On a sunny but pleasantly breezy afternoon, we pull into downtown Santa Barbara to meet with Matthew and Joanna Hofmann, husband and wife and founders of Living Vehicle. Established in 2017, the California-based company builds high-end travel trailers designed for living off-the-grid.
Given how much traffic our story on Living Vehicle trailers garnered in 2021, we sat down with the creative minds behind Living Vehicle to discuss the low-volume trailer and how it came to be—and why it’s loaded with appeal.
MT: Where does the story of Living Vehicle begin?
Matthew Hofmann: The idea for Living Vehicle was born in 2016, but this all began over a decade ago, in 2010, with a specialty upfitting business when I was a licensed architect. I wanted to start my own company and thought it would be an architecture firm. I loved projects and working with my hands which I discovered growing up in the High Sierras, where we build houses.
My first project was an old Airstream that I did not know much about and would renovate on the weekends. Ultimately, I moved into it and later marketed it to people. That was the beginning of our Airstream renovation business, during which we customized over 400 mobile projects. It would later inspire us to launch Living Vehicle.
MT: What separates Living Vehicle travel trailers from more conventional model lines?
Matthew Hofmann: First off, Living Vehicle is a low-volume travel trailer with production limited to 25 annually. We have lived in a wide range of small spaces, including a 30-foot boat on the Santa Barbara harbor. A commonality across many trailers is that they are for recreational purposes and not designed as primary residences like a home or an apartment. Recreational vehicles are ideal for weekend trips, weeklong vacations, and such. Since they are not for full-time living, you find yourself always compromising, making them inefficient.
Joanna Hofmann: Given the small number of Living Vehicle trailers, we can innovate quickly to introduce new features without waiting for the next model run. In addition to our experience, the feedback we receive from our customers helps us implement highly requested updates with a fast turnaround. Innovation is happening all the time.
Matthew Hofmann: This year, we will probably grow our trailer production by a handful. Low volume allows us to stay connected to our customer base, create value for owners, and understand the function of the units. We prefer to keep the demand instead of flooding the market.
MT: How does the first model you ever built stack up against the current flagship model in terms of energy?
Matthew Hofmann: In the beginning, we were designing a better-quality mousetrap. The first model came standard with 600 watts and a 2,000-watt inverter. While you could use it off-grid, its power system was nowhere near the size available in the Pro Series. Our top-of-the-line Pro EV offers 3,500 watts of solar energy and has a 20,000-watt inverter. You can go all-electric now and run every piece of electrical equipment inside the unit, including air conditioning, heating, refrigeration, dishwasher, central vac, etc.
Our flagship model is like a mini powerplant and does not require any connections. The amount of power you can capture, store, and use as you will is just mind-blowing. The built-in technology, remote systems monitoring, ability to control your unit wherever you are; all together is fascinating.
MT: You mentioned that with recreational vehicles comes compromise. Please elaborate.
Matthew Hofmann: Living Vehicle manifested from various experiences in mobile spaces and projects we did for clients. We recognized this hole in the marketplace where people constantly had to compromise by creating weird solutions to perform regular tasks and wasting a ton of time. One of those is visiting laundromats and parking far away on weekends because your trailer does not have a washer and dryer. Other inefficiencies that stood out were the inability to cook in a spacious kitchen, limited storage space, and few groceries on board due to a tiny fridge.
On some of the trailers we lived in, winters were challenging, forcing us to move out. You either had to shack up or go somewhere with warm weather during the cold season. Additionally, I have always had a problem with showers. In a mobile space, you got to have a great bathroom. Manufacturers do not pay enough attention to most of these bathrooms. For tall guys, it could be frustrating to sit down or bend over in showers. Not to mention, service issues are also a pain in the neck.
Joanna Hofmann: Unreliable internet, not having a place to set up office equipment, and the lack of separation where we could both be on a phone call were other issues. As business partners working full-time, a designated area to work is essential. Several of the trailers did not feel like home. We changed that by designing a travel trailer that feels residential, almost hotellike, a concept that has resonated with many people. You can live out your everyday activities in a Living Vehicle. It is very different compared to living in a trailer short-term or camping for a weekend.
MT: Sustainability, quality, and forward-thinking tech are integral to Living Vehicle. Has the travel trailer you created exceeded your expectations?
Matthew Hofmann: It has been a long road. We explored lithium-ion batteries about a decade ago by installing them in trailer renovations. The Living Vehicle Pro is a self-supporting trailer from an electrical standpoint, although it does use gas for backup power. With our goal of becoming an all-electric trailer company, self-sustained energy and efficient systems are a priority. We love the idea of independence and being self-contained. The motto that we have anchored ourselves around is “luxury unplugged.”
If it is not as close to automotive quality as possible, the endeavor is not worth pursuing. It is not cheap to build an extremely high-quality trailer and find people willing to pay for it and support the effort. We are addicted to quality and are proud of what we have accomplished four years into this business.
Joanna Hofmann: We started from the ground up by building something intended for full-time living and extended use. The goal since day one has always been to create an all-electric trailer that can produce its resources. For us, this is what motivates our determination year after year of reaching net-zero emissions.
MT: This past year you decided to live full-time in a Living Vehicle. Tell us what you have learned.
Matthew Hofmann: With a Living Vehicle trailer, you could be in a natural environment and have the comforting amenities of home. Even the retractable deck in and of itself is wonderful because it keeps your stuff isolated instead of disturbing the ground wherever you travel. We have learned that you can travel in a mobile space and still appreciate nature in an eco-friendly way.
Joanna Hofmann: Adding to what Matthew said, how do we get to visit these natural places as humans without ruining them? You know, leaving a carbon footprint. Living Vehicle allows you to explore nature and be self-sufficient while preserving the environment for future generations to enjoy.
MT: What are some of your favorite features?
Joanna Hofmann: From a lifestyle perspective and as a female with lower tolerance levels needing comfort and warmth, the shower truly feels like you are at a spa. The fully loaded kitchen, super versatile deck, and Euro loft (a bed that comes out of the ceiling) are other conveniences I enjoy. All the luxuries that make it possible to live in a trailer every day while you are off-the-grid.
Matthew Hofmann: My favorite features relate to mostly tech and innovation. These include the solar awning that doubles solar capacity while providing shade and the high-grade and painstakingly detailed cabinetry. Also noteworthy are the airtight windows, four-season insulation, shell design that protects critical systems, and condition basement.
MT: Did your upbringing influence Living Vehicle in any way? Joanna, take the wheel.
Joanna Hofmann: During my childhood in Connecticut, my family did not do trailers or go camping. However, we did spend a lot of time outdoors. Our vacations consisted of going up to New Hampshire, booking a cabin near the lake, and fishing. As a young adult, I traveled extensively. My family is originally from Poland, and they have a farm out there, where I visit often. I have always loved being in nature and around animals. This desire to experience the outdoors did not become some vision for designing a travel trailer. More so, it was about a different way of living.
Matthew Hofmann: I grew up in Mammoth Lakes, California, a small internationally known ski town with a local population of about 8,000 that swells to 30,000 or 40,000 on weekends and holidays. Nature always surrounds you, and it is beautiful all four seasons. I was very much rooted in that growing up. In school, skiing was part of the physical education program. Instead of going to lunch, we would go skiing and eat a sandwich on the bus on our way to the mountain. My pastime as a kid was essentially making things and playing around in the woods. I would build tracks in the national forest right outside my backyard, including tree houses and tiny villages.
Unlike Joanna’s upbringing, we had this 16-foot travel trailer that we stayed in as a family and used to explore California. It helped me understand the value of living minimally. That led to this concept of blurring the distinction between inside and outside space. Nature had a heavy influence on me throughout college and all my studies in architecture and design.
MT: Have you taken inspiration from other leading tech brands?
Joanna Hofmann: We want to be part of the future and innovate like Tesla and Apple, companies that challenge the status quo, the so-called crazies with radical ideas. Our customers asked for more capability, power, and modern tech features; they wanted to go off-grid. As a travel trailer company, it has been exciting to be at the forefront of sustainability and implement concepts rooted in that.
MT: Does Living Vehicle currently have something in the works?
Matthew Hofmann: Charging your [Tesla] Cybertruck from a Living Vehicle trailer and vice versa is high on the checklist. Our vision for electric tow vehicles is to be the powerhouse behind them. But if you also need power from your tow vehicle, you can cross power just like the Ford Lightning can do as a backup power source for your home. Say you are off-grid and do not have a lot of sun for a week. Drive the Cybertruck to a Tesla Supercharger station, and it becomes your backup power generator.
Joanna Hofmann: Water generation is another feature we have worked on for years with other companies. Maybe we will launch it in 2022.
MT: Do you envision people trading the city life for going completely off-grid?
Matthew Hofmann: The pandemic has been interesting because now people are going away from the city and returning to nature. There is a great quote by John Muir about the frazzled urbanites and their desire to get back out into the mountains.
Joanna Hofmann: In the Covid age, people who have never considered buying a travel trailer or living in an RV suddenly, it makes sense to them.
MT: Anything exciting coming up?
Matthew Hofmann: When it finally hits production, we look forward to towing a Living Vehicle travel trailer with our new Cybertruck.
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