Can you help clear up the confusion of what exactly is a Class C, Class B+ and Class B van? —From: Just about everybody
There is not only a lot of confusion when it comes to classification of the smaller motorized RVs, there is also very little consistency in how some manufacturers market them. I get this at every seminar I conduct, as manufacturers and dealers have different ideas on what is a Class B van, and especially the B+ category.
There is no B+ classification!
You read that right, and you will get arguments from manufacturers, dealers, and even owners because we see it advertised in the brochures, websites, and emails. However, if you have not learned it by now, anyone can write anything on the internet!
The Recreational Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) is the governing body that identifies the classifications. They list Class A, Class C, and Class B motorhomes. You can see the descriptions on the Go RVing website here.
So why do we see it in brochures, on websites, and plastered all over marketing materials at shows? It is a marketing term drummed up by manufacturers to capture the attention of RV buyers.
According to RVIA, here is the description of each of the classifications.
The chassis manufacturer provides the engine, drive train, and chassis rails for the motorhome manufacturer to build on. Some examples are the Chevy P30 in the older days, Ford F53, Freightliner and Spartan in the diesel pusher models. The motorhome manufacturer then builds the entire cab, driver and passenger compartment with dash instrumentation and the body.
The chassis manufacturer provides what is known as a “cutaway chassis,” which consists of the engine, drivetrain, frame rails, and also the entire cab configuration. In the past it was the Ford E350 or E450, and now we even see Mercedes-Benz and the Ford Transit models. The motorhome company then builds the rest of the motorhome box.
For years, motorhome manufacturers built the Class C with an overhead bunk. Most people think that is the defining characteristic. However, what makes it a Class C is the “cutaway cab chassis”—whether it has a bunk or not. More on that later. The true characteristic of a Class C is the bump out behind the cab known as “wing walls” that transition the automotive metal cab sides to the 8’5”-wide body. If it has this bump out, then it was built on a cutaway chassis and is a Class C.
A Class B or B van is a full automotive-style van that is built by the chassis manufacturer as a shell and the motorhome manufacturer customizes the interior. Years ago it was Dodge and Chevrolet vans with a fiberglass top added and lots of shag carpet. Today we see the Mercedes-Benz 2500 and 3500, Ford Transit, and even the Ram. Since the entire exterior shell is manufactured by the automotive company, there is no wing wall bump out, no overhead bunk, and typically no slide outs, but rather a sliding side door.
Where did B+ come from?
When Mercedes introduced the larger 3500 model that had enough interior headroom to allow RVers to stand up inside the unit, many RV manufacturers jumped to convert these shell vans into fully equipped motorhomes. The diesel engine had great torque, power, and outstanding fuel economy. They became one of the hottest selling units on the market.
The problem was the RV manufacturers and dealers did not want to promote them as a B van, as that indicated a smaller unit with much compromise. However, according to RVIA guidelines, they could not classify them as a Class C because they did not manufacture the “box” on a cutaway chassis. Even though the larger 3500 models were almost the same size as the smaller Class C units, they still fell into the Class B classification.
So, someone came up with the marketing term B+, larger than a B van but not getting into trouble with RVIA calling it a Class C!
Inconsistency in what is and is not a B+!
Here is where the confusion starts, in my opinion. Several companies such as Winnebago and Leisure Travel stay true to the RVIA classification and don’t have any reference to the B+. But others are playing some marketing games.
For example, Airstream has a smaller unit called the Atlas Touring Coach and on the website it states:
The Atlas Touring Coach is our most luxurious touring coach to date. It’s a Class B RV built on the legendary Mercedes-Benz® Sprinter van chassis and inspired by our trailblazing Airstream Interstate series. In fact, with its power slide-out, richly appointed features and finishes, and understated automotive styling from grill to bumper, we affectionately call it a Class B+. A new standard has arrived for those who believe a well-traveled life begins with the best.
The issue I have with this description is the unit is actually a Class C, as you can see the wing wall, so it is built on the cutaway chassis. But they start out by calling it a Class B and upgrade it to a Class B+! You can see the description and photo here.
Examples of Class B vans at a recent show
At a recent show in Charlotte, NC, an attendee of my RV Buyer’s Seminar stated the dealership told him that this unit was a Class C because you could stand up in it! Nope, it is a Class B.
So I walked with him to a few other dealerships to ask about similar units and got a wide variety of answers. “This is a Class B+ because it doesn’t have a bunk but does have a slide out.”
This one was also pitched as a Class B+ even though it had a bunk.
And one of the most blatant misrepresentations of a classification, in my opinion, has to go to Thor Industries. They advertise the exact same units on their website as a Class C and a B+. The Compass AWD is listed as a Class C on the landing page, but when you click on the image, it is being marketed as a Class B+. Same with the Gemini.
I will give them some credit. When you click on the Class B link, all the units there are B vans, and when you go to the Mercedes chassis link, they are also listed correctly.
Why the confusion, and what is the truth?
The confusion starts with the manufacturers creating the Class B+ marketing term and is fueled by the sales representatives sensationalizing the products trying to create a unique vehicle that you will just have to buy. Most of these units are 24’ in length. What is ironic is that the Class C pictured above is no longer than the Class B Airstream pictured earlier. Therefore, if the customer does not do their homework, the sales representative can switch the classification to fit the customer’s need.
For example, if the Class C is too large in the buyer’s eye and they don’t feel they can drive it or park it, the sales rep switches them to the B+. They’ll state that it has almost as much livability inside but drives like an SUV and can fit in a metered parking spot so you don’t need to tow a vehicle. The truth is, both units are approximately the same length but the Class C is 12” wider, a few inches taller, and comes with a slide room.
In another scenario, the customer wants a smaller unit but the Class B is too small and they don’t want to go to the Class C because it is too big. So, the B+ is the answer, even though it is the same size as the Class C but just doesn’t have a bunk! Reminds me of Goldilocks and the three bears… This one is just right!
Look at how you are going to use the RV
What I tell my attendees at the seminar is to throw out all the garbage and look at how you are going to use the unit. If you want a smaller motorized unit and will use it as a second vehicle most of the time and camp occasionally, the bigger units are not good for that. You will compromise camping space to have a smaller unit to drive to soccer practice and the grocery store.
If you are going to be using it for camping most of the time and want a smaller unit, consider the larger units, especially the Class C. That is still only 24’ but has more livability in the floorplan with higher interior space and slide outs. And it most likely has a fixed bed versus the pull down or couch option of the smaller units.
The best advice I can give is to go test drive to see how it drives, and rent one to see if there is enough space for your purposes.
You might also enjoy this from Dave
What Class B would you buy? How about a B+?
What type of Class B RV would you buy? Thanks. —Brenda
Dave Solberg is a leading expert in the RV industry and the author of the “RV Handbook.”
Read more from Dave here.
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