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2016 RVIA Show Review

The 2016 RVIA show in Louisville featured the usual full spectrum of RVs the industry has to offer. However, this year was one of the best…if not the best…of the six shows I’ve now attended for the small trailer segment. It’s no secret that this segment of the industry is gaining steam and this year proved manufacturers have embraced the small trailer culture with new, innovative models and expanded floor plans of existing models.

Every year I keep telling myself that I’m going to take two days off work to attend this show, and this year was no exception. However, I packed a lot in the full day I was there on Tuesday, November 29. By the time my day was over, I logged a whopping 24,116 steps on my Fitbit, or 11.04 miles! Fortunately I bought a new pair of New Balance before the day began…and they got quite the break-in. But perhaps 2017 will be the year where I take those two days for the show, as this year I wished I had another day to talk more to some of the manufacturers about their products.

Part of my day this year was spent hosting a couple from Indianapolis. Bob & Becky Kevoian are recent retirees now traveling the U.S. part time in their 2014 Airstream International Sterling 25FB.  I spent a few hours with them looking at Airstreams and just giving them an overview of how physically big this show really is. Some of you may recognize Bob and his signature LA Dodgers cap. For more than 30 years, Bob was half of the Bob & Tom Show, a nationally syndicated morning radio show based out of Indianapolis. Once Bob hit 65 in December of 2015, he signed off the air for the last time, although the show still carries on with his name. Following his retirement and induction into the national radio hall of fame late in 2015, Bob and Becky have been enjoying the past year spending much of it on the road in their Airstream. Earlier this year, they started a podcast as an accompaniment to their blog about their Airstream, affectionately called “June Bug”. You can follow along on their adventures at their website, junebugjourneys.com where you can catch up on travel updates and listen to their recent podcasts.

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In this post, I’m just going to give an overview on what I saw, but not delve too much into anything in particular . I figure I can highlight individual trailers this winter when I’m cooped up in the house.  And there should be plenty to individually highlight as well. What made the most impression on me this year was the multitude of new products. But much of this year’s new trailers weren’t just the same old designs and floorplans badged with a different manufacturer’s name. There was plenty of that, but there were also fresh, new designs that strayed from the “same old, same old” that I hear many of you tire of. Some of those were the Hymer Touring series of lightweight travel trailers with a pop-up roof. These aren’t yet available in the US, but that should change in 2017. Their website has little info about the Hymer Touring, but there were four units on display in Louisville. One dealer I spoke with heard MSRP on these will be in the low $20k’s. One note, they have a low entry door head clearance. Don’t ask me how I know this. :-/

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One new offering from Aliner is the Ascape. It’s a rear-entry unit that’s loaded with everything a single person needs for a comfortable weekend. And at just 13 feet long and 1350 lbs, it’s towable by a lot of smaller vehicles. It’s not yet up on their website, but look for prices in the mid teens. The Plus model adds air conditioning, cassette toilet, audio/visual package, and awning.

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The Travel Lite Falcon is one that easily attracts. While Travel Lite is known mainly for truck campers, in recent years they’ve introduced travel trailers to their lineup and have added to that lineup the slick looking Falcon. It comes in five floorplans and weights ranging from 2480 to 3215 lbs. They’re skinned in smooth aluminum and come on 18″ to 20″ wheels, depending on whether the floorplan has a slide or not. Very good looking unit with good looking interiors. Very nice change from the industry norms.

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Forest River is also coming out with some innovative smaller trailers. Rockwood’s Geo Pro and Flagstaff’s E-Pro should be out sometime in the first half of 2017. Geared toward “those campers that value being environmentally conscious and have chosen to drive today’s more fuel efficient crossover vehicles and small SUVs”. An A-frame bike rack, flexible roof mounted solar panel, and 12 volt 19″ TV are just a few of the options these two essentially identical trailers will offer. They’ll have five floor plans to choose from, with the smallest being a teardrop style that has a rear kitchen and a bed you crawl into from the outside, not unlike a teardrop, but not shaped like one. The particular model in these photos (the 14K) has a spacious U-shaped dinette that converts to a bed and also has a wet bath next to the front kitchenette. It has an unloaded vehicle weight of just under 2,000 lbs and is 14′ total length.

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Airstream’s introduction of the redesigned Basecamp happened a couple of months ago, and units are just now starting to show up on dealer lots. The first incarnation of it occurred in 2008, and it was really nothing more than a small utilitarian designed unit that never gained traction with the public. After lasting just one year, it was shelved and reintroduced this fall with a new interior package and redesigned on the inside while keeping the same overall shape it had in 2008, with the addition of a side entry door, wet bath, and a few more touches to give it more of a micro travel trailer feel on the inside. So far, feedback has been positive and Airstream has been advertising this thing hard on social media. There were two units on display in Louisville, with one showing the additional tent rooms that can be added to both the side and the rear of the Basecamp. There was also one without the tents to show the sleek design of the Basecamp uninhibited by the tent rooms. The MSRP was a cool $38,000 on the one I looked at. Airstream appears to be marketing it towards millennials and those outdoors recreationalists that you would typically find camping off the grid and not in a typical campground.  I’m not sure of too many of those 20-somethings who could afford that price tag when you consider their likely school debt and other financial and career obstacles that generation faces. Time will  tell on the Basecamp. If it were me looking for an Airstream in that size and price range, I’d go with a traditional 16′ Bambi Sport for about the same size, weight, and money. After all, if you’re buying an Airstream, don’t you want it to look like an Airstream?

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Debuted at the Elkhart Open House in September, Heartland RV again had the yet to be named prototype retro trailer. Its look harkens back to the classic Holiday House built in the early 1960’s. Whether it makes it to production remains to be seen. Although it’s a single axle trailer, it’s got some bulk to it. It sits pretty tall and although I didn’t see a weight on it, it’s weight is likely well north of 3,000 lbs and I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s darned close to 4,000. More than one industry professional I talked to about it said that while it’s got a great exterior look, the interior is a little too modern looking and somewhat brings down the trailer as a whole.

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Another one that debuted at Elkhart which was a big draw at Louisville was the T@B 400 by nuCamp RV. About 3 feet longer and a foot wider than a traditional T@B, the 400 will weigh in the 2300-2600 lbs range with a 6’7″ of head room. The T@B 400 gives what a standard T@B doesn’t: a separate dinette and a separate bed. One look at the interior styling of the 400 and you’ll immediately know that it takes cues from its European counterpart. I’m sure it’ll gain the favor of loyal T@B owners, but I’m not sure about the fridge. For the size of the trailer, the fridge seemed to be lacking in size, as it appears to be down in the 2 to 3 cubic foot range. Look for it to go into production early in 2017.

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That covers most of the new offerings I saw at the show. Now for some other observations. Despite Forest River’s knack for dropping lawsuits on anyone who makes anything with wheels and a fresh water tank (Note to Forest River’s legal department: This is SARCASM. Lighten up, Francis.), that still hasn’t stopped Winnebago, Jayco, and Starcraft from producing their own r-Pod offshoot. And why not gun for them? According to Forest River’s own statistics, the r-Pod is the number one selling travel trailer under 20′ (I plan on posting on this in the near future). But not everyone is a fan of Forest River, so they have a choice in brands, and all four have just about the same floorplans from which to choose. So to recap those four, we have the original, the r-Pod

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the Winnebago Winnie Drop

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the Jayco Hummingbird

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…and the Starcraft Comet Mini

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But for those you who are just interested in something in that 19′ to 21′ range without the need for your trailer to be the prom queen when you roll into the campground, your options are wide open. Every major manufacturer has something for you, with prices ranging from entry level in the low teens to a little higher end in the mid 20’s, depending on the manufacturer. So whether your budget is in line with the entry level Serro Scotty or Coachmen Clipper,

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to the mid-range Winnebago Micro Minnie or Keystone Passport Ultra Lite

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or to the higher end Livin’ Lite Camp Lite or Lance,

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and everything in between, you WILL find what you’re looking for. This is a fantastic time to be in the market for a trailer less than 20′. Your styles and options are vast and there’s something out there for every budget. So as winter is upon us, start looking for those RV shows in your area, and get out there and see what’s available. Kick the tires, find a floor plan you like and compare brands. Ultimately you will find what you’re looking for in time for the 2017 camping season. There were a lot of other brands out there that brought models in the 19′-21′ range, but I just touched on a few. I’ll be updating the Manufacturer’s Page to include some of the new models set to hit the dealer lots in 2017. And stay tuned this winter where I’ll highlight some of these new models that I’ve discussed here.

Thanks for reading…and may you all have a great holiday season!

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Thor Industries acquires Livin’ Lite RV

As reported in a press release on Tuesday, recreational vehicle giant Thor Industries has acquired the assets of Wakarusa, Indiana based Livin’ Lite Recreational Vehicles. The deal is expected to be complete by Friday.

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“We are pleased to welcome Livin’ Lite to the Thor family of RV brands.  Adding such a creative RV maker to Thor’s strong stable of brands will enable us to expand our industry-leading position in new product development into camping trailers and truck campers,” said Bob Martin, Thor President and Chief Executive Officer. Along with Livin’ Lite, Thor’s stable also includes Airstream, Keystone, Dutchmen, Crossroads, and Heartland, which, ironically, was co-founded by Livin’ Lite owner Scott Tuttle.

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(images courtesy Livin’ Lite RV)

“We are excited to join forces with Thor, the leading company in the RV industry, and we are looking forward to the new growth opportunities we should see as a result,” said Scott Tuttle, President, CEO and founder of Livin’ Lite.  “We have worked diligently to grow Livin’ Lite over the past five years and expect to extend that growth as we bring the distribution, operational and financial strengths of Thor to bear on our business.  As the newest company to join Thor, we also expect to add to our combined development efforts as we apply our proprietary technology to a broader array of existing product lines and bring our combined market strength to camping trailers and truck campers.”

In a post on the Livin’ Lite Facebook page, Scott Tuttle wrote:

“Obviously, news of our sale has reached you by now, and despite what some of the “know-it-alls” seem to think, I promise you that there is no better scenario than this to help us accomplish our goals here at LIVIN LITE to become the best possibly company that we can be.”

If Thor lets Livin’ Lite and Tuttle continue with the same forward thinking and innovative business plan they’ve followed since their inception in 2002, the acquisition will mean nothing less than in influx of resources to take that plan to the next level. It’s been my opinion that Camp Lite trailers are on par with many and better than most trailers on the market in their class. One thing is for sure, with Thor’s vast dealer network, the RVing public unfamiliar with Livin’ Lite will soon get to see firsthand why Thor made the acquisition.

You can find out more about Livin’ Lite at their website: http://livinlite.com

 

 

 

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Manufacturers Updates

A few news nuggets from a few manufacturers:

–According to Director of New Business Development for Little Guy Worldwide, Dylan DeHoff, the much anticipated T@B “Clamshell” model should be in production before the end of 2012.  The Clamshell will be at the 2012 RVIA dealers show in Louisville, KY in November.

–Another trailer scheduled for a come-back, the Hi-Lo, has been slowed. According to Hi-Lo’s Bill Kerola, “Progress has been much much slower then I anticipated.” If plans stay on course, prototypes should be out sometime in the first quarter of 2013.

Livin Lite’s Scott Tuttle tells us the Camp Lite side of things is expanding on their longest model (16′) with a new 21′ model with slide outs. The slides can be in the form of a U-shaped dinette or a sofa bed. The extra 5′ in length creates larger kitchen areas and bathrooms in the Camp Lite fleet. The new 21 footers will weigh in around 3200 lbs.

–Larry Drake’s Teal Camper concept appears to ready for take-off. He has teamed with Rocky Mountain Innosphere to formulate a plan that will see producton of his modular camper design by the end of this year. Larry tells us, “It is an exciting time and all involved have seen a real acceptance for the Teal Camper concept.   We are anxious to finally get production units to the hundreds of individuals who have expressed a desire to own one.” The production model will also introduce some yet-to-be released improvements. The Teal Camper website will also be updated with an online store within the next 60 days.

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Camp Lite Fuels Livin Lite’s Sales Increase

Wakarusa, Indiana based Livin Lite RV is quickly making its way to the top of the lightweight travel trailer segment of the RV industry. The proof is in the numbers. A look at various Google searches will find that Camp Lite is #1 within several search terms, covering everything that includes the words “aluminum camper”, “ultra lightweight”, “lightweight aluminum trailer”, and any combination of those words you could come up with. Nearly 20 combinations of those words will bring up Livin Lite as the first search result. And all this has been done without paying for the top spot on Google as many companies are known to do.

Livin Lite president Scott Tuttle credits the Camp Lite travel trailer line with increased sales of late. “Consumers are loving our new round front end and wood “look” interiors. Our exterior colors are so hot right now – especially since we have been fine tuning our “black-out” package with all black trim and diamond plate, black exterior appliance doors and grills, and  black air conditioning on the roof”.

 

As well as Livin Lite’s travel trailer division is doing, an up & coming part of their business is in their truck camper line, a segment which is making a comeback throughout the recreational vehicle industry. Based on the same features as the Camp Lite trailers, their truck camper division has done so well they’ve created a separate production line for them. Says Tuttle, “We have traditional RV dealers who have NEVER sold a truck camper now selling Livin Lite truck campers to a whole new generation of truck owners who want to take their families camping.”

For more info on Livin Lite, visit their web site at http://livinlite.com.

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A Day at the RVIA Show — Part 3

Now that I’ve reviewed a few of the smallish trailers I encountered at the RVIA show, one company stood out to me above the rest. Livin Lite’s Camp Lite series was the star of the show in my book. After spotlighting them in October, I was interested in seeing one up close & personal. The You Tube video introducing the world to the Camp Lite series makes it look like a nice, solid unit with a super light build.

Upon inspection of all the units Livin Lite brought to Louisville, I have to say that the Camp Lite exceeded my expectations, which were already rather high. I can’t say enough good things about the build quality of their trailers. Everything was just first class from fit & finish to the quality of materials used. As a “car guy” in a previous life, I’ve done my share of car judging. If the Camp Lites were in a judged trailer show, it would’ve been difficult to find any flaws to mark down on my score card.

This was also the debut of the optional “orbit” nose that will be offered. This is a nice little upgrade for someone wanting a rounded front, compared to having the nose with the standard angles.

Another new option is a wood grain look to the interior. This tends to tone down Camp Lite’s traditional utilitarian look of its interior.

Livin Lite isn’t the biggest trailer manufacturer out there, but they’re far from the smallest. All the “big boys” had a small trailer of some sort at the show in Louisville, and I looked at them all. I can honestly say that Camp Lite was better than most of them, yet not one of them was better than the Camp Lite. And that includes anything Airstream or Forest River had to offer. Camp Lite isn’t the least expensive trailer you’re bound to find, but given the fact that it’s made of aluminum and composites and is 98% recyclable, it could literally last forever. So you may pay a little more up front, but it could easily be the only trailer you’d ever have to buy.

So that brings to a close my thoughts on the field of small trailers at the 49th National RV Trade Show. A big thank you to Courtney Robey, Public Relations Manager of the RVIA, for extending the offer to me to attend so I could pass on my thoughts & opinions for the readers of The Small Trailer Enthusiast.  Reports show attendance for this year’s show was down 6%, but based on the millions of dollars of trailers, 5th wheels, and motor homes on display, the RV industry in this country is alive and well.

 

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49th Annual RVIA Trade Show

November 29-December 1 marks the RVIA’s 49th Annual National RV Trade Show in Louisville, Kentucky. Over 60 manufacturers and over 200 suppliers will be on hand for three days of product debuts and exhibition. I was fortunate enough for the RVIA to offer me an invitation to attend…and attend I will!

Most of the nation’s leading recreational vehicle manufacturers will be on hand, as well as many of those who produce small travel trailers, such as Little Guy Worldwide, Livin’ Lite, Riverside RV, and the bigger manufacturers such as Gulf Stream and Forest River. One booth I’m interested in visiting is that of Travel Lite. They’re a truck camper company, but will be debuting their first endeavor in the travel trailer arena with the new Idea travel trailer, which will come in lengths from 16 to 18 feet. Travel Lite has plans to donate a portion of each Idea sale to Habitat for Humanity.

The annual Louisville trade show has always been a showcase where new models are debuted. Last year, Riverside’s Bob Taulbee introduced the world to the Riverside Retro, which is in production today with a new floor plan soon to come off the line.

(photo courtesy the Goshen News)

However, not all units that debut in Louisville ever see the light of production. Case in point, in 2008, Airstream debuted the Scout concept trailer. Highly retro in design, but for whatever reason never made it to production.

What other new trailers that will debut at this year’s RVIA trade show will be answered in the coming days. Stay tuned, as  I’ll have plenty to update you on.

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Livin’ Lite RV’s Unique Camp Lite Travel Trailer

In just eight short years, Livin’ Lite RV President Scott Tuttle has not only formed two RV manufacturers, but he’s also created a line of travel trailers that is one of the most structurally sound you will find anywhere in the industry. Livin’ Lite started its life as an “automotive camper” manufacturer. Dealers had their fill of traditional pop-up campers, due to a typical rash of warranty claims often associated with pop-ups. It was because of this somewhat hostile environment Tuttle decided to build a cutting edge tent camper that would be virtually warranty free, could be towed by virtually any small car, and made of all aluminum and composites. The end result was the Quick Silver automotive camper. Nine years after its initial production, its still nearly warranty free.

“In the beginning, most U.S. dealers were not interested in even talking to us, as they said, “We don’t want any more pop-ups”, says Tuttle.  “In fact, they pretty much despised the thought of carrying those warranty plagued units ever again.  That is why I coined the term “Automotive Camper”, because we were not in any way, shape, or form, a “pop-up” like they used to know.  We were completely different.  In the early years, most of our production was for Canada, as that market was much more receptive to our concept and understood that there was quite a market in young families who owned cars and minivans.”Just a year after starting Livin’ Lite, Tuttle was part of a group that started Heartland RV, one of the bigger manufacturers in the industry today. He still had a stake in Livin’ Lite, but had a friend running the business. In 2008, he sold his interest in Heartland to focus his attention on Livin’ Lite. It was at that point when they introduced a travel trailer to their line-up, called the Camp Lite.

Built with the same structural fortitude as the Quick Silver,  the Camp Lite boasts a welded aluminum frame, aluminum sidewalls, and aluminum floor decking.  The aluminum theme is also present on the inside, with aluminum framed cabinets which are skinned in…you guessed it…aluminum.

The Camp Lite comes in three different lengths, each with several floorplans to choose from. There’s the 11′ CL11…

the 13′ CL13…

and the 16′ CL16…

As is the case with all of the Livin’ Lite lines, they offer several different color options to choose from, including some in metallic. If that’s not enough, they can even customize colors to suit your tastes.

The Camp  Lite is one of the most environmentally friendly RVs you are likely to see, boasting of 98% recyclable materials and utilizing composite Azdel wallboard, making the Camp Lite wood-free. It is because of this type of forward-thinking and ingenuity that has earned Livin’ Lite INC. magazine’s Top 500 Fastest Growing Privately Owned Companies list in 2009 and 2010, as well as the Indiana Economic Development Corporation’s “Spotlight” award both years as well. According to the IEDC, Livin’ Lite “weathered the RV industry storm and grew from approximately 51 to 77 employees in 2011. With 200 percent revenue growth in 2010, the RV manufacturer expects an 88 percent revenue increase this year due to its new light-weight RV model.”

Says Tuttle, “While other RV manufacturers were struggling and even closing their doors, LIVIN LITE sales EXPLODED! It has been quite a journey for us over these last three years, but we believe that the best is yet to come as we continue to offer the most uniquely built, lightest weight, longest lasting campers in the industry.”

(Images courtesy Livin’ Lite RV)

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