Russian motorhomes for Europe

Car travel enthusiast Igor Khrisanov came up with an idea to manufacture motorhomes. Motorhome travel has many advantages: it is romantic and gives you the feeling of freedom. It is also inexpensive: one night in a camper is much cheaper than a motel room. Khrisanov turned his hobby into a business after he redesigned a motorhome himself.

Igor Khrisanov graduated from the Ulyanov Chuvash State University, majoring in construction and law. In 2003, he did a 3-year internship in the UK where he met his sister’s boyfriend, British citizen Jes Davis. Davis, 27, studied economy at the University of Glasgow and worked as a distributor at Sterling Furniture. In 2006, Khrisanov came back to Russia and helped Davis deliver British furniture until 2014. In late 2011, the young people got enthusiastic about opening their own business.

They assembled their first motorhome in Khrisanov’s garage in Cheboksary using industrial process. In 2012, they invested RUR 5 mio ($78K) of their own money and opened the PODzilla company in Nizhny Novgorod. According to Khrisanov, it was easy to find an office, and the rent of 100 sq meters cost some RUR 25K ($392) per month. The niche of motorhome production in Russia was vacant. Khrisanov offers customers Russian-made motorhomes at a low price, but the lack of infrastructure and campsites is hindering the development of motorhome travel in the country. Europeans took a liking in PODzilla motorhomes. Khrisanov’s facility manufactures some 100 motorhomes per year and demand is outrunning supply.

The United States has a century-long experience in making trailer homes, while there is no such serial production in Russia. The businessman uses western ideas and adapts them to the Russian climate and road infrastructure. First he assembled motorhome capsules using foreign-made modules, with seams and joints. It turned out that the structure was not insulated and reliable enough, and the businessman came with an idea to produce structural systems where loads are supported through an object’s external skin.

The Russian climate also influenced the structure: the classical wireframe technology, prone to freezing and condensation, was replaced with a PODzilla-developed all-weather capsule, an insulated frame made of composite materials.

“A standard camper is 4.25 m long, 2.20 m wide and 2.25 m high. It can be ordered in various configurations, for instance, only the capsule with the interior and insulation, or the entire motorhome, including a solar panel and various heating means, such as gas, petrol and electric heating. The configuration can also include the climate control system, TV sets, aerials, hatches, vents and ventilation hoods,” Igor says.

Until 2014, the company’s turnover was on the rise, but then everything slowed down due to the Crimea annexation. The company had to reduce staff from 85 employees to 23. The process of business development and testing the new technology is pricey and bears many risks. Therefore Khrisanov banks on the compatibility of his motorhomes that can be installed on any Russian of foreign platform. He managed to make the motorhomes compatible with the Russian-made Gazel, Sobol and UAZ.

Foreign car models compatible with the Nizhny Novgorod PODs include Ford Transit, Fiat Ducato, Peugeot Boxer, Citroen Jumper and Renault Master. Adjustable jacks will be used to install the capsule on the chassis. The capsule can be installed on a platform trailer. No road police registration is necessary.

“The material that the motorhome is made of is fiberglass by Fashion, a major American company. I think their product is of the highest quality but it is also most expensive. We make everything else ourselves. The module itself and the shell weigh around 120 kg. When it comes to interior and comfort, equipment and so on, the sky is the limit. The additional equipment that any customer can order for their motorhome is produced by Italian and German manufacturers. We make some of this equipment ourselves – for example, the heating system. We heat water for the shower and we made this indirect heating device ourselves,” Igor adds.  

PODzilla targets different categories of tourists. As Khrisanov says, he has been observing travelers. Some are quick on their toes and can just grab their backpacks and escape civilization. Others prefer to travel with a suitcase on wheels so they could have everything they need and remain mobile. There is another category that travels with maximum comfort. The company has a similar graded production line of models.

“We once had an order. The client said, I want my motorhome well-built and strong enough to participate in jeep competitions. Can you imagine the strength required? A battery secured in a regular way will be rooted out in the off-road conditions along with the mount. But if the battery is fastened especially firmly, on impassable roads the inner alkaline plates will break. We have completed the order in five weeks, used a special composite. In fact, the one used to make rockets or modern aircraft. We calculated the different thickness needed in different places of the product and managed to increase it almost without an increase in weight to ensure the required strength,” Igor says.

The buyer said they had never seen anything better at such reasonable price, and contracted all of our campers they now pick up at factory gate, so we do not even have any transportation costs. So, 98% of all sales go to Europe via Germany, the businessman says.

PODzilla in numbers

  • initial investment – RUR 5 mio ($78K), paid back over the first year of operation
  • average bill – RUR 900K ($14K)
  • sales – 100 vehicles per year
  • number of employees – 23
  • 2018 turnover – RUR 60 mio ($940K)
  • net profit – RUR 6 mio ($94K) per year

By Christina Firsova

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