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EarthRoamer off-road-ready motor homes had been based on Ford pickups when the new Wrangler Unlimited’s extended wheelbase made it a viable option. Hence, the Jeep-based Earthroamer XVJP, based on the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon.
Bill Swails, the president of the company, had started out as an engineer with McDonnell-Douglas; he went on his own to help engineer and build the Earthroamer series.
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, instead of 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.
EarthRoamer did a six-week expedition throughout Central America with an XV-JP prototype, going through Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica for the final shakedown before production. The EarthRoamer XV-JP functioned well throughout the 9500 mile, 41 day, 19 border-crossing trip, and was torn down and analyzed afterwards. Pricing was finalized at roughly $110,000 (including the Jeep).
How have you modified the Jeep?
We just made the shocks and springs longer. 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.
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.
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 removable. 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.
The body included an inside toilet and shower, queen size bed, forced air furnace, electric fan, and a refrigerator/freezer.
The XV-JP was the same length and width as a stock Jeep Wrangler Unlimited.
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.
What happened next? Production started in 2007 and ended in 2011, to free up resources for the company’s two lines of pickup-based campers. The company wrote, “With the low power, poor fuel economy and poor driving range of the 3.8L gas engine, we believed a diesel engine was critical to the XV-JP being successful in the marketplace. With no diesel in sight, we have decided to pull the plug on XV-JP production. We love the XV-JP design, and we still own the molds – who knows maybe we’ll relaunch it at some point, or possibly even offer a do-it-yourself XV-JP kit.” Indeed, the company may have started development assuming a diesel Jeep Wrangler was on the horizon, as it was rumored to be even in 2006.
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