Innovation and technology are fun buzzwords, but what do they mean to those in the market for a new RV or looking to upgrade accessories for future travel?
They can mean many things, said Wayne Park, Relationship Manager with finance brokerage Credit One. Every day Park deals with RV owners trying to decide on the best style of RV for their preferred method of travel. Backed by a wealth of experience within the industry, he said the type of innovation he’d seen — from construction of vans and campers to onboard power systems to smartphone-controlled functions — continues to make life easy for RVers on the road.
INNOVATE OR DIE
Of course, most manufacturing industries shift and change as new processes are formed, production lines become more automated and consumer demand forces change. The RV industry is no exception, and Park said it is continually evolving.
“Caravans, camper trailers and hybrids have all evolved from a building perspective quite significantly in the last probably 5–10 years,” he said. “Back in the mid-2000s, an ensuite was considered to be a luxury item in a caravan, but these days it is almost a standard feature in most caravans.”
Materials and the construction methods have also changed and manufacturers have had to become creative to find ways to build better, stronger and more reliable without losing build quality, Park explained. As we all know, weight in caravans and camper trailers is critical but the consumer demand for the latest tech comes at a weight cost to the intrepid traveller.
“So, in maintaining the technology in the caravans and camper trailers, the manufacturers have to be quite creative in how to try and trim weight but still maintain integrity of the units chassis, frames, suspension and internal finish, including appliances, etc,” he said. “So, it's been a bit of a road for these guys to continue to offer what the consumer is demanding, but still be able to be carried by the average family 4WD, as opposed to needing an expensive tow vehicle to tow what is now a heavy and very expensive caravan.
“The manufacturers who don't move with the times and provide what the customers are looking for are going to be left behind.”
BUILDING THE FUTURE
Innovation has not just led to different ways to create the same types of caravan, it has spawned whole new categories, such as the hybrid. This crossover of a traditional hard-bodied van that’s the size of the camper has been appealing for those who want a nimble setup to take offroad (or for a lighter fuel bill), but also aren’t keen on a canvas unit that needs to be folded out and set up at each campsite.
“The introduction of the hybrids has probably been the single biggest innovative new build to market in the last 10–12 years,” said Park. “They have just taken off in the market because they are slightly smaller, because they are robust, they are designed more for outdoor living versus indoor living, but they're built for more offroad-style adventures.”
Being ‘high-tech’ with the construction of RVs also includes discovering different ways people can live within their vans. Employing out-of-the-box thinking in order to offer certain layouts and customisation is a key way that innovation is making life easier for customers. It gives them different choices to suit their own traveling style and family type.
“With the growth of hybrid vans we have also seen a number of manufacturers building smaller caravans, as small as 11ft,” said Park. “This for those who still want the more traditional style caravan but with all the features of its much larger brothers.”
Beds will take up a large portion of the floor space of the caravan, which can be a challenge, but clever thinking is changing traditional layouts.
“There are some new van builders who are using what has been traditionally only used in motorhomes in more recent years, and that is where they've got beds that raise to the ceiling,” said Park. “This then opens up a club lounge space underneath which will increase the living space inside the caravan. That, to me, is innovative and thinking outside the box.”
POWERING UP, UP, UP!
The huge advancements in batteries (including the influx of lithium to the market) as well as power management systems and solar panels has been game changers for RV owners. Being able to divorce themselves from the necessity of 240V mains power and the ability to top up and monitor their 12V batteries means RV owners can now stay off-grid for longer periods of time — whether that’s at free camping sites along the coast or more rugged outback destinations far from civilisation.
“Technology is helping people travel longer and be able to free camp more often,” said Park. “The quality of the solar panels has improved dramatically, to the point where their efficiency is now quite high, and caravans and campers are introducing fairly similar sorts of electrical or electronic systems so that you can have the full off-grid experience.”
Suspension system innovations have had a similar effect, with fully-offroad systems allowing travel to far more remote locations and making previously difficult tracks possible.
ALL THE LITTLE THINGS
There’s a host of other products and designs that have improved the lives of caravanners. Take interior lighting, said Park, which has come a long way over the years.
“Our old caravans just used to have normal incandescent lights and, quite seriously, if we turned all the lights on you would have needed sunglasses and some sunscreen to stop yourself from being burnt,” he laughed.
“But with the caravans these days, there's overhead lighting, there's under-cabinetry lighting, which are all very efficient because of the introduction of technology through LED lights.”
The simple awning has also had an innovation makeover as designs of vans and campers shift and camp setups become more sophisticated.
“It's more about outdoor living underneath the big awning and there's been quite a large number of different types on the market — from a straight 180 awning right through to a big swing-arm 270 batwing,” Park said. “A lot of people are really looking to increase the style of outdoor cooking that they do by having slightly better outdoor kitchen areas — and they need more protection to stay dry and comfortable.”
Of course, new technology has also meant the advent of ‘push-button’ caravanning, automating functions of setup, pack-down and general use of the van which once upon a time meant laborious winching, pushing, pulling and most likely plenty of complaining.
Many components of RVs are now also controlled by smartphone apps — a trend trickling down from advancements in home technology — with at least one manufacturer integrating Amazon’s Alexa voice control into one model.
Over the years people have become very versed in using the internet while travelling, given now you can do everything remotely from paying bills, searching for the next great location, to staying in touch with loved ones. While it is something we all now take for granted, 20 years ago it was a struggle for the mums and dads to even get their head around, said Park.
“We have all become some type of tech user whether we like it or not — the bottom line is that it makes travel an easier experience, and you are also not completely distanced from family and friends.”
According to Park, there are so many more ‘techy’ bells and whistles available to buyers now, and it’s unlikely to slow down any time soon.
“For those who crave high tech within their caravan, there are so many options out there,” he said. “And we're seeing improvements, as like all technology, pretty much on a year-to-year basis.”
Although many people might be attracted to the latest-and-greatest features, others will be more inclined to purchase things that will simply make their life easier, Park said.
“People who might be a little bit physically challenged, for instance, will be interested in not just smartphone app-controlled capabilities but the use of electric or mechanical legs, electric awnings and press-button technology to make travelling more doable, and for longer periods of time.”
CHOOSING YOUR TECH
Snazzy new tech can seem like a shiny new toy, but Park advised that RV owners should always consider what they need for the type of travel they want to do.
“It depends how you want to use your RV and what extra features will make your new adventures a little bit easier,” he said. “It's nice to have all the bling in the world with regards to technology and caravans and how they're built and constructed, but if it's not something that you see as practical or usable, you're not going to get value out of it.”
Of course, budget is also a huge consideration when it comes to tech.
“Some high tech stuff can come at a price, either as part of the cost of the overall van or as accessories and upgrades,” he said. “And people still need to be realistic about what they can afford to spend.”
Interested in climbing aboard the RV bandwagon? Credit One has access to a large number of financiers that can tailor a loan to suit your individual needs. That being either borrowing the entire amount or topping up with a partial loan to get the unit you really want. Having flexibility inside the loan to make extra repayments or to terminate the loan early is fast becoming the preferred option for many borrowers while keeping costs down. The Credit One Caravan team has a strong history of getting more people into this great lifestyle with a tailored loan as they deal with industry professionals day in and day out.
For more information about financing your dream or to obtain a pre-approval prior to negotiating with a dealer or private seller, call the Credit One Caravan team on 1300 273 348, 07 3420 7030 or visit creditone.com.au.