With over 700 exhibitors, 7,000 + attendees and much to see, the annual RVIA National RV Trade Show in Louisville, Kentucky is a mainstay on the North American RV camper scene. While not targeted for the end consumer, the show is a grazing ground for hungry dealers looking for the latest and most eligible product, as well as component companies looking to catch the eye of manufacturers.
The show opened on a positive note, with RVIA executives reporting on the robustness of an industry well known for it’s regular ups and downs – at least in the USA. Canada remains in a slump as buying numbers remain down in the western regions, the result of a lagging economy. Industry forecasts in general are calling for a slight increase in shipments and optimistic 2017. The outlook – positive.
Attendees were treated to a keynote speech by Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger – famed airline captain known for landing doomed flight 1549 onto the Hudson River. Messages of leadership, decision making and the like delivered in a constant prose that no doubt kept the attention of all in ernest. His story was nothing less than remarkable.
On the consumer product end, we saw the launch of a new look from long time multi-brand and massive industry supplier – Dometic – revealing a more consolidated product line and adventurous marketing campaign design sure to grab the attention of a younger target audience. Keep a look out for their new Yeti-inspired cooler/freezer line and induction cooktops.
As expected, RV camper brands shone with massive, themed spaces and every piece of available inventory imaginable. Some new product design leaned toward elements of camping nostalgia and days of yore or blast from the past type designs. While splashy and fun, these seemed to lack any innovation and could risk losing its lustre relatively fast.
Other obvious design focal points included ultra small, rugged and full-utility campers hinting at ones desire to have access to only the essentials yet not loose the comforts of a home away from home. Oh and ability to sleep off the ground. Of note, we enjoyed spending time in Taxa Outdoors’ space, checking out their sexy line up of space-conscious, utilitarian designed trailers conceived by former NASA engineer and company Founder – Garrett Finney.
Perhaps North America’s most notable and exciting addition to the scene is European powerhouse Hymer – bringing their popular trailer and camper lineup, which will surely up the anti in design, affordability and customer service to the delight of many a dealer.
Thor and Winnebago motorcoaches caught our eye with their new, European-inspired exterior body and interior design elements. Canadian manufacturer Leisure Vans was a clear winner in interior layout innovation and materials design with their popular Unity Flex line and Unity Concept. A months-long waiting list for product is a sure indicator they’re doing things right.
As we eagerly awaited new announcements of alternative power and automation we were excited to see a few component suppliers reaching far into this very realm. Of note, Furrion and Lippert Components were presenting their camper-automation technology with a lavish display and working trailer concept. We can only hope to see these showing up in mainstream RV designs within the next couple of years.
Yet, and maybe not to the surprise of many, the industry as a whole remains fragmented and polarized. Many makers are obviously reluctant to part ways with cookie-cutter layouts and interior components. We lost count of just how many campers looked exactly, or very nearly, the same. Those who can move fast, be open minded and nimble in their design approach could indeed win in the long run. Think Airstream, Livin’ Lite, Winnebago, Leisure Vans and behemoth – Thor.
So what was missing? In our minds a focus on alternative energy made the absentee list. As did the prospect of an affordable yet well-designed, entry-level camper van. And where is the “Google phone” of campers? One where DIY is encouraged. If millennials and young travellers are on the target audience docket, the cookie cutter approach may not do. But time will only tell.