In the times pre-COVID-19, there were plenty of RV shows around the country, and for those whose tastes were a little more international there was New Zealand as well. Indeed, they were so common that many a dealer and manufacturer struggled with the decision of which shows to exhibit at. That all changed with the arrival of COVID, when RV shows, like many events, more or less disappeared from the agenda.
During the lockdowns something else changed too. With international travel off most travellers’ agendas, domestic travel generated considerable interest and just about all of Australia’s manufacturers and importers found themselves awash with deposits on new RVs when things started to lift. Good news for sure, but some of those orders will only be filled past the end of this year and well into next.
While this was encouraging news for the local industry, what is somewhat less cheerful news was that component supply, which has affected worldwide industry in all spheres, has also taken its toll in the RV industry and it’s not unknown for a caravan to be delivered without less vital components.
Off to the Victorian Show
All that undoubtedly sounds like a long-winded introduction to the recently held Victorian Caravan, Camping and Touring Supershow but I mention it for a couple of reasons. The Victorian show is a bit off my normal beat, but I was keen to attend since I haven’t been to a show for quite a while. Secondly, I discovered there were a number of brands like New Age, Avida, Adria, and Trakka, plus several well-known offroad caravan manufacturers who weren’t there — mostly for the reasons mentioned above I suspect.
That said, there were plenty of RV manufacturers, dealers, and importers in attendance, not to mention any number of accessory suppliers and related industries.
Family Vans in Vogue
In PC (pre-COVID) times, Australia’s largest manufacturer Jayco was absent from quite a few of the big city shows, so it was good to see its return to the Victorian show. As far as I could tell there were examples of the entire range on display . Noticeably, there were a number of family van layouts — everything from the humble Swift camper trailer to the exotic toy hauler.
About six or seven years ago, apart from the likes of Jayco and Avan it would have been a bit unusual to see one family van on an exhibitor’s stand. Now, just about everyone, including Lotus, Atlantic, Retreat, Golf, Coromal, Millard, Olympic, Royal Flair, and Supreme had a least two to three models on their respective stands.
For some time now the standard bunk van layout has been a double bed at the front and a double or triple bunk and bathroom area in the rear. However, there have been some interesting variations of late on the standard design, and that included an interesting bunk layout from On The Move Caravans which had double bunks but done French (corner bed) style not parallel. Several manufacturers like Network RV had designs with six bunk beds plus a double at the front. There’s something catering for all family sizes or maybe for a construction crew if they are prepared to be friendly!
What's Trending and What's New?
Anyone who has looked at the automotive world in recent years will know that colours like white, black, silver, and numerous shades of grey seem to be dominant. The RV seems to have followed suit but I noticed (difficult not to) that several manufacturers like Design RV, Safari, and JB Caravans had some vans clad in very eye-catching colours — lime green, bright blue, orange, and gold. A flash in the pan or will it continue?
It's difficult to decide whether slide-outs are still trending or are there for people who want more space inside. Certainly, a number of manufacturers like Jayco, Willow RV, and Nova, all have them as mostly side slide-outs, but Lotus went one better with a couple of its designs featuring double slide-outs, either both on the same side or one on the side and one at the rear.
Clearly offroad and rough road caravans are very much still the trend. Just about every caravan exhibitor had a strong selection of rough road and offroad caravans on display, with both single axle and tandem axles models are available in any number of layouts. Just as an observational comment, with few exceptions, offroad caravans are heavier than standard touring vans and it would be helpful if manufacturers displayed some helpful information on towing requirements.
Some manufacturers like Windsor had an entire fleet of prototype vans on display — nothing radically new but with various upgrades on all models. The caravans shown won’t be available until later this year, but Windsor were using both the Melbourne and Sydney shows to gauge public opinion.
Not strictly a caravan but electric bicycles are clearly becoming the new thing. I didn’t actually count them but there were a number of smaller exhibitors demonstrating and selling electric bicycles. Also, several had folding bicycles as well. As a keen cyclist, I can only say more power to the people. Allied to that several exhibitors like Rola, Thule, and GripSport had bike racks in several different styles for the front and back of caravans and motorhomes, as well as for a tow vehicle.
Whilst larger caravans tend to dominate most exhibitors' stands, there are certainly smaller and lighter caravans around. You just have to hunt them out. It’s fairly easy on Jayco and Avan stands but there were others like Centaur, Crusader, Coromal, Snowy River, and Windsor. I suspect it’s because I have not been to Melbourne for a while, but I was surprised to see the Eco-Tourer vans with their hinged tops and folding drawbars still going strong. Eco-Tourer set a trend some years ago by becoming one of the early manufacturers in China.
Away from the main caravan and motorhome exhibitor, there are plenty of others too. I tend to think of them as a bit of a side show, but they are not really at all. It’s not always appreciated but in addition to the major RV products, there are any number of industry suppliers (everything from battery management systems to towing mirrors) who are on hand to answer all kinds of questions on industry products — most helpful in particular for newcomers to the mysterious world of the Recreational Vehicle industry. The likes of Dometic, Thetford, AL-KO, Cruisemaster, Redarc, Pedders, and Webasto were all there to answer all kinds of questions. Additionally, there were suppliers selling everything from hoses to collapsible buckets to effective storage systems to diesel heaters. Something for everyone indeed!
Tourism and Seminars
Anyone associated with tourism likes to have a stand at the show. All the states had something, as did a number of caravan parks and caravan park associations. Clearly everybody is trying to get back to something like ‘normal business’ again. I was just a little bit entertained by the size and brightness of the Western Australian exhibitor stand. For a state that’s been closed to many of us for the last two years or so, it was a bit like a major announcement that said, “We’re open again!”
Don’t tell the respective state organisations I said this, but in some respects the Melbourne and Sydney shows look the same. There are of course manufacturers who only go to one or the other, but many do both. Indeed, I flew to Melbourne to reacquaint myself with people whom I had not seen for two years, only to meet them in Sydney a week later.
Avida had a large presence in Sydney, which given it’s the manufacturer’s home city was to be expected. There were a couple of new models on the stand, including a new Iveco Daily based Fremantle. It’s an improved layout on the original model.
Normally there are RV brands that I’m not familiar with in Melbourne, but it was Sydney’s turn this year. Sunfinder is a new name in the Australian market, but the manufacturer is an old hand. Similarly, Belle RV is another relatively new name built by an experienced manufacturer. Both had ranges of caravans that were mostly on road tourers and reasonably well priced.
Fifth-wheelers are definitely in the minority in Australia and seem to be getting rarer, which is really sad because of having better towing characteristics than many a caravan. Between the two shows, Sunliner had the only fifth-wheeler on its stand in Sydney. It’s good to see Australian Motor Homes and Caravans still carrying the flag.
Sydney did better than Melbourne in the light caravan arena and all were European built caravans. Italian built Little Gem was to be seen on the Hinterland stand amongst the boofy offroaders and Euro Caravans had a good range of its small and compact caravans, built in typical Euro style. Adria’s Action too would be ideal for lightweight travellers who don’t want to drive on the rough stuff.
At any show I always like to look out for something different and I found it at the Sydney stand of Retro RV motorhomes. For something eye-catching the motorhomes were all based on VW Kombi chassis — definitely a little different. Another something a little different was a bunk van from Jayco Sydney. It had a double bed up front and four bunks down the back but arranged differently so that the lower bunk area on one set could be converted in a second dinette by day — excellent for families.
On the subject of motorhomes, Sydney and Melbourne between them had a good range on display from the likes of Avida, Avan, Sunliner, Winnebago, Windsor, Wirraway, Red Centre, Emu RV, Jayco, Horizon, Frontline, and Suncamper.
It did seem to me that as I strolled around both the Melbourne and Sydney shows, in terms of showgoers, the Melbourne show was somewhat quieter. In part I’m told that was due to competing events that were happening at the same time. That said both capital city shows demonstrated that despite all that COVID-19 has thrown at us, together with component supply problems, the Recreational Vehicle industry in Australia is certainly in a strong position.