This month CW launches a new, monthly feature – Factory Floor – where we sit down with RV industry heavyweights and get their thoughts on the latest caravanning innovations, issues and trends.
We kick-off the series with AL-KO Australia/New Zealand head honcho Peter Mannfolk, a former commercial lawyer who has a long family history with AL-KO. Peter’s father, Sven, was the managing director of the company before him, and Peter spent time working in marketing, mail-outs and on the factory floor for AL-KO while he was studying.
Caravan World: I can imagine you having a hectic work schedule; but what are your hobbies and passions?
Peter Mannfolk: My hobbies and passions are around spending time with my family. I’m a very proud father, I have two young children (two and six months) and I just like getting out into the outdoors with them, and making the most of time with family.
CW: The caravan manufacturing industry is constantly evolving. What do you see as the seismic shifts since you’ve been involved?
PM: The big shift is the pace of innovation. I think consumers, more than ever, are well informed and researched about what they want and what they want to see in caravans, and the manufacturers are in close contact with them, feeding that back to the suppliers. So we are really focused on local research and development of products to meet the demand in the market [from buyers].
CW: So, in a way, you’ve adapted to those changes?
PM: Absolutely, and as a market leading supplier we see our role to be interacting with the market; understanding what the market is telling us and responding quickly to bring products into the market to meet those needs.
CW: Can you give us an example of how you’ve met those adaptations?
PM: Looking back a couple of years, we saw the trend towards the trailing arm suspension system and we knew that we needed to be in that market. So, in late 2015, we launched our first trailing arm suspension, which was the Enduro Outback – a form of offroad rugged suspension for outback conditions – and, as we received feedback from the market, there was a demand for a lighter version, a sort of rough-road version of the suspension. So we then launched our Enduro Cross Country and more recently the final instalment in that series of suspensions – the Enduro Touring – which now brings the comfort and the ride of the independent suspension to the on-road caravan market.
CW: What do you see as the biggest influence on the caravan manufacturing industry?
PM: Definitely the conversation between the end user and the manufacturers, particularly with social media; now there’s a dialogue. So the rate of change and innovation is speeding up and I think that’s good for the industry and the consumer because it means we, as a supplier, and the manufacturers are looking more and more for how to meet the needs of the end user, which helps grow the industry and which is, ultimately, good for everyone involved.
CW: How have buyers changed over the years?
PM: Buyers have become better informed than ever. They do their research, they come to caravan shows or they go to caravan dealers. They understand the market and the options that are available and are very prepared to talk to the manufacturers and seek out those options for themselves. And I also think buyers more and more see themselves as consumer advocates and are prepared to be on social media or be involved in providing feedback of their experiences and, ultimately, that’s a big shift, not just in the caravan industry but in all industries and sectors.
CW: How are buyers influencing the caravan manufacturing sector? Are they more influential than ever?
PM: One market segment that we see growing strongly is younger buyers entering the caravan industry, in particular, young families, and their needs are quite different than maybe the more traditional market. They tend to look for the lighter caravans because they have constraints around tow vehicles and tow vehicle capacities. And they’re also more engaged with technology, so they’re looking for connectivity and the ability to remain connected wherever they are, even while offroad adventuring throughout Australia.
CW: Do you see a lot of positivity in the industry? Is it still as buoyant as ever?
PM: The industry is changing and I think the key to success is innovation and being able to read market trends and meet consumer demands, which are changing and evolving quickly, and we and everyone in the industry need to be in front of that wave.
CW: What do you see as the industry trends at the moment? What’s in vogue?
PM: With the rise of social media we’re seeing people caravanning and motorhoming, and enjoying the great outdoors, wanting to be connected. And that means being connected on social media, blogging and publishing their journey, posting it on Facebook and Twitter and having the ability to stay in touch while they’re away. There’s also a demand for consumers to be able to use a mobile device to control their caravan so that if they’re coming back from the beach on a hot day they can already have the air-conditioner switched on, or if they’re returning at night they can have the caravan’s external lights turned on in advance. And I think that’s a trend we’ll see more and more of as the technology develops.
CW: If you could gaze into the proverbial crystal ball, what do you see ahead for the industry? Will the future largely be technology driven?
PM: The future of the industry is technology driven and it’s driven by innovation, research and by development of new products to meet changing consumer demands. I think more and more we’ll see a focus on safety in caravanning and we’re working on safety products and safety innovations to continue to lead that field.
I also believe the future for our product range is lighter and stronger. So in other words offering manufacturers flexibility by reducing the weight of the axle system or chassis system that they’re using to build their caravan. And giving them more payload, and also the ability to build lighter products that are attractive to young families who tend to have smaller tow vehicles and for whom the ability to tow a lighter vehicle is very important.
The full Q&A feature appeared in Caravan World #566. Subscribe today for the latest caravan reviews and news every month!