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Expedition vehicles

Unicat: it’s not a garbage truck

Unicat expedition vehicleIf your idea of camping involves high-altitude border crossings, and your First Aid kit is larger than Paris Hilton’s Louis Vuitton carry-on, then you probably know about the Unicat range of expedition vehicles. If not, then read on.

Unicats are RVs designed to go places where running out of gas puts your life in danger. They’re built in Germany on tough 4×4 truck underpinnings, using chassis provided by Unimog, International or MAN. Although many of the components are manufactured in the US, the bodies are built and assembled in Germany: the 11,000 square meter Unicat factory is only 30 minutes up the autobahn from the Unimog plant.

Squob has long been a fan of the Euro-style expedition vehicles based on six-wheel MAN and bad-ass Volvo C303 trucks, but the Unicats are something else. When the apocalypse arrives, this is what you want parked in your garage, along with 2,000 gallons of biodiesel—not a plug-in hybrid. And who cares if this ‘EV’ looks more like a garbage truck than an RV?

As the blurb says, “Drive from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, to Tierra Del Fuego, Chile, roads optional. Ship your EV to the Sahara, Gobi, or Kalahari Deserts, or the Australian Outback. See people and places that others can only dream of. All this in a vehicle offering the highest standards of reliability, safety and comfort.” Yessir!

The good news is that all Unicats meet EPA and DOT requirements, and can be licensed and registered in all states. The less good news is that they cost $500,000 or more, and you’ll have to wait eight months to a year for your personal vehicle to be built and then shipped to a US port of entry.

There’s a Unicat distributor in the US, but otherwise get your fix from the somewhat old-skool but more comprehensive European site. Or watch the Maholo Daily video of a visit to the Unicat US HQ.

UPDATE | Avi Meyers, the CEO of UnicatAmericas, dropped us a line to say:

“I just returned from a fabulous trip with a new International MXT-based Unicat. In four weeks we test-drove the vehicle from Germany to Morocco and then back through Spain, Portugal, France, Belgium, Luxembourg, and back to Germany.

“Unfortunately, International has pulled the rug from under our feet by ceasing production of the MXT after just one year of production. Because it’s now a one-of-a-kind, we won’t be promoting it but it is available for sale if anyone is interested. We are now looking at the new Dodge 5500 or Sterling Bullet as potential replacements for that model.

“In the meantime, I would greatly appreciate if you would let your readers know that Unicat can build any body they see on the European website on US street-legal chassis.”

See also:
The other big global ‘extreme RV’ manufacturer is Action Mobil, which builds many of its expedition vehicles on the MAN truck platform. Check out our Action Mobil article for more details and pictures. In the US, the leading ‘extreme RV’ maker is Global Expedition Vehicles, and we’ve profiled their mighty Unimog U500-based truck. If you like the idea of 4×4 camping, but want something smaller, check out the EarthRoamer.

Unicat expedition vehicle
Unicat expedition vehicle
Unicat expedition vehicle
Unicat expedition vehicle
Unicat expedition vehicle
Unicat expedition vehicle

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  1. I’d love to know how many of these are ‘out in the wild’ and who actually buys them. A pretty good way to have ‘no fixed address’ if you ask me.

    Posted by Dan | August 21, 2008, 11:05 pm
  2. Hi, Dan,

    Aside from a handful of very small “backyard” manufacturers, there are two proven expedition-grade vehicle builders in the world – ActionMobil of Austria and Unicat of Germany. Only Unicat is providing street-legal models for the North American market. Between the two they have built around 300 vehicles over the past twenty years or so and to our knowledge every one of those units is still active.

    Quite a few units have been built for purposes other than private use (promotional, search-and-rescue, chase vehicles for the Paris-Dakar Race, remote filming, research, mobile labs, etc.) but the majority are being used by individuals, families or groups for adventure travel to all corners of the world.

    Avi Meyers

    Posted by Avi Meyers | August 31, 2008, 5:02 pm
  3. “There are two proven expedition-grade vehicle builders in the world – ActionMobil of Austria and Unicat of Germany.” Hmmm … How about EarthRoamer?

    EarthRoamer has built over 100 expedition vehicles since our start in 2002. EarthRoamer Xpedition Vehicles have been driven completely around the world and throughout the Americas. As a bonus, they don’t look like garbage trucks and are small enough to get into tight places where Unicats simply won’t fit.


    Posted by Bill Swails | September 17, 2008, 9:41 pm
  4. EarthRoamer builds very fine vehicles and I have much respect for Bill Swails, his crew and the brand. Admittedly, EarthRoamers, due to their smaller size can get into and out of tighter places. For extreme, long-term, self-sufficient expeditions to remote localities, however, they lack the vitally needed capacities, range, structural strength, and off-road capability of Unicat and Action Mobil.

    Posted by Avi Meyers | October 22, 2008, 1:38 pm
  5. Hi Dan –

    Global Expedition Vehicles might be one of the companies referenced above as a “Backyard” manufacturer, but please don’t tell us. We think we build a very fine world-class Expedition Vehicle.

    Currently we have 2 Unimog Expedition Vehicles for sale. One is the original Prototype Expedition Unit placed onto a “brand-new” untitled 2005 Unimog U500. This is the Expedition Unit that my wife and I took to South America and all points in between, and tested for one year prior to placing it onto the “new chassis” and beginning to manufacture units for sale. Another Unimog sold earlier this year will soon be exploring in Australia and another is touring the Western US National Parks. Our last Unimog is under construction as a “Safari Expedition” model.

    I have a great deal of respect for Unicat and Action Mobil. They build a fine product, and it has been well tested. I might have considered purchasing one instead of building my own had I been aware of their existence a few years back.

    However, I believe that Global Expedition Vehicles builds a product every bit as good, or better, at a substantial discount from the European cost. We are a small company without the overhead of our European counterparts. We also have the flexibility of building to a customer’s layout and component requirements, although we prefer to build using the Solar and Diesel/Bio-diesel technology we currently implement, and believe to be important in today’s world.

    Global Expedition Vehicles constructs using “time and field-tested sandwich-panel composites,” and we can build on any chassis a customer desires, including a domestic small chassis such as a one-ton. However, we do not consider the small truck chassis to be a world-class Expedition Vehicle due to the worldwide serviceability and capacity constraints, but is more suited to domestic travels.

    See us at http://www.globalxpeditionvehicles.com. Then come visit, and I’ll give you the tour and I’ll buy lunch.

    P.S. It’s a short tour.

    Posted by Mike Van Pelt | October 23, 2008, 2:49 pm
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