A look at the variety of motorhomes, including garage coaches, that this vehicle manufacturer builds on Freightliner truck chassis.
By Lazelle Jones
During the past several years, Chariot Vans Inc., dba Chariot, has embarked on a carefully planned journey into the RV market. Seeking its own market niche, this manufacturer has committed to producing high-end luxury motor coaches and garage coaches using Freightliner Class 8 truck chassis.
No newcomer to vehicle manufacturing, Chariot has been in the luxury transportation business for more than 25 years, beginning with van-truck-mobility products under the Chariot Vans brand name and eventually branching out to produce all-aluminum hauler beds for many industries. In 2005 the company decided to expand further, this time into motorhome production. The result was the Chariot, a luxury-class motor coach that debuted in May 2006. Two other motorhome models have been added since.
During a visit to the company’s facilities in Elkhart, Indiana, I had the opportunity to chat with Chariot officials, including John Wisolek, president/owner, and Denny Peterson, vice president of marketing and sales. John possesses an extensive background in automotive-related products, while Denny spent years in the luxury bus conversion business.
Currently, Chariot uses Freightliner’s Columbia and Coronado Class 8 truck chassis for its Chariot and Dominator motorhome lines, and the Freightliner M2 Business Class chassis for its smaller Eliminator. The Columbia and Coronado have gross vehicle weight ratings (GVWR) of 56,000 pounds, and the M2 has a GVWR of 33,350 pounds. Volvo chassis also are available. I asked John and Denny why they had elected to use the beefy Class 8 truck chassis for two of their model lines. For one, I was told the Chariot team believes that a Class 8 chassis offers exceptional and unique safety characteristics. For example, because of the chassis’ truck rail system, the ride height of a Chariot motorhome is equal to that of any vehicle out on the roads today. It also places the diesel engine out front.
Another safety/performance feature John and Denny noted is that the chassis come with dual live rear axles. What this means is that torque from the Detroit Diesel Series 60 14-liter, turbocharged diesel engine (which develops 515 horsepower and 1,650 pound-feet torque) is delivered to both rear axles. This scenario improves over-the-road performance, because instead of four tires on a single rear axle receiving torque from the engine and gripping the road surface, a total of eight tires on the two rear axles simultaneously receive equal amounts of torque when selected by the driver via a dash-mounted switch.
Of particular interest to the auto-racing crowd, Chariot’s coaches can have towing capacities up to 40,000 pounds.
A key component of Chariot’s plan is to cultivate a dealer network in major markets across the United States. As of this writing, the company has dealers in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; Denver, Colorado; Chicago, Illinois; Tampa, Florida; and in North Carolina and Louisiana.
Then there’s the service component. Chariot owners can take their units to an almost limitless number of Freightliner service centers throughout the United States for their chassis needs. Chariot has established service agreements with RV service centers around the country.
The Chariot motor coach is 45 feet long and available with one, two, or three slideouts, depending on floor plan (40-foot lengths may be special-ordered). The living quarters measure 34 feet in length and can include a full-wall street-side slideout and an 8-foot curbside slideout. HWH hydraulic mechanisms are used for the slideouts and levelers. The manufacturer’s suggested retail price begins at $480,000.
Standard equipment includes a 20-kilowatt diesel generator with auto-start, two 2,800-watt inverters (this is an all-electric coach), Aqua-Hot hydronic heating, twin 15,000-BTU low-profile roof air conditioners, and a 22-cubic-foot stainless-steel refrigerator with ice and chilled water dispensers.
The Chariot’s chassis features semi-monocoque construction formed by a welded truss and support system. The coach’s 2-inch-thick walls are vacuum-laminated with 1.5-inch welded tubular aluminum structural members, and the roof and floor are laminated as well. The 3-inch-thick floor is composed of welded tubular steel. The coach includes two 100-gallon fuel tanks, one below each of the cab entry doors. Fresh water capacity is 200 gallons, gray water capacity is 120 gallons, and black water capacity is 80 gallons.
Exterior storage capacity is approximately 100 cubic feet. The exterior is available with full body paint and graphics. Interior features can include granite, Ultraleather, solid hardwood cabinets “” almost anything the client wants, including a new bath-and-a-half floor plan.
One feature I immediately liked when exploring the Chariot motorhome was a privacy door that sequestered the cab from the living area. When it is closed, you can’t tell there is actually a passageway there. When it is open, you can walk directly into the cab.
In addition to the top-of-the-line Chariot, the company manufactures two other motorhome lines: the Dominator and the Eliminator. Both are available as conventional motor coaches and also offered as rear-garage units.
Like the Chariot, the 45-foot Dominator is constructed using the Freightliner Columbia and Coronado chassis and features the same structural design (again, shorter lengths can be special-ordered). The manufacturer’s suggested retail price begins at approximately $350,000. Amenities include a 12-kilowatt diesel gen set with an electrical management system, a single 2,800-watt inverter, dual 13,500-Btu roof air-conditioning units (non-low-profile), and a 12-cubic-foot refrigerator. Like its big brother, the Chariot, the Dominator is available in several floor plans with various slideout room configurations.
The Dominator Garage is suited to those motorhome enthusiasts who wish to take their motorcycles, ATVs, and other toys along. Two floor plans are offered, depending on customer needs: one with a 25-foot-long living area and a 10-foot-long garage space, the other with a 19-foot-long living area and 16-foot-long garage space. This model includes a hydraulic lift for loading and offloading toys.
The “entry-level” Eliminator was introduced in August 2008. This 39-foot motorhome features a structure similar to that of the Chariot and Dominator models (i.e., framework, floors, walls, and roof) but is built on the smaller Freightliner M2 chassis. Two floor plans currently are available in the motor coach model and one in the Eliminator Garage, the latter featuring garage spaces ranging from 10 feet to 13 feet in length. The Eliminator has a GVWR and GCWR of 33,350 and 55,000 pounds, respectively, and is powered by a 330-horsepower turbocharged Cummins diesel engine and an Allison six-speed transmission. Suggested retail prices for the Eliminator begin at $200,000.
The folks at Chariot are serious about the opportunities presented by building luxury motor coaches, including toy haulers, on muscular Class 8 truck chassis. They are committed to moving forward in this particular market niche.
Chariot Vans Inc., 2994 Paul Drive, Elkhart, IN 46514; (800) 276-3131, (574) 264-7577; www.chariotrv.com.