Caravan, Motor, Touristik − also known as CMT − is the world’s largest public leisure and tourism trade fair, showcasing over a thousand vehicles and a myriad of accessories and holiday packages to travellers each year.
Manufacturers from all over Europe converge in Stuttgart, Germany, to show off their best work, competing to produce the most innovative motorhomes, caravans and recreational vehicles in the world. This year, the event’s 50th anniversary, showcased some truly remarkable (and expensive) vehicles, the likes of which are seldom seen here in South Africa.
The sheer scale
We were given access to the event a day before its official opening, to give us some idea of the meticulous preparation involved in such an immense event. Hundreds of stand-builders go about their work without fuss, constructing stunning displays, while salespeople brush up their pitches for the crowds to come. It’s remarkable, and slightly intimidating.
The physical end-product is mighty impressive, spanning more than a hundred thousand square metres and requiring quite a bit of brisk walking. In fact, it would be impossible to see every vehicle in the space of a single day, which is why CMT attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors in the space of a week.
Our local caravan shows are festive, cheery events, drawing from the gees shared by all members of the overlanding and towing communities. In Germany, however, things are very, very different.
You see, that old cliché about German efficiency has plenty of truth to it. CMT is no joke; in fact, it’s a very serious affair. The sheer scale of the expo is mind-boggling. All ten halls of the gargantuan Messe Stuttgart trade fair centre are packed with exhibitions − ranging from the latest Westfalia motorhomes and the most powerful new Jeep 4x4s, to fully-catered holiday packages to Panama. Literally hundreds of different recreational vehicle models are on display, dwarfing the market we have here at home.
This year’s event was the largest ever, drawing an unbelievable 265 000 visitors to the giant halls of Messe Stuttgart. 2 192 exhibitors pitched their products across 120 000 square metres of custom-made showroom floor, cementing the event’s status as the largest and most important consumer tourism and leisure show in the world.
European caravan and motorhome standards are much higher than our own, and just a few minutes in the freezing Stuttgart winter will tell you why. Vehicles are bigger, better, and more solidly built, with innovation stuffed into every nook and cranny.
Although caravanning has a proportionately larger following here in SA, motorhomes seem to be the vehicles of choice up north. Recognised brands like Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen, Fiat and Iveco dominate the show, but Europe also has a large market for custom designs − something we don’t see much of here.
The most popular aftermarket converters are probably Westfalia and Hymer, with the latter having a decades-long relationship with Mercedes-Benz. Many of its vehicles are built on the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter platform, and it’s remarkable to see the vast variation in designs.
Also reflective of European conditions is the noticeable lack of off-road enthusiasm, with 4×4 models being limited to a handful of manufacturers like HRZ-Safari and La Strada. Granted, South African roads leave a lot to be desired, but the European emphasis is quite clearly on tar-road comfort and luxury. Caravans are generally long, luxurious and streamlined, with rugged, compact options few and far between.
That luxury comes with a price, however. Most caravans start out at around 20 000 Euros, and some peak at more than triple that. Naturally, the truck and bus-sized RVs require the budget of a small company – one magnificent example of a Mercedes-Benz Unimog conversion was priced at a cool 350 000 Euros, with the RVs starting out at half a million. Steep, to say the least.
Unfortunately for me, most of the exhibits were still under construction on the day, but enough was on show to give me a good idea of the strength and size of the leisure-vehicle market in Europe. You’ll be pleased to know that caravanning is alive and well in the first world! Don’t believe me? Why not see for yourself, next January?
German caravanning authorities are very optimistic at the moment, and with good reason. CMT Stuttgart functions as a sort of national barometer for the industry, and 2017 was a record year in the country. The success of this event has kick-started this year, setting it up to be absolutely record-breaking.
Sure, South Africa is still a way behind when it comes to innovation and market size; but, if CMT 2018 is anything to go by, we’re in for some incredibly cool developments. Let’s just hope our home-grown manufacturers can keep up!
By Micky Baker