Have Living Room, Will Travel

Versatile van conversions double as a weekend home away from home.
(NUI) - According to the American Automobile Association, this was one of the busiest summers ever as Americans took 230 million trips. Undoubtedly, many parents heard hundreds of times on these trips "Are we there yet?" But a select group of families found a cure, that lasts year round, for this common question: van conversions. The growing number of van conversion owners believe it's the only way to go, whether it's a trip to Grandma's or just running errands around town.

"I can't imagine living without it," says Rosanne Hardgrove of Woodbridge, Va., van conversion owner and mother of three. "The many amenities in our van conversion, like TV, stereo and VCR, keep the kids happy and that makes the trip easier on us."

Kelly Hardgrove, 10, echoes her mom: "We used to ask mom and dad 'How much longer?' a lot. Now we watch a movie or play a video game while we're driving. And sometimes, when we're watching a movie, we ask dad to drive slower so we can see the end of it."

An influx of baby boomers like the Hardgroves has made van conversions the family vehicle of the 90s. A University of Michigan study cites America's increasing emphasis on value and versatility as the primary factor in the 30 percent jump in van conversion ownership in the 90s.

Van conversions start as basic vans built by major automakers. Specialized companies called conversion vehicle manufacturers transform these shells into living rooms on wheels. Popular added amenities include plush seats and carpeting, panoramic windows, designer wall and window treatments, and sofa beds. In addition, powerful engines make them ideal for towing a travel trailer or boat.

Many van conversions come equipped with high-tech entertainment centers that include personal stereos, TVs, Nintendo systems and VCRs. The ultimate on-the-road gadgetry might be the TV monitors that actually can be placed in the back of each seat. Since passengers have their own personal entertainment centers, they can enjoy a video, a TV show or a video game.

"Parents are learning that van conversions are great for taking a summer vacation with the family, but also are ideal for everyday use like driving around town with the kids, picking up the week's groceries or dropping the gang off at Little League practice," said David J. Humphreys, president of the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA). "With an average cost comparable to that of luxury sedans, these versatile vehicles deliver a lot at a reasonable price."

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