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RV makers lighten up with new products

Source: Goshen News
Publish Date: Wednesday, December 3, 2008
Summary: As American car owners switch out their gas-guzzlers for smaller vehicles, many recreational vehicle companies are creating lighter weight products that can be towed by those smaller cars.

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Roger Schneider

Dec. 3, 2008 (McClatchy-Tribune Regional News delivered by Newstex) -- LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- As American car owners switch out their gas-guzzlers for smaller vehicles, many recreational vehicle companies are creating lighter weight products that can be towed by those smaller cars.

Jayco, Dutchmen, Forest River and Crossroads RV are just four of the companies showing new light-weight products at the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association's annual trade show.

"The car market dictates that," said Brian Mullet of Jayco. "You see a lot of people buying smaller cars."

In response, Jayco of Middlebury has introduced five new Jay Feather trailers at this year's show. Some of the weight was shaved by utilizing smaller slide outs, Mullet said. He said the Jay Feather line is about 15 percent lighter than traditional trailers.

Forest River is producing a retro-looking teardrop trailer called the r.pod. The weight range is from 2,400 to 1,900 pounds, depending on size.

The product is targeting people who own vehicles capable of towing 3,500 pounds. Kevin McArt of Forest River said the line was introduced at the company's dealer show in October and has sold well.

McArt said the units compete well with traditional pop-up tent campers. The r.pods are built at the company's Century Drive plant in Goshen using composite sidewalls and a one-piece fiberglass roof. They come in 16- and 18-foot lengths and there is an optional tent canopy.

European inspiration

Dutchmen has looked to Europe for inspiration for some of its new lightweight products.

Joe Hosinski, director of marketing for Dutchmen, said the Europeans have been dealing for much longer with high fuel prices and have several products they utilize for inexpensive camping outings. One such camper is simply a cargo trailer with an attached canvas tent.

Dutchmen took that concept and made the trailer out of a plastic product, the trailer frame out of aluminum, put a nylon tent on it and called it the Topo, which is marketing shorthand for topographical map. The whole outfit weighs just 500 pounds.

"This is the entry-level RV," Hosinski said.

The company plans to market the unit to people who enjoy active outdoor sports. The trailer is tricked out with a bar system on its top that can hold Thule rack systems for skis, bicycles, kayaks and other items.

"It allows them to do the things they enjoy but have a base camp," he said.

The Topo can sleep four off the ground in the trailer box and more people can bed down in the attached tent.

After a trip, the unit can be stood on end and stored in a garage in about the same space as a lawn tractor, according to Hosinksi.

To illustrate just how lightweight the Topo is, Dutchmen displayed the show unit being pulled by a tiny Mini-Cooper.

Expanded teardrops

Dutchmen also expanded its teardrop trailer line by adding the T@G. At 800 pounds, the basic teardrop can be towed by most compact cars.

Gaining some weight is the new T@B, a teardrop large enough to stand up in. The T@B weights 1,700 pounds.

Hosinski said the T@B is light enough to be towed by most mini-vans and crossover sport utility vehicles.

He said dealers are eager to add lightweight products to their offerings because they realize they are losing some of the dedicated campers who used to purchase larger pickups to tow their traditional trailers.

Larger, but still light for its 18-foot length at 2,866 pounds is the Ecologic trailer.

Dutchmen did away with the wood-backed superstructure, replacing it with a composite of Styrofoam-type material sandwiched between plastic panels. He said the composite material is 50 percent lighter than the wood-based products used in trailer construction.

He said the use of the material knocks 800 pounds off the weight of a traditional trailer and 400 pounds can be shaved from an ultra-light unit.

The Ecologic has plastic windows to cut the weight of glass and the furniture is framed with aluminum instead of wood, another way to save weight.


Crossroads RV of Topeka, a Thor company, also has a lighter-weight trailer offering. But this unit is 30-foot long.

The SlingShot is another RV that was designed to be pulled by smaller SUVs and crossovers, according to the company. The SlingShot's frame is aluminum. The unit comes in 19- to 30-foot models. The 30-foot model weighs in at 3,600 pounds.

Much of the weight savings was developed by the company's suppliers, according to Larry Weaver, sales manager for the SlingShot.

"We really challenged industry standards and the supplier community responded unbelievably," Weaver said. "Most of the weight savings came through automotive and aerospace components and techniques never before used in this industry."

Newstex ID: KRTB-0427-30101721

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