Airstream’s New Nest Camper is Cute and Practical
Tell people you’re vacationing in a trailer (or a caravan, if you’re in Europe), and you might get a snobbish raised eyebrow. Tell them you’re striking out for freedom in an Airstream, and you’ll get envious glares.
The silver-colored, rounded-edge aluminum trailers made by Airstream in Jackson Center, Ohio, have always been marketed as lifestyle choices for the casually affluent and retro-tasteful, and they conjure up a very different picture of life on the road than the average RV.
The company’s latest trailer, the Nest, breaks with the aluminum tradition. It’s built from fiberglass, and it looks a lot more modern. It won’t stand out in quite the same way at a campground, but its practical design may win it a different group of fans.
Using a new building material is a departure for the company, which has spent nearly 90 years perfecting aluminum construction. And it’s not a decision the company took quickly. In the 1950s, founder Wally Byam started experimenting with what was then a fancy new material called fiberglass. “Wally was a design pioneer, and he recognized the versatility of fiberglass,” says current company CEO Bob Wheeler. But it’s taken more than half a century, and the acquisition of Nest Caravan in 2016, for Airstream to finally launch a plastic product.
Airstream has used that versatility to build what looks like a miniature train carriage, with a central door at the back, rounded corner windows, and a snazzy two-tone gray-on-white paint job. The front glass has a notch cutout at the bottom and was apparently inspired by ski goggles. The trailer sits low and has the same slightly bulging waistline as the iconic Airstreams. The Nest was styled by automotive designer Bryan Thompson, who also worked on the Basecamp, a smaller and lighter, but still aluminum, trailer released in 2016.
Inside, the Nest is the size of a dreamy walk-in closet (or about twice the size of one of those fancy Etihad first-class plane suites—you know what those are like, don’t you?)
Travelers get a fridge, a microwave, a stove, and a decent-sized bathroom with a shower and toilet. At around 112 square feet of floor space, it isn’t huge, but the bijou size keeps the external dimensions to a trim 17 feet long and 7 feet wide. The whole thing sits on two wheels, and at around 3,400 pounds you could tow it behind a large SUV instead of needing a pickup truck.
The Nest starts at $45,900, which puts it near the bottom of Airstream trailer pricing. A full-sized Classic, which sleeps five people, costs $139,900.
The departure from aluminum is a risk for Airsteam, because it could dilute its iconic image. But it needs to builder cheaper options for a new breed of travelers. Trailers are cool again—#vanlife!—whether it’s with millennials who can’t afford houses, ravers who need Burning Man accommodation, or seniors who aren’t ready to settle down. Total RV shipments were up 17 percent in 2017, compared to the year before. And companies are racing to fill the demand. Even Winnebago, best known for the huge motorhomes that block freeways on holiday weekends, now also offers a range of Minnie trailers—the cute Minnie Drop starts at $20,000.
But none of these offerings has Airstream’s brand recognition. “We don’t sell trailers,” Byam is quoted as saying in the book Living the Airstream Life. “We sell a way of life.” The Nest may help them sell that way of life to an even broader market.
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