There’s something deeply satisfying about clever design that delivers unexpected delights. The Beauer 3X expandable caravan is a shapeshifter of the very best kind, expanding to three times its towing mode size. Paul Owen takes a closer look.
Officially launched to the New Zealand market at the recent NZMCA Motorhome, Caravan & Leisure Show in Hamilton, the Beauer 3X was a definite showstopper. Offering the convenience of a compact towing package, it’s also a caravan that can accommodate a family at night with 12sqm of living space.
Thanks to its three telescoping modules, the Beauer 3X can be as compact as the Lilliputian caravans favoured by Europeans in the mid-20th Century, transforming from its nesting size fuel-efficient towing package into something altogether more impressive.
Once you arrive at your destination, the three modules slide apart at the push of a button, creating 12sqm of floor space.
One module provides a lounge/living area, and the other expands into a decent queen-sized bedroom. Between the two is where all the utilities are located, including a fully equipped kitchen, a compact shower/toilet washroom, and half a wall’s worth of vertically stacked cupboards to increase the storage capacity (already provided by various drawers and lockers dotted all over the 3X). When it’s time to tow the Beauer to a new destination, it all compacts back into something one-third of the size with Tetris-like precision.
When creator Eric Beauer made his first prototype of the model in Cholet, France, back in 2010, the 3X wasn’t initially destined for mass production. He wanted to build something that recalled the miniature caravans of post-war Europe when towed, that recreated the simple, elegant aesthetic yet overcame the compromises made to camping comfort. The tiny caravans made by Sologne, Escargot, and other French manufacturers during the post-World War II period were his inspiration. His dream caravan “had to be small, quick to set up, and modern.”
Eric conceived the telescoping modules, then found to his surprise that no one else had thought of building a mobile structure this way, and quickly applied for, and was granted, a patent.
When he parked his prototype in his family’s garden at Cholet, friends and neighbours would drop in and ask if he could build one for them as well. In 2012, Eric took his first tentative steps towards series production of the 3X. The ensuing five years involved constant improvement to the design, and an eventually fruitless search for a manufacturing partner to take the clever expanding caravan to the world.
Undaunted, Eric and his wife Patricia established their own manufacturing base at Cholet in January 2017, taking on two workers and building a handful of telescopic caravans per month.
When the Beauer 3X won the coveted 2017 Grand Jury prize at the annual Concours Lépine awards for the best French invention of the year, it gave Beauer a big publicity boost. Established in 1901, previous winners of the Lépine award include the washing machine, the parachute, the ballpoint pen, and many other essentials of modern living.
With the move to a larger factory in Cholet with 2000sqm of production space in 2022, the workforce has now grown to 10, and Beauer is on track to build more than 100 caravans per annum.
A growing range
The model range has grown as well, expanded by the even more compact twin-module 2X (with eight square metres of living space), the larger 3X Plus with 28sqm of floor space when expanded, and the cell car – a 3X mounted on the rear of a single- or double-cab/chassis of a European light commercial vehicle.
Imagine the appeal Down Under if Beauer ever gets around to adapting the latter concept to the 4×4 double-cab utes that are the best-selling vehicles in South Africa, South America, New Zealand, and Australia.
Enter newly minted Kiwis, Marco and Anja Streibel, who are the first to import a Beauer 3X into this country. The couple first became aware of the expanding caravan two years ago while surfing through YouTube clips. Their interest was piqued; Marco gave Eric Beauer a call.
“I could tell instantly that he often gets calls from people who are interested in knowing more about the 3X, but possibly few go on to say that they’re keen to buy one and ask if he can ship it to the other side of the world for them.
“It was a bit of a risk to buy one without inspecting it first, but we’re used to making big decisions after our immigration to New Zealand from South Africa.
“We couldn’t judge the quality of the product just from a video clip, and when the 3X arrived here, it was a nice surprise to unpack it and find that it’s so well-made.”
That quality is evident in the AL-KO galvanised trailer that forms the foundations of the Beauer 3X and comes complete with electric brakes and a hitch equipped with ATC (Automatic Trailer Control). The modules are created from cylindrical polyester mouldings and end walls, with a 200mm thick insulation layer between the exterior and interior components. They slide inwards and outwards of each other in total silence, the gap between them sealed by double lines of brushes to prevent any water or dust penetration during the movement of the modules.
The tinted windows are the double-glazed composite portals found in top-end motorhomes, complete with the usual pull-up shades and pull-down screens. There’s a pull-out step fitted below the entry door even though it’s an easy step up to the floor of the 3X.
Naturally, all the domestic action takes place in the centre of the 3X interior when camping, with the two outside modules reserved for rest and recreation. The cleverness continues with the way it can fold together again when it’s time to hit the road.
The double bed is hinged so that it stows itself vertically when the caravan contracts as does the dining setting at the other end. Lighting and other electrical circuits are designed so they can expand their reach without compromise when the caravan expands, while all the plumbing is located in the middle module that’s supported by the trailer, including the greywater and freshwater tanks.
Nice touches include the LED lighting strips that provide a halo-like effect from their locations in the trailing edges of the movable modules (the middle one remains static), and the well-crafted stack of cupboards that have doors on both sides so that they can be accessed from either the kitchen/living area of the 3X or from the main bedroom.
The toilet/washroom area, with an extending tap shower, door on either side, and polystyrene floor with a central drain, is deliberately smaller than that of most caravans, while the kitchen that also shares the available floor space of the middle module of the 3X appears roomy and useful.
The twin-burner hob draws energy from the well-sealed gas bottle locker immediately below, plus there’s a decent-sized sink alongside, and a 130-litre fridge located beneath the L-shaped kitchen bench. The dining area can comfortably seat five at mealtimes, and the table that’s hinged to the kitchen bench can be dropped away when not required to create more conversation space.
The Streibels are keen to bring in more Beauer caravans to New Zealand and introduced their 3X to avid crowds at the recent NZMCA Motorhome, Caravan and Leisure Show at Mystery Creek.
Beauer offers multiple options for the 3X model, and Marco has selected a few must-haves on this initial import to tailor the specification to the preferences of New Zealand caravan buyers.
Fitted equipment to the first New Zealand-registered 3X includes motor movers, a 120Ah LFP leisure battery, solar panel and controller, the eco-toilet, the washroom/shower and additional water tank, gas water- and cabin-heating, and the frame-mounted step. Other options include a bike rack, electric water and cabin heating, an awning, and a wired lancelet for plugging in a TV. The main bed, with its slatted base and anti-microbe hypoallergenic mattress can be extended in size to 1.6 x 2 metres from its present 1.4 x 1.9 metres, if required.
As seen here, a Beauer 3X is likely to cost approximately $85,000 plus freight. It costs $10,000 to bring this 3X from Cholet to Auckland, but the freight price will drop to $4000 if three Beauers can be shipped together.
“That’s because three can fit inside a container,” says Marco.
The Beauer 3X is a well-delivered concept and the fact that a simple press of a button activates the electric cylinders to expand to full size (in approximately 60 seconds) means set up and pack down is straightforward and low impact. The closing process usually takes less than five minutes. When in folded position, the furniture nests together. During the unfolding process, the furniture moves into place by itself.
The Beauer 3X is a tidy proposition well worth considering, with the bonus that minimal storage is required at home for the compact caravan.