I’m enjoying an amber ale at Portland’s Base Camp Brewing, and a crowd has already begun to gather. That’s because award-winning industrial designer Mark Shoening has just rumbled up in his prototype expedition truck. It’s a boxy, Mitsubishi Fuso-based design that looks like it just drove off the set of Matt Damon’s “The Martian.”
It’s safe to say that full-sized overland 4×4’s are having a bit of a moment in the United States. Long since popular in Europe and Africa, American interest in these do-it-all trucks has surged. Cubicle-trapped adventurers the nation over have filled their Pinterest pages with these rugged, sturdy vehicles; but too few of us can afford the $600,000 it costs to pick up a factory-new EarthRoamer or UniCat.
Mark opens the back of the truck, revealing beds, a pop-top, fold-out windows, a tidy kitchen, shower floor and toilet. It’s neat, clean, full of right angles and expertly welded aluminum, small but spacious and easily accommodating of Mark’s 6’4″ height. It’s all beautifully utilitarian–and purposefully so, clearly designed by someone who understands, well, design.
“The key is leaving room for the consumer’s imagination,” says Mark. “That’s why books are better than movies. I want the consumer to look at this and see the possibilities.”
And possibilities abound for his easily customizable design. He’s forgone the two most common routes of most off-road RV’s, studiously avoiding the molded-plastic marine look, which he calls “good for a toilet.” Nor has he tried to pack an entire living room and dinette set into the box, avoiding carpeting, granite counter-tops, big-screen televisions and other “inappropriate materials” for the great outdoors. It’s everything you need for the backroads–and nothing you don’t.
More than a few acknowledgements of prototype status remain. The side pop-out tent windows are held in place by PVC piping, batteries and other internal components are tidy but exposed, and a number of the switchboards look like they’re designed for frequent removal and tinkering rather than final assembly.
I can imagine it parked in a corporate lot as a wannabe adventurer stares longingly over their cubicle wall; dreaming of their next road trip. But perhaps best of all, they don’t have to be a corporate titan to afford it; the target MSRP is just $100k. If successful, that price point would land significantly lower than many competitors; potentially even bringing in new recruits to the overlanding phenomenon. The Fuso base platform is ubiquitous; and though the BASE4x4 sticks out like a crash-landed UFO in the city, it’ll still fit in a typical parking spot or a winding European road. Mark hasn’t taken any orders to date, but hopes to scale up production soon.
“It’s a fantasy,” says Mark. “”You’re stuck in a cubicle 40 hours a week. You can look at it in the parking lot and imagine going anywhere.”