Dodge / Ram
Earthroamers are modestly sized off-road-ready motor homes, designed to take people into normally unreachable territory in comfort. The past Earthroamer line was based on Ford pickups, but a new model, the XVJP, is based on the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited (the Rubicon version). We had an opportunity to speak with the president of the company, Bill Swails, about the vehicles. Bill started out as an engineer with McDonnell-Douglas, and moved to telecom consulting after about ten years; he rose to Qwest marketing product manager, and then went on his own to help engineer and build the Earthroamer series. He also noted that the Dodge Ram, with its Cummins diesel, might end up in the product line eventually.
Though we’re using a question-and-answer format, the responses are not word-for-word, but based on Bill’s replies.
Why did you use the Jeep Wrangler for this new line, when your past vehicles have been based on pickups?
Earthroamer is expanding into both larger and smaller vehicle lines. The smaller size of the Wrangler helps it to get into tight trails; the XVJP is smaller, lighter, and cheaper than the XVLT, and can go many more places but with less comfort. We looked at it as how the vehicles will be used - true offroad types of locations - then “what’s the best vehicle?”
The Wrangler top is removable, so we can add our top without cutting. In a truck, you have to leave the truck to get into the living portion; in this, you can get right in. A lot of employees and the president have Jeeps - the off-road capability of the new Rubicon is absolutely phenomenal. In the worst weather in twelve years, the new Jeeps were able to plow through snow banks - it was absolutely amazing.
How have you tested the XVJP?
We have two prototypes, one complete, the other about 85% done. We took one to Jeep Week and Moab, then we’ll take it for six weeks through South America and back - we took an XVJP and an XVLT. Most of the vehicle is identical to the XVLT - nearly all of the fittings and appliances. The main difference is just the top itself. Testing is done by taking them on personal trips; the production models use the same molds and systems as prototypes, and we've already worked out all the kinks. Some of the cabinetry and fixtures are the main differences between the XVJP and XVLT.
Stay tuned to the EarthRoamer website for updates from EarthRoamer's 6 week expedition throughout Central America. An XV-LT and XV-JP prototype went through Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica. This was the final shakedown of the XV-JP before it enters production. The EarthRoamer XV-JP has successfully returned from its 9500 mile, 41 day, 19 border-crossing trip. It functioned well throughout the trip and has been torn down and analyzed to make it even better. Pricing has been finalized at roughly $110,000 (including the Jeep of course). Earthroamer’s Matt Nakari wrote: “We are taking orders now for early Fall 2007 delivery, contact EarthRoamer at 720 304 3174 to place your order. We have units in Silver, Jeep Green, Steel Blue, Red Rock Crystal and White available in this first delivery, so act soon while your favorite color is still available!”
How have you modified the Jeep?
We just made the shocks and springs longer. We need to see the final weight and might install 4.88 gears. The prototypes are heavier than the final production vehicle, which will use a composite body - fiberglass with a balsa core, so it's pretty light. The heaviest parts are two Group 31 batteries which are kept on a frame, and the water which is kept behind the driver. The heaviest items are low and between the axles so the center of gravity is probably lower than stock. Really, our changes have just been the suspension, though we may change gearing and maybe engine cooling. We are currently buying standard Wranglers but are working with Jeep to see if we can get them as we need them - no rear seats, for example. All the Wranglers are Rubicons because they have bigger axles, locking differentials, and other key off-road technologies.
What was your biggest engineering challenge?
Getting all the components into the small package.
How will it be powered - will you have a separate generator?
We have an 80 watt solar panel, and use the factory alternator, though we'll upgrade that if needed. We use a sailboat refrigerator with cold plate technology - when it detects a higher voltage from the alternator charging, it kicks into supercooled mode so the compressor isn't needed very often when the vehicle is parked. The solar panel should keep up with any needs when not driving. It's very efficient, we even use LED lights.
Did you get any support from Jeep?
We met with Jeep engineers early on, and they provided a lot of support and information.
How will you be selling the Earthroamer XVJP?
All are direct order. We’ve sold about 55 of the XVLT but we are expanding our space for greater volume; our new production headquarters will have a groundbreaking on July 1 2007, tripling our space.
In response to a list of questions from our resident Jeep expert (and former Jeep engineer), Matt in PR - who arranged for us to talk to Bill - wrote:
1) The toilet can be easily emptied at any regular toilet, pit toilet (like in a rest stop or national park) or even at an RV black water dump. Most of our customers would never bother with the RV dump, it’s much too easy to just walk into a public restroom, dump your tank and be on your way.
2) The back door of the Jeep opens completely, allowing access into and out of the vehicle, and easy access to the electrical control panel, the fridge and the storage bays.
3) There will not be a raised roof model. The Loftop provides 9 feet of stand up height when deployed. [There is no separate cab a/c because] the Jeep has its own factory A/C for the front seats.
4) The camper body is constructed in the same way as the body of our larger vehicle, the XV-LT. It's very stable, very strong and very well insulated. I don't have a number to apply to the torsional stiffness, but there are no concerns with this body.
5) The roof of the Jeep is not attached to the cab over portion, they ride independently of each other.
6) The upper lights are fixed into place, and the spaces are part of the body mold, so while you could technically construct the vehicle without the lights, it wouldn't look right.
7) Regarding replacement tire options: 33" tires should fit without problem, so if the specific tire you have in mind is available with an "E" load rating, there should be no issues.
8) The exterior color of the hard sides and roof of the camper will match the vehicle OEM paint. The tent portions will be their own color.
9) Propane tanks will be hand removeable. The small green canisters available at nearly any store will provide ample fuel for the cooktop for quite a long time, so there is no need for a larger, permanently mounted tank.
Features include an inside toilet and shower, queen size bed, forced air furnace, electric fan, and a refrigerator/freezer. Built on the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 4WD Unlimited platform with electric front and rear locking differentials and electric sway bar disconnect, the XV-JP provides trail performance that is unmatched by any traditional RV. The easy to deploy XV-JP Loftop™ provides a comfortable bedroom-with-a-view. The price is expected to be around $100,000, and a place in the production schedule can be secured with a refundable $5,000 deposit.
The XV-JP is the same length and width as a stock Jeep Wrangler Unlimited and is a garageable daily driver.
The living space is a permanent addition to the Jeep; the cantilevered platform is attached to the frame with kevlar ropes, not unlike a suspension bridge.
Seating is for two only, the extra rear seat space is used for things like the toilet and the refrigerator.
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