EarthCruiser EXP from a Sportsmobile Perspective

geoffff

Observer
My van and I visited some overlanding cousins recently, the EarthCruiser family in Bend, OR!





I'm not going to go into minute detail here describing all the features of the EarthCruiser. Mostly I'll talk about some of the differences I noted between the EC and my Sportsmobile (a 2004 Ford E-Series "RB-50" layout), and spend some time comparing designs as I ponder whether the EarthCruiser layout really matches how I want to live and travel.

I keep coming back to the EarthCruiser because it has the offroad capabilities of my Sportsmobile, but with more room and storage - in a similarly-sized package. I like the engineering decisions they make. And their components / build quality strike me as much sturdier and more reliable than what Sportsmobile chose.

I do consider building my own super-sportsmobile, but oh the mistakes I would make learning to do everything myself for the first time. I would prefer to lean on EarthCruiser who has had many years learning from their own mistakes, fine tuning their mini luxury house on wheels. I trust their decision making.


Here are some highlights:
  • The EarthCruiser is only 2.5 feet longer than my Sportsmobile ("RB-50"), but has roughly 50% more living space and much more capacity. 7x drinking water. 8x battery.
  • The EXP still (barely) fits in a high-cube shipping container.
  • The Bed - I love the EarthCruiser's rear bed. It's a Full sized bed that, unlike in my Sportsmobile, can always be left made-up. It may not be as tent-like as my Sportsmobile's upstairs bed, but I am tired of having to make and unmake my bed every day while traveling - as is necessary in the Sportsmobile. The EarthCruiser has a pair of bed-height windows for viewing the outside world while under the covers and cross-breeze. The EarthCruiser is wide enough to sleep sideways ("east/west"), maximizing interior space.
  • The speed of the EarthCruiser EXP's electric poptop is amazing! It takes only 19 seconds to raise or lower the top. On my Sportsmobile, I have to go round and unhook 3 roof latches (and if I forget there will be major damage), and then I hold the power top switch for 1 minute and 30 seconds. The EC does not use secondary poptop latches.
  • The living space is rectangular. The Sportsmobile follows the leaning-in lines of the Ford van, resulting in less usable volume. The EC poptop covers the entire length and width of the living space, unlike the Sportsmobile poptop which only covers part of the area.
  • Flex - The EC box rides on a subframe which allows frame flex, unlike my Sportsmobile where the van body eventually starts to crack from 4x4 abuse.
  • Livable even with the top down. I can almost stand up in the EarthCruiser EXP with the poptop lowered, enabling (somewhat) discreet urban camping.
  • Materials: Custom molded fiberglass and plastic vs. the Sportsmobile's particle-board & wood screws.
  • Components: For example, the EC's fridge is silent while the Norcold fridges I've had in my Sportsmobile hum and vibrate.
  • The poptop has multi-layer fabric, and 8 large windows - each with a screen, clear window, and opaque window shade. Lots of light.
  • The poptop is pulled very tight to eliminate fabric flapping in the breeze. (In my Sportsmobile, I have to park with my van's head or tail facing into the wind to prevent flapping on gusty nights.)

However, there were a few ergonomic disappointments I encountered with the EarthCruiser EXP:
  • When sitting in the dinette area, I find my back is poked by the window handle sticking out behind me. Also, my head bonks against the metal wall border at the bottom of the poptop. It was explained to me that the solution is to sit sideways (rather than face the table) in the dinette seats. Comfortable enough. These problems don't occur with the EarthCruiser FX model (which has different windows, and no poptop).
  • The passthrough allows access to the living space from the cab without going outside, but it is more of an awkward wriggle and crawl than I had imagined. And the Fuso's seating area is tight. Moving between the drivers seat and the rear (for a quick snack or potty break) is far less convenient than in my Sportsmobile. Heck, in my van I can even grab goodies from the fridge without leaving my driver seat!
  • The kitchen drawer latches aren't very finger-comfortable.
  • The clear plastic window in the poptop makes use of a waterproof zipper, which is difficult to slide. However, the clear windows can be completely removed (unlike in my Sportsmobile), and stored elsewhere. The window opaque shade and screen layers use a different kind of zipper, which is very easy to slide.
  • I can't see out the poptop windows. At least when I am standing in the kitchen area, I can't see the horizon. (The floor in dinette area is about 6" higher, so that works better.) This is a shame, because I love standing in my van peering out at the world around me. The issue is that when the poptop windows are opened, the bunched-up fabric blocks the view out the lower part of the windows. In my Sportsmobile, this bunched up fabric falls down out of the way below the window, but the EarthCruiser pop has three strengthening straps. These straps allow the top to be pulled very taught to avoid any annoying wind flapping, but the straps trap bunched up window fabric at the bottom of the window, blocking part of view. With carefully tight fabric rolling, the amount of blockage can be minimized.

Kitchen view with all three window layers open for a breeze.



Here are a series of photos to show the different feel of these vehicles.


EarthCruiser EXP top with windows open - messily by me.
The horizon is blocked from view.
On the far left window, the opaque shade has been tightly rolled up,
but the screen & clear windows are still in place.


Here is the view while standing in the EarthCruiser EXP's dinette area,
where the floor is 6" higher


View while standing in Sportsmobile, open windows falling inward


View while standing in Sportsmobile, open windows falling outward


Peering out the Sportsmobile windows​

I have a separate write-up here on the driving experience: EarthCruiser/Fuso Driving Experience from a Sportsmobile Perspective
 
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geoffff

Observer
Different philosophies....

The side door is narrow. The feature I am most afraid I would miss by switching to an EarthCruiser is the double-wide side doors on the Sportsmobile. The Sportsmobile's large doorway, combined with fold-out door-mounted cabinets and work surfaces, enables a merged inside/outside living style. The EarthCruiser takes a different approach. You are either inside or outside. The EC is more of a "house", providing luxurious comfortable living quarters somewhat insulated from the outside world. Plenty of light comes in (especially with the EarthCruiser EXP), but the view is reduced (compared to the Sportsmobile). If the EarthCruiser is a "house", maybe the Sportsmobile is still a "camper".


EC: narrow door vs. Sportsmobile: Merged inside and outside living areas


The EarthCruiser's rear fold-down hatch cover can make a good outdoor cooking counter.​


The EarthCruiser's narrow door affects the inside feel, too. Furthermore, the entrance way bathroom (which I otherwise think is an excellent idea) blocks the doorway view. The EXP's dinette windows, while small, are at the perfect height for peering outside.


View while seated in the dinette area of the EarthCruiser EXP.


However, this is not the case on the EarthCruiser FX, where the dinette windows are shorter but wider.


View out the side doors while seated in the Sportsmobile​




Bed view


View forward from bed in EarthCruiser EXP.


View forward from (lower) bed in Sportsmobile.​




Despite what some marketing photos show, you can't really see out the passthrough while seated normally in the dinette.


The EarthCruiser passthrough vs. Sportsmobile windshield view​

-- Geoff
 
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martinf

Member
great write up! When I first visited EC we had an 19 foot airstream trailer and both units felt very similar in size and feel but the EC was the obvious winner on off road and all season capabilities. We ended up selling the trailer and buying a sprinter van mostly because we're not full timers (hard to justify 400k for a weekend vehicle) and to see how driving a house would feel.

Now that I've spent some time in the van exploring the national forests of WA and OR, I think the van is good enough for now but if my wife and I can still work remote once this pandemic is over I might toy with the idea of an EC as a home office.
 

jk6661

Observer
great write up! When I first visited EC we had an 19 foot airstream trailer and both units felt very similar in size and feel but the EC was the obvious winner on off road and all season capabilities. We ended up selling the trailer and buying a sprinter van mostly because we're not full timers (hard to justify 400k for a weekend vehicle) and to see how driving a house would feel.

Now that I've spent some time in the van exploring the national forests of WA and OR, I think the van is good enough for now but if my wife and I can still work remote once this pandemic is over I might toy with the idea of an EC as a home office.
I wish I had enough money for a $400,000 home office. Yep, I'm jealous. :)
 

MNmtb

Member
Thanks so much for the write up and the great pictures. Much more helpful than classified ads and their pics
 

ScottPC

Active member
Great write up! We've been on the quest for the most ideal way to travel, especially with Covid situation factored in, and they all have their pros and cons. We've had old and newer airstreams, which were great but wanted to go deeper into the backcountry. Since we had a truck for towing we got a terrific Hallmark Milner truck camper, which is now for sale: https://www.surfandsnowcountryimage...ark-Milner-fldr/2019-Hallmark-Milner-For-Sale (shameless plug). This was just a little more challenging for our dog with just a little less living space, but otherwise terrific for dispersed camping. So we wanted to find something with lots of capability, smallish footprint, and liveability. We looked at the Sportsmobile, Nimbl and the ECs. Love the capability of all, but thought the EC would do a little better for longer trips and in a little harsher conditions due to the insulated panel construction, large tanks, and large battery bank. Like you mentioned, with the EC it's more of an indoor or outdoor situation. In our case, that's what we were use to, and decided to go this direction. It's great to have so many options to consider with lots of innovation occurring. Again, great writeup!
 

waveslider

Outdoorsman
I’ve often wondered why flip-up “lambo-style” doors aren’t the norm for these kinds of builds. They kind of make their own shade/rain protection and you (presumably) could make them as wide/tall as needed.

it would be a kind of an adaptation of the “opening wall” that GXV puts on some of their rigs.

I’m probably making it sound easier than it is but boy that would be cool.
 

BillFitz

New member
I’ve often wondered why flip-up “lambo-style” doors aren’t the norm for these kinds of builds. They kind of make their own shade/rain protection and you (presumably) could make them as wide/tall as needed.

it would be a kind of an adaptation of the “opening wall” that GXV puts on some of their rigs.

I’m probably making it sound easier than it is but boy that would be cool.
A “Lambo style door” becomes a Lambo style flying wing in the wind. What’s nice about the EC’s door is that when opened it’s no wider than the drop down stairs and it stows in position against the house, out of the wind. If the door has enough room to open, so do the automatic deploying stairs. A bigger door means you can’t use a typical parking space when you’re buying groceries.

The opening wall of the GXV and Euro trucks is nice, but it’s an opportunity when the seals wear, for water or wind to make its way inside. And those big old barn doors do compromise the structural integrity of the house to a certain extent. Each of those four square corners is an opportunity for a crack to start.
 

waveslider

Outdoorsman
I suppose. But wouldn’t that mean any window is an opportunity for cracking?

Still seems like a clamshell type opening (where steps fold down and a hatch opens up) could be an interesting design element.
 
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