Union objections and building codes ranked high among the reasons for its failure, but the fatal problem was that no bank would lend money to tool up for a product that they feared — possibly correctly — would reduce the value of the mortgages they held on conventional homes. Buckminster Fuller resorted to selling stock to finance the tooling, but his startup company could not produce a marketable product in time to satisfy the stockholders. The project ultimately foundered in a morass of lawsuits and hostile attention from the Securities and Exchange Commission.
A more recent revolutionary project, Village Homes in Davis, Calif., has prospered since it was founded in 1975, but it took three frustrating years for its developers, Mike and Judy Corbett, to work past the objections of building inspectors, insurance underwriters, banks, and the U.S. Federal Housing Administration, all of which found reason to block the building of an ecologically sound, energy-efficient neighborhood of 220 solar homes. Utility bills for Village Homes are about 50 percent lower and home prices about 20 percent higher than in nearby conventional developments where the houses have similar amenities. The lucky inhabitants of Village Homes are widely envied.
The concept sounds wonderful, but for 30 years, despite strong demand, no developers, not even the Corbetts, have managed to build another Village Homes. The institutions that obstructed the Corbetts appear unwilling to take what they still consider to be a risk — not a risk to customers, but a risk to the established system.
And then there’s my own situation: I’m currently seeking to license a company to produce and distribute a radically improved recreational vehicle I call the Quickup Camper (a name I’ve trademarked). The patented design is essentially two nesting aerodynamic shells that cover the cargo bed of a standard pickup truck. In camp, it powers open in one minute to become an eight-foot-square, multi-windowed, nicely equipped living space with stand-up headroom and a queen-size bunk. Unlike any conventional RV, it is reassuringly stable, agile, and easy to drive, even in high winds. For 10,000 test miles, it has averaged about double the fuel mileage of conventional pickup-based RVs of similar amenity.
At trade shows, the Quickup has attracted thousands of visitors and many RV salespeople. Most react positively, including kids who like its spaceship appearance. (To see what it looks like, click here.) There is nothing like it on the market. It’s affordable. It’s proven to work well under a variety of conditions. And it seems to be falling prey to the same problems that beset the Pop Tent, the Dymaxion house, and Village Homes.
The project started in 1997 with high interest from Ford, which gambled by sending me a new F150 pickup truck to convert. The company also provided me with exhibit space at SEMA (Specialty Equipment Market Association) in Las Vegas, the nation’s largest auto trade show. Ford was willing to place this bet in part because I had a good track record dating back to my 1960 Econoline camper. More importantly, someone at Ford sensed that my design could sell a lot of trucks.
There was good reason to be hopeful: My fuel-efficient design arrived when almost all of the 6 million RVs registered in the country were notorious fuel guzzlers (as they still are), and fuel prices were rising. Increasing public concern about global warming helped, as did the post–September 11 threat of terrorism that caused families to take their vacations by road. Best of all, there appeared to be an empty marketing niche: Hundreds of tent campers and empty-nest couples had told me that they would buy a modest, sensible RV, but no available model had yet met their approval.