Airstream Interstate

Boomers Hit the Interstate

Nobody saw this coming: tiny Airstream, a niche producer of classic aluminum trailers for eight decades, somehow became the Number One manufacturer of diesel B-vans.
Airstream Interstate

These sharp-looking premium motorhomes defy all the assumptions about Airstream. They aren’t aluminum, they’re steel. They are motorhomes, coming from a manufacturer that has been known for its travel trailers. And they defy “common sense” by being the #1 sellers and yet the most expensive on the market, three years in a row.

The Interstate now has 33.7 percent market share of the diesel class B segment. So who’s buying them?

In a word, Boomers. The Baby Boomer generation loves Airstreams, and it turns out that the convenience of the Interstate motorhome speaks loudly to a new segment of travelers who want something simpler and more compact than a travel trailer. The Interstate, at the intersection of Airstream and Mercedes-Benz, hits all the right notes. Even with prices starting at $149,031, Airstream can barely build the Interstates fast enough to keep up with demand.

If you try an Interstate, you can see the appeal. It drives more like a car than a van, with excellent handling, acceleration, braking, and tons of safety features. Even nervous drivers can get comfortable driving it with features like lane-keeping assistance, blind spot assistance, and traction control. An excellent backup camera makes reversing easy, and the Sprinter offers a fairly tight turning radius for a vehicle with a 170” wheelbase so it’s relatively easy to maneuver in parking lots.

Lots of buyers seem to be using it just as a “touring coach” (which is how Airstream labels it), meaning that they don’t even sleep in it very often. For those owners it’s more of a rolling party, complete with kitchen, bathroom, and comfortable seating for up to nine people. In Thailand, where a new Airstream dealer has already bought 25 Interstates, wealthy Thai businesspeople use them as a comfortable place to work while stuck in traffic jams. (This has led to Airstream spinning off a dedicated executive travel van with no RV features, called the Autobahn.)

But still, there’s the question of why more people are willing to pay extra for the Airstream Interstate compared to traditional B-vans like RoadTrek and Pleasure Way. A clue comes from the fact that many Airstream buyers are getting their first-ever RV when they choose an Interstate. In other words, when time comes to get a motorhome, they are choosing to go right to the top. No doubt the Airstream/Mercedes combination brings a lot of appeal.

Having driven the Interstate, it becomes clear that it’s not just a pair of fancy brands. Airstream’s conversion of this van into an Interstate befits the Mercedes platform that it rests on. The fit and finish are exceptional for the RV industry, and the Interstate is loaded with top-of-the-line equipment. Every B-van has a water heater, for example, but the Interstate gets the best one available. Same goes for nearly every component in the motorhome, including many things you can’t see like the underfloor insulation. Extensive soundproofing means that sleeping inside is a peaceful experience.

And it has the features that well-heeled buyers want. In the EXT version, which is about 90% of the Interstates made, there’s room behind the rear couch for about 30 cubic feet of cargo. It’s easily enough for three golf bags, some scuba gear, or several full-sized suitcases.

In other words, this is less of a “camper” and more of a do-it-all travel vehicle. It goes places a travel trailer or larger motorhome couldn’t dream of, bringing you to the center of the action, downtown, or a beachfront parking spot, with all the comforts of home. It also fits into many driveways, a feature that proves useful when visiting friends.

Recently Airstream has spun off a new floorplan called the Grand Tour. This version has a layout more suited for camping, with larger refrigerator space and a more functional interior, including a small desk. (We’ll review that one in a future issue of Outside Interests.) That gives Airstream two versions to offer, each suited for a particular travel style. No doubt this will expand the appeal of the Interstate series even a little more, and we’ll see Airstream continue to be the king of class B motorhomes for years to come.

– By Rich Luhr