Summer 2015

Inventory / Wheels of Desire

Cataloguing the aspirations of American RV owners

Jon Calame

“Inventory” is a column that examines or presents a list, catalogue, or register.

There are at least seven hundred distinct recreational vehicles on US roads today, from teardrop trailers to Greyhound-bus–sized customized motorhomes that can provide up to 465 square feet of domestic space when their sliding sections are extended. This area is roughly comparable to that of a typical Manhattan studio apartment. The largest RVs—categorized as Class A because of their weight—can include washing machines and dryers, dishwashers, marble countertops, tiled showers, exterior televisions, and any number of additional amenities.

This proliferation of models disguises a much smaller number of generic physical types, which basically consist of small or large furnished boxes, driven or pulled. This increases the need for seduction and novelty during consumer courtship. What is the nature of this seduction, in which an object—a Copper Mountain ($53,440), Palazzo ($224,450), or Cornerstone ($625,686)—promises you freedom from the malaise accumulated across a working life by allowing you to roll unhindered toward an unspecified oasis?

The splendid indulgence offered by Thor Motor Coach’s Palazzo.

Automobile names rarely achieve the same metaphoric intensity, and shrink from any serious effort to mine the buyer’s imagination, though trucks, sport utility vehicles, and all-terrain vehicles provide a nomenclatural bridge when they invoke the language of liberation, as with the familiar Escape, Explorer, Range Rover, and Rogue. On the whole, recreational vehicle names delve deeper, further heighten expectations, and reveal more about the aspirations of their future owners because they are not simply machines for transport but also tools for temporarily—and sometimes permanently—re-rendering a life.

In compiling what I believe to be a near-comprehensive list of all RVs currently on the road in the United States, it seemed to me that their names issue from seven great clans of desire to which their owners wish to belong when enjoying their leisure time. Ranked according to the number of model names affiliated with each clan, they are:

Between these clans, intermarriages are common. The Cherokee Vengeance, for example, simultaneously suggests nativism, purity, defiance, and conquest (but in which direction?); a nearly perfect model name. The Glacier points to both exploration and purity, but is a hint of defiance also intended, as the wheels spin and the polar caps thaw? Alongside the Safari, Tundra, and Savannah, there is an evident fondness for wild animals: Arctic Fox, Canyon Cat, Caribou, Cheetah, Cougar, Coyote, Desert Fox, Dolphin, Eagle, Gazelle, Golden Falcon, Grey Wolf, Hornet, Koala, Lynx, Mako, Mallard, Mustang, Puma, Raptor, Redhawk, Viper, Wildcat, and Wolf Pup. Other model names reference picturesque, often sparsely populated American places: Wyoming, Montana, Utah, Colorado, Dakota, Alaska, Flagstaff, Yellowstone, Catalina, Sedona, Yuma, Tahoe, Sonoma, Sun Valley, Shasta, Kodiak, Phoenix, Laredo, Santa Fe, Monterrey, and Sanibel. Harder to imagine would be metropolises such as Chicago or Atlanta, though an Atlantis does exist.

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