After three years of planning since being passed into law in 2018, new legislation around motor vehicle production and importation comes into effect on 1 July this year. While the laws apply to all road transport, they will particularly impact the construction of caravans, campers, and motorhomes.
The Australian Government has said the legislation responds to changes in global markets and improvements in vehicle technologies over the last few years, with legislation set to provide stricter compliance and quality for both locally-made and imported vehicles. The Caravan Industry Association of Australia said the new legislation is the most significant change since GST and the laws will completely transform the industry as we know it.
Under current laws, caravan builders self-certify that their product is compliant with Australian Design Rules. This will change.
The Road Vehicles Standards Act (RVSA) is a Federal Government initiative replacing the Motor Vehicles Standard Act of 1989, and will come under the authority of the Commonwealth Department of Infrastructure — Transport Regional Development and Communications.
According to the department, the changes will create a level playing field for local companies, provide barriers of entry for unsuitable imported products, improve safety and compliance, and give federal regulators stronger enforcement powers. If the legislation achieves this, it will fulfil what consumers and many local builders have been demanding for years.
Scott Jones, Jayco National Sales Manager, told Caravan World that as Australia's largest caravan manufacturer they strongly support the RVSA legislative changes to improve the safety and compliance of both locally manufactured and imported RVs.
“[It’s] good news as it creates a level playing field. It will also improve the industry benchmark, resulting in more confidence for consumers."
Central to the new regime is that recreational vehicle builders will no longer be able to self-certify their ADR requirements. In the past, it was simply a matter of fixing a compliance plate without notification to the relevant department. Under RVSA, they will register online for approval and log every van on a Register of Approved Vehicles. This entry on the RAV will be like the birth certificate of the van and will contain information, including the make, date of build, VIN, Aggregate Total Mass, Gross Total Mass, and a certified Tare weight.
An essential improvement for consumers is the need for factories to weigh each vehicle in line with the ADR definitions and retain evidence of that weight. Being a verified weight, this change should in itself help solve one of the main complaints buyers have about their vans and their weight capacity, however, recommendations by CIAA that any additional accessories should be added to an amended plate have been ignored so far. This allows room for confusion about the actual weight of a van that has been modified after it leaves the factory.
Caravan Industry Association of Australia CEO, Stuart Lamont said they have been strongly advocating for the introduction of the RVSA for over seven years to provide a fairer operating environment for business, and better consumer outcomes.
“However, we continue to be disappointed at some non-compliant products being retailed to unsuspecting consumers. We will actively work with the federal department to ensure that they use the enforcement powers available to them when the RVSA comes into force. Caravanning and camping are such loved Australian pastimes and having safer outcomes for consumers is only going to enhance this experience," he said.
RVSA puts the RV trade on the same legal footing as the car and truck industries and puts more accountability, compliance, planning and documentation onto individual businesses. On the outset, many small builders will face a lot of red tape compliance that they might find overwhelming.
Under the new regime, all builders and suppliers of components must now register for Vehicle Type Approvals, visible to the public at an online database. As a general rule, caravan manufacturers will fall into a TB light trailer class for GTM between 750kg and 3500kg or TC for medium trailer class for those between 3500kg and 4500kg.
Without a Vehicle Type Approval, no camper or van can be registered. There will be a 12 month changeover period to allow builders time to implement changes, and the old rules will apply during this time. But without approval after 1 July 2022, you won’t be able to register a trailer of any sort. Builders and importers of less than four vehicles a year can apply for individual approval, but they must prove ADR compliance.
Achieving approval is strict and it has to be demonstrated that the van complies with ADR. Additionally, the builder must have complete control of design componentry, manufacturing, and a quality control system ensuring consistency of the design. Finally, there has to be a specific place of production available for vehicle inspectors to check. On top of that, records of each van must be kept up to date and available for seven years.
Builders don't need to do their own testing of components, but they need to maintain a record demonstrating the supplier has relevant test data to meet ADR compliance.
Importers are in the same boat so to speak — they need to confirm their overseas supplier consistently meets all testing and design criteria. For example, the overseas builder can't change the steel supply or even a brake light without being approved.
For the past few years, a lot of consultation has been going on between the government and caravan associations to make sure the new system is workable and easily understood. The associations have successfully argued to keep a version of the compliance plate so consumers can make better choices about aspects such as weights, however, other motor vehicles will no longer have the plate, meaning consumers will need to search online for information.
There is no requirement for a ball weight to be displayed on the compliance plate at this stage and this seems like a serious oversight as many consumers rely on this to check their tow vehicle is suitable. The Caravan Industry Association is also concerned about this detail and has been negotiating with the department to include the weight on the new SVI vehicle plate. It seems their proposed new design SDI has been accepted, which consists of a field for Coupling Load at tare, which we can read as ball weight. There is hope it will be mandatory for all builders to include this vital specification.
Fees to join the scheme are minimal, but there is concern among some smaller builders that administrative compliance costs will be significant. Several more prominent builders we spoke to have employed full-time staff to keep abreast of ADR changes and ensure continuity of quality from suppliers.
On the other hand, compliance, quality control, and accountability are all things that a responsibly-run business should have in place already. Doing things appropriately benefits the consumer and creates production efficiencies that save on warranty claims and legal battles.
WILL THE INDUSTRY BE READY?
The industry has a year to transfer to the new regulations, with all businesses needing to be on board by 1 July 2022. CIAA, however, has been advising members for months and has several videos and documents available online so that builders can be ready for the change.
Rogy Mathew Karottu, Product Program Manager at New Age Caravans, says he welcomes the new laws which he is confident will make the industry more safe.
As part of the Walkinshaw group, he said the company was already compliant and quoted the revised rear moulding of their van as an example of how the company had already changed to fit ADR specs. The moulding removes any chance of mistakes during production in the placement of or obstructions of rear lights. He said he understood how the new laws would be a challenge for large manufacturers due to the large amount of paperwork required. Nevertheless, he hopes that New Age will swap over to the RVSA by late 2021.
WILL IT WORK?
RVSA is a considerable investment for both the government and the caravan industry, and for it to work, there will need to be a lot more oversight by the department.
According to the CIAA, there will be more staff on the ground, but they remain sceptical about the number of audits that will happen. The industry body already inspects 1000 products annually for ADR compliance under their RVMAP programme, and they said they are happy to advise the department where they should be looking.
The Act allows the department to demand compliance, fine or cancel approvals of those in breach of ADR compliance and even to destroy seriously non-compliant vans.
Getting caravan builders on the same footing as the automotive industry — or what’s left of it — is a worthwhile move and one that should offer greater quality and buyer confidence. The rules apply equally to all local and overseas made road vehicles, so the complexity of meeting requirements will see some low volume importers finding it challenging to achieve approval. Just as importantly, any local builders who don't or won’t comply will not be able to register their vans. Any that falsify documentation will face hefty fines.
In the meantime, the old regulations of self-certifications apply, so one could imagine there is scope for some less than professional builders to continue for another 12 months — and consumers should remain alert about this.