Noticeably greater safety and comfort: innovative shock absorber technology for camper vans and motorhomes
The camping market in Europe has been booming for years: recently, registration figures for camper vans and motorhomes have progressed rapidly from record to record. This trend is also reflected in Europe's campsites: anyone who was able to secure a prized pitch for themselves last summer could count themselves lucky. But as popular as the mobile homes are, there is room for improvement in terms of comfort and driving safety. This is precisely where the suspension experts at thyssenkrupp Bilstein come in: for the first time, the technological leader in the shock absorber sector is now bringing the comfort familiar from the car segment and a significant increase in driving safety to the camper van market.
"We see immense potential in the camper business," explains Alexander Knopik, Business Development Manager at thyssenkrupp Bilstein. "At the same time, we've identified a clear aftermarket need for high-performance camper shock absorbers that offer more than the standard solutions do."
To meet this demand, a cross-departmental project team was formed and given the task of developing new, particularly high-performance series replacement shock absorbers for camper vans and motorhomes. The synergy of decades of shock absorber expertise and personal enthusiasm for the subject at Bilstein was a big advantage in this project. And the suspension experts already had the right technical basis in their range with the B4 and B6 series replacement shock absorbers.
"Clearly outshine series shock absorbers"
Whereas the market analyses of the booming leisure market delivered a clear message, the Bilstein marketers also noted that driving behavior (still) plays a subordinate role for camper drivers in many cases. Knopik: "They are clearly and primarily focused on the interior, and less on the suspension. That's precisely why the new shock absorbers had to be good enough to clearly outshine series shock absorbers and make an immediate impression."
Noticeably better driving behavior was therefore the key requirement during development. The engineers initially concentrated on the Fiat Ducato, a commercial vehicle on which most campers and motorhomes are based. Two aspects favored this approach: "For one thing, our market analysis showed that nearly a quarter of a million Fiat Ducatos are registered as camper vans in Europe alone," Knopik said. "On the other hand, we already had a number of B4 applications in the range for the Ducato, which we developed further during extensive testing specifically for use in camper vans and motorhomes."
Demanding program of tests
Hundreds of hours were spent on driving tests alone, most specifically on the "Automotive Testing Papenburg" site, where automotive manufacturers such as Mercedes-Benz also perform their testing behind hermetically sealed gates. For this purpose, the engineers developed various shock absorber prototypes adapted to the high weight of the various Ducato camper models from panel vans to semi-integrated motorhomes. On the demanding test tracks, the shock absorbers were tested down to the last detail and tuned until the Bilstein developers were completely satisfied.
Knopik: "In multiple iterative loops, engineers from our Road Test department are checking the performance of the prototypes: How do the rebound and compression stages of the shock absorbers behave, and how does the vehicle respond? Based on subjective and objective test data, working pistons and valves are adjusted until the driving behavior is perfect."
This procedure is unique in the camper van sector, and clearly sets the benchmark. Knopik: "No competitor puts as much effort into developing aftermarket applications as we do." In the process, aftermarket customers benefit not only from the company's decades of expertise: Bilstein works closely with original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) such as Mercedes-Benz, Porsche and BMW. "All the products we develop and produce meet the extremely demanding OEM requirements, which are more stringent than aftermarket standards. Without doubt, no one else can do this for a new aftermarket product development."
BILSTEIN B6 Camper and B6 Camper Advanced set a new benchmark
The effort was worth it. With the BILSTEIN B6 Camper and the BILSTEIN B6 Camper Advanced, the suspension experts have developed two shock absorber series that set a new benchmark in the camper van and motorhome segment. "In particular, we have been able to reduce body roll significantly when cornering, and sensitivity to crosswinds," Knopik is pleased to report.
With the registration-free camper shock absorbers, driving motorhomes is now much safer and more precise: They ensure optimum grip when cornering. While motorhomes with series suspension often tend to roll significantly in the corners, the shock absorbers stand out with a significantly higher roll stability that is immediately noticeable. The increase in safety does not come at the expense of comfort. On the contrary: driving noises are reduced with the new shock absorbers, thanks to better damping. In addition, BILSTEIN B6 Camper and B6 Camper Advanced offer optimized rolling characteristics on cobblestones and at rail crossings.
Driving experience from the premium car segment
The BILSTEIN B6 Camper Advanced goes one better and, for the first time in the camper segment, provides the sort of driving experience that drivers would otherwise only get with a Mercedes-Benz. That's because this shock absorber series uses the patented BILSTEIN DampMatic® system – a technology developed jointly by thyssenkrupp Bilstein and the Swabian premium manufacturer. The heart of the system is the automatic damping force adjustment, which works purely mechanically, and therefore does not require expensive electronics. "The shock absorber adjusts its characteristics independently through vibration feedback from the road," explains Knopik. "That's why it's possible to run two different characteristic curves or modes: The shock absorber usually offers very comfortable damping, whereas it provides high damping forces when the situation requires it. In this way, it keeps the vehicle stable when driving slowly and automatically irons out very fast movements – for example, on bumps. This makes the shock absorber much more comfortable than a conventional passive shock absorber, which can only be a compromise because it only has one characteristic curve."
After about a year in development, the brand new camper shock absorbers were launched on the market in the summer of 2022. Initially in the Germany/Austria/Switzerland region, and shortly after that in the UK, the Benelux countries and Scandinavia. Shock absorbers produced at the Mandern and Sibiu (Romania) plants will soon also be launched in Spain and Italy. The products could also be placed on the U.S. market. After all, demand is enormous, and feedback from the market and the trade press is unreservedly positive.
This firm level of confirmation gives the Sales department and the developers a feeling of being on a roll: the portfolio has long since been expanded further, and B6 Camper and B6 Camper Advanced have been developed for the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter and Ford Transit.