How COVID-19 is Affecting the Custom Van Market

Would you wait out the pandemic in a custom van?

Benchmark Vehicles
The YEET, from Benchmark Vehicles.
Benchmark Vehicles

How has the pandemic affected people who have embraced van life? (Or, to be more precise, #vanlife?) That’s put some people in a difficult position — not as a result of mobility, but because some campgrounds and similar resources have been temporarily closed. It’s added another layer of complexity to the uncertainty that can come with a life on the road. But for some people who have made vans and van living their life, the era of quarantine has been an unexpected boom time.

Writing at The New York Times, Nellie Bowles explored the world of high-end custom vans — which are in the midst of a renaissance right now. Bowles spoke with Benchmark Vehicles founder Leland Gilmore, who described Benchmark’s work creating “little escape vessels, escape pods.”

The kind of work Benchmark Vehicles does is a far cry from buying a used Camper Van and hoping for the best. In this case, the target market is a bit more high-end:

Mr. Gilmore typically sells custom vans for $100,000 to $300,000, not including the cost of the van, which is usually a $40,000-and-up Mercedes Sprinter. Demand has nearly doubled since lockdowns began, he said, and Benchmark Vehicles just hired three more people.

Several of the van customizers quoted in the article noted a sense of uncertainty regarding their industry’s future. Will the increase in business continue, or will the wider appeal of van life dwindle after a COVID-19 vaccine is found? That remains to be seen — but for now, there’s some interesting work being done in this space.

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