer?

The UK market is a little bit different and I really appreciate the vehicles you create in your country. I’ve been to Birmingham and I love to see the layouts and traditional products.

I am fascinated by what’s different but we want to appeal to the British buyer as something different, something unique.

Q: Finally, if you were to choose a Laika model for your own holidays, which would it be and where would you go?

I am a lucky person because I always try several of our motorhomes during the year, not just for work but just to try them. It is important to have direct experience, to have a shower, to sleep in it, to drive it, to cook in it.

Last year, I did 8,000km in the Kreos and 4,000km in an Ecovip 4009 and I also drove the small Ecovip 2109. I used the Kreos with my family (three people and a dog).

I’ve been 11 times to Norway and, if I don’t know where to go, I always book a ferry and head north.


 

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