Show and Sell: National RV Trade Show

Photographer: Shawn Spence Photography

From leading trends to the latest technical innovations, the Louisville trade show is where the RV industry reveals to the world what’s new in recreational vehicles

For those working in the RV industry, the National RV Trade Show is a rite of passage and a spectacle to behold. This is the show where manufacturers take center stage — component manufacturers show and sell to RV manufacturers, and RV manufacturers show and sell to RV dealers. Held the week after Thanksgiving each year at Louisville’s Kentucky Exposition Center, the four-day event covers about 760,000 square feet of exhibit space and hosts more than 7,500 industry insiders and members of the media. It’s a major undertaking, but this is where the RV industry really shines.

The 54th-annual show presented a vast array of new RVs and associated products, and we couldn’t possibly review it all here. Some manufacturers introduced completely redesigned lines, others offered new floorplans for existing brands, and others freshened up previous models. Some trends that you’ll see in campgrounds and on dealer lots are worth mentioning. Front windshields started appearing last year and are now available across several brands. Appliances and furnishings that are super-residential in style and function continue to be popular. So do retro designs. And computerized systems that allow control of most RV functions from a smart device have spread across many makes and model lines.

Here’s a glimpse of what’s in store this year, listed in alphabetical order by manufacturer.

Aliner
Aliner has been manufacturing its highly recognizable expandable A-frame pop-up trailers for more than 40 years. But with a growing conventional travel-trailer market, the company found it was time to expand its horizons beyond the chalet-type configuration.

“By offering the Aliner Ascape, with a base weight of approximately 1,350 pounds and 6 feet 4 inches of headroom, we definitely hit a nice sweet spot,” said Brett Randall, Aliner’s president and CEO.

The Ascape features upgraded cabinetry, a solar panel and a 3-cubic-foot refrigerator. A cassette toilet is optional. When folded down for sleeping, the bed is a bit larger than a queen. With its low dry weight, 13-foot length and 71⁄2-foot exterior height, the Ascape is designed for easy towing behind many suitably equipped family vehicles, according to Randall. MSRP ranges from $16,000 to $19,000.

Coachmen
As Ray Found, Coachmen’s West Coast sales manager, explained it, lightweight travel trailers are built one of two ways: “Unlike other ultralights, where it seems like builders just take stuff out to make them lighter weight, we put special components in and use improved materials.”

Coachmen builds the Apex line with Azdel composite in the side walls “to save weight but also to make a higher-quality product,” said Found. “We do a vacuum-bond laminated ceiling with an aluminum truss. Again, it’s much higher-quality construction that also lets us save weight.”

Apex Nano trailers, the lightest in the Apex lineup, run from a 15-foot hybrid expandable up to the 25-foot Apex Nano 213RDS. The 213RDS has a 3,806-pound unloaded vehicle weight (uvw), a 6,000-pound gross vehicle weight rating (gvwr) and a price point around $19,000.

Coachmen’s Catalina division hangs its hat on manufacturing affordable travel trailers but until the recent Louisville show, was missing a key component. “In this price point, [dealers] are getting serious demand for a toy hauler,” said Mike Gaeddert, Catalina’s Northeast sales rep. Enter the new Catalina Trailblazer toy-hauler line.

According to Gaeddert, the Catalina Trailblazer 26TH shines in the details, many of which are surprising in a toy hauler in the $20,000 to $21,000 range. The trailer, with its 7,900-pound gvwr, has a pair of freestanding swivel chairs in the living area, opposing fold-down sofas and a removable dining table in the garage, and the option for a party deck. The 90-by-74-inch ramp door can support “a couple thousand pounds,” Gaeddert noted.

Coachmen also upped its fifth-wheel game with the Chaparral 392BL, a midprofile, aluminum-framed trailer with Azdel-backed, vacuum-bonded side walls and four-season livability, according to Fred Hershberger, general manager for Coachmen fifth-wheels.

The floorplan offers a midtrailer room below the loft that can be used as a second bedroom or entertainment space. The main living space and kitchen showcase an island with a recessed sink with different size basins to allow for larger items. The entertainment center houses a large HDTV and a fireplace, and the living space is rounded out with a trifold sleeper-sofa and theater seating next to the freestanding dining table. The 392BL has a gvwr of 14,500 pounds and a starting price of $52,193.

Cruiser RV
According to Cruiser RV General Manager Jay Mohamed, it’s the “little touches” that stand out on the ultra-light Shadow Cruiser SC-263RLS, such as the large pantry, the good-size bathroom and the placement of the TV at an angle so it’s easily viewed from any seat in the living area. The SC-263RLS is the first Shadow Cruiser with a king bed, which occupies the front of the trailer.

“We really needed a rear-living Shadow Cruiser,” Mohamed said. “Historically, we’ve been fairly bunk heavy.” The SC-263RLS has a gvwr of 9,000 pounds, and Mohamed said it is towable by properly equipped half-ton pickups. Overall length is 311⁄2 feet, and MSRP starts at $32,200.

Mohamed also previewed the 27-foot Stryker ST-2313, the shortest of seven Stryker toy haulers, despite having the second-largest garage. “We wanted to make sure it can handle the biggest, baddest four-seat RZR,” Mohamed said. “We took oversize helmets and built the [garage] cabinets around them to make sure the helmets fit. Plus, we use 5,000-pound tie-downs, standard.”

The aluminum-framed trailer has a king bed up front and a drop-down queen bed in back. It also comes with 16-inch tires on aluminum wheels, a 100-plus-gallon freshwater tank, a 10-gallon water heater and a 30-gallon fuel station. “It’s truly geared toward the off-road enthusiast,” Mohamed noted.The ST-2313 has a $46,676 MSRP and a 11,060-pound gvwr.

DRV
DRV’s Aire line introduced the Aire MSA 38, a 381⁄2-foot fifth-wheel companion to the 40-foot Aire MSA 40, which debuted at last September’s RV Open House in Elkhart, Indiana. Sales Manager Kyle Adams said the goal is to bring DRV luxury into a more mainstream market by offering a lighter model that maintains the company’s signature style.

“It’s three-quarter-ton towable and built on a platform with an I-beam frame and laminated walls,” Adams said. Both Aire models have hand-laid plank flooring and the same cherry cabinets and heat and water systems installed in DRV’s high-end Mobile Suites fifth-wheels.

Adams said more floorplans will be added to the Aire line, but the MSA 40 is likely to be the largest. MSRP starts in the $120,000 range, and gvwr is 17,500 pounds.

Dutchmen
For 2017, Dutchmen introduced a new Aerolite segment on a lighter, less-expensive platform. The 31-foot Aerolite 2520RKS, with 7,200-pound gvwr, is a case in point.

“It’s a rear-kitchen-slide model with a weight of about 5,100 pounds on a laminate build,” explained Brian Hyde, general manager of Dutchmen’s Aerolite, Coleman and Denali divisions. “Everything is foam and aluminum — side walls, rear wall, and the roof is the same structure to make it fully walkable. But with all that, it still doesn’t weigh any more than the competition in that lightweight platform.”

While the company’s Voltage line ranks among the most popular fifth-wheel toy haulers, Dutchmen executives understand that it occupies a price point at the higher end. To appeal to a broader audience, including first-time fifth-wheel buyers, the company introduced the Triton by Voltage for 2017.

“The toy-hauler market has gotten much more diverse,” said Michael Herdrich, Voltage product manager. “Now we’re getting a lot more families [and] a lot more sportsmen getting into toy haulers because they’ve seen the versatility there. The Triton is designed around that.”

The longest floorplan in the 32- to 39-foot lineup, the Triton by Voltage 3551 is a double-axle, triple-slide, bath-and-a-half toy hauler. The fifth-wheel has an island galley and plenty of sleeping options, including a forward queen master suite, a two-bed loft, and sofas and a HappiJac powered-lift bunk in back. The Triton flagship has a 16,500-pound gvwr and comes with two air-conditioning units, an 18-cubic-foot refrigerator and the Jensen In-Command operating system. MSRP for the Triton line ranges from $55,000 to the low $60,000s.

Forest River

Forest River showcased its new Riverstone 39FK five-slide fifth-wheel, which continues the division’s tradition of catering to full-time and extended-stay RVers. With an exterior profile of 13 feet 4 inches, the 39FK quite literally towered above many of the surrounding trailers sharing exhibit space.

“The 39K is unique in that it has opposing front slides to open up the space,” said Curtis Gunderson, general manager of the Riverstone division. “The whole upper deck is the kitchen, a departure from the traditional models that feature a bedroom or a living room up front.” Features include solid-surface countertops, stainless-steel appliances, a Samsung residential refrigerator, an induction cooktop and a dual-basin sink with a gooseneck faucet in an attractive kitchen island.

With a gvwr of 18,665 pounds and a starting price around $95,000, the Riverstone is built for the long haul. “We use 3-inch side walls, which you don’t usually see,” said Gunderson. “Plus, the whole upper deck is built on an all-steel frame, offering plenty of support for years to come.”

While Forest River’s Sabre has been a mainstay for 11 years now, frequent updates keep the line of 27- to 40-foot fifth-wheels current. For 2017 Sabre has come out with a new Cobalt Package of 16 special items, starting with a high-gloss exterior, according to Jeff Cripes, sales and product manager. “We call it True Sheen,” he said, while previewing the 40-foot Sabre 36BHQ.

Standard theater seating in the bunkhouse comes with heat, light and massage, and the bedroom features a mechanized queen bed. “It’s a bed for reading, and converts up so you can be comfortable,” Cripes said. “We run friction-hinge entry doors, tire-pressure monitoring systems, an exterior entertainment system, solar prep, a utility center and a rear rack for exterior big-ticket items,” he added.

The 36BHQ, which sleeps up to 12, has an MSRP of “right around $50,000,” according to Cripes.

When selecting a towable toy hauler, many buyers are faced with the expensive proposition of purchasing a heavier-duty truck or settling for a smaller, less-appointed trailer without all the bells and whistles. Recognizing this gap in the market, Forest River introduced the Work and Play 21SE, with a uvw of 5,990 pounds and a gvwr of 11,375 pounds. Combine that with a 15-foot 10-inch cargo length, and there’s plenty of room for toys without skimping on niceties.

The company designed the new toy hauler to be half-ton towable. “You can tow the 21SE with an F-150,” affirmed Adam Cates, Northwest regional sales manager. With a starting price of $19,990, the floorplan includes some elegant livability touches, such as residential backsplashes, solid-surface countertops and a Thetford refrigerator. As with all Work and Play trailers, the 21SE is built on a powder-coated chassis and features a seamless one-piece aluminum roof.

Highland Ridge
Just under 38 feet, the new Open Range Roamer RT 328BHS offers an unusual twist in bunkhouse design. The way the rear bunk room is set up with its own slideout, couch and half-bath access, it’s almost like having two separate RVs in one.

“It has four slides and two campsite-side awnings, which is pretty rare for a travel trailer,” said Ben Johnson, national sales, marketing and product-development manager for the company. “We’re building on this concept of fifth-wheel amenities in a travel trailer.”

The living space has a 50-inch TV, the bedroom features a wardrobe slide and a king bed, the rear bunk room could easily be used as an office, and there’s a full outside kitchen. “There’s just a lot of versatility here,” Johnson said. The 328BHS has a gvwr of 11,680 pounds and a starting price of $54,865.

When Highland Ridge came out with its Ultra Lite line in 2015, it became a quick success. The lastest addition is the rear-kitchn Open Range Ultra Lite UT2804 RK. “Obviously, it gives you the rear kitchen, but it also gives you theater seating across from the TV, a nice big window from the kitchen to the campsite, and an outside kitchen — all that in a trailer that’s about 6,000 pounds dry weight,” Johnson said.

“With rear-kitchen floorplans, you get tons of countertop space and storage,” he explained. “But what you oftentimes have in a rear-kitchen unit that isn’t as desirable is living room and TV placement. We’ve come up with a unique floorplan that puts the theater seating across from a 39-inch TV that swings out and has plenty of storage space behind it. This unit also has a fireplace, which in this segment is pretty rare,” according to Johnson.

The UT2804 RK is 31 feet 9 inches long and has a gvwr of 7,450 pounds. MSRP is $36,600.

Jayco
Launched last spring, Jayco’s ultralight Hummingbird line joined the niche market of contemporary travel trailers reminiscent of the old “canned-ham” style. One of five floorplans for 2017, the 20-foot Hummingbird 17BH is a bunkhouse with Jayco’s exclusive residential-style Simmons mattresses, a U-shaped dinette, a convection microwave and a folding table that sets up outside.

The 17BH offers a remote-powered awning with multicolored LED lights, a feature that differentiates it from the competition, said John Fisher, senior product director for Jayco lightweight trailers. There’s also a Bluetooth stereo and the Keyed Alike single-key system, as well as an optional electric A-frame jack, a bike rack, and an insulated and covered underbelly. The 17BH has a 3,750-pound gvwr and a base price of $22,900.

Extending 44 feet, the Seismic 4113 fifth-wheel toy hauler also has elements that set it apart, according to Jayco’s product manager, Brent Hammond. Instead of the usual steps going to the upper deck on the right, the stairs are on the opposite side and lead to the elevated kitchen. The kitchen has a 23-cubic-foot refrigerator and not only looks out over the living room but also offers a view of the campsite.

“One of the great things about the raised kitchen is it doubles our pass-through storage space on the outside,” Hammond said. A loft is situated between the living room and the 121⁄2-foot garage, and there’s also a large side patio with an exterior TV that opens into the rear half-bath. The 4113 has a 20,000-pound gvwr and an MSRP of $107,000.

Keystone
According to Keystone executives, within hours of posting photos of the Alpine 3650 on the company’s Facebook page, the new floorplan already had nearly 20,000 views. The idea was to design a kitchen and bedroom that were atypical, said Jeff Wagner, product manager for the manufacturer.

To accomplish that, the cabinet prepped for a clothes washer and dryer in the 39-foot 4-inch fifth-wheel was relocated from the front bedroom wardrobe to the main living area. Wagner said that for the 90 percent of RVers who don’t opt for the stackable washer and dryer, the available space becomes a welcome storage area right off the main entry.

As for the kitchen, instead of mounting the convection oven above the stove, as is customary, Keystone designers placed it to the left of it, beneath a wine rack and above a pantry cabinet and an appliance garage. An attractive copper range hood caps
the stove, and a center island with a dishwasher completes the kitchen.

The 3650 has a uvw of about 12,775 pounds and a base price of $67,813.

“It’s a tried-and-tested floorplan,” said Keystone RV President Jeff Runels, as he walked through the Cougar XLite 29BHS 34-foot bunkhouse. “But what Cougar did this year is add the outside kitchen.” The exterior kitchen features an innovative grill/cooktop that was designed exclusively for the Cougar line and is said to provide a hotter cooking surface while reducing flare-ups.

According to Runnels, Cougar designers also kept the exterior door to the bathroom in the back — “which most bunks don’t have” — and utilized 32-inch-wide double-over-double bunks. The front features a king bed, and the living room can have a trifold sleeper-sofa or theater seating. The standard dinette can be swapped for a freestanding table and chairs.

“The other big thing for Cougar is it has the trailer leveler now,” Runels said, referring to the new Ground Control automatic leveling system from Lippert. “Most of the lightweights that this is going to compete against don’t have the door into the back, don’t have the wide bunks and definitely don’t have the leveler.” The new floorplan has a gvwr of 8,200 pounds and a starting price of $32,086.

Runnels also previewed the new Raptor 428SP, a 44-foot-long, two-patio fifth-wheel that repositions the customary rear bath. “That way you have that 111⁄2-foot garage — the full width, which is a big deal,” Runels said. “The side patio comes off your living area. Other models have it coming off the kitchen, so we flipped that. That changes where we put our entertainment center — we did it a little bit differently and put it at the front.”

Inside, the 428SP features a darker interior, “but they lightened up some of the trim, changed the countertops and changed the floors,” Runels noted. The kitchen has an 18-cubic-foot refrigerator, the master bedroom on the upper deck includes a king bed, and the living area has an optional 131-inch sofa with recliners. The garage sports an electric bed and dual 30-gallon fuel tanks for the optional generator and motorized toys, and there’s a loft with a twin bed over the front of the garage. Base MSRP is $110,005, and gvwr is 19,000 pounds.

Lance

Named a Top RV Debut by RVBusiness and awarded Best of Show by RV Pro, the rear-lounge Lance 2375 has a lot to offer in a trailer with a 6,500-pound gvwr, according to Gary Conley, national sales manager for Lance. Owners don’t need a powerful truck or SUV to tow the lightweight trailer, which is fully aluminum framed and features Azdel side-wall interior panels.
Accommodating four for sleeping, the dual-entry 2375 has a front master bedroom and a fold-down dinette. Although only 27 feet from bumper to coupler, the trailer is equipped with dual rockers, a 36-inch shower and a porcelain toilet. The kitchen has stainless-steel appliances, an attractive dark-gray laminated countertop and a black-matte undermount single-bowl sink with a gooseneck faucet.

On the outside, the 2375 can be outfitted with a 20-foot power awning with LED lighting, electric stabilizer jacks, keyless entry and an exterior ladder, all as options. The front wall has a tall, dark-tinted windshield for stargazing at night when the shade isn’t drawn. Base price is $38,816.

Riverside RV
With the introduction of the Retro 265BH, Riverside RV added a full-size bunkhouse to its lineup of vintage-inspired trailers. With a $27,500 MSRP and a uvw topping out at 4,820 pounds, the 261⁄2-foot trailer features a front bedroom, a curbside kitchen, a U-shaped dinette tucked into a slideout, and bunk beds and a bathroom in the rear. Black-and-white tile flooring, bold red dinette seating and natural wood finish on the inside combine with the Retro’s classic exterior styling to create a vintage look throughout.

“Our first bunkhouse was great, but you had to fold down the dinette to get a queen bed,” said Jenny Volatile, Riverside RV’s West Coast factory representative. “With the 265, you get a dedicated walk-around queen bed in a private bedroom. With the rear bunks and dinette, it comfortably sleeps up to six, so it’s perfect for families who want classic style but modern amenities.”

Riverside Travel Trailer
When it comes to testing toy haulers before production, Riverside Travel Trailers has a leg up on the competition. “I grew up camping, and I have done this my whole life,” said Jerry Sell, Riverside’s vice president and general manager. The company’s president, Ken Licklider, takes a toy hauler to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally every year. “He owns 15 Harleys and a side-by-side,” Sell added. This type of hands-on testing has helped Riverside become respected among the toy-hauler crowd, producing seven floorplans under its RPM marque.

Riverside introduced the line’s first fifth-wheel, the RPM 335R17. “This fiver allows enough room for a side-by-side to pull in,” Sell said. “That was the first thing we had to do. The other thing was to have a fifth-wheel that has amenities Mom will like. Dad wants his toys, but Mom wants it to be a trailer she can be comfortable in.”

To that end, the 335R17 features raised-panel cabinets, high-quality appliances, abundant storage and plenty of stand-up room in the bedroom. All this comes on a 13,400-pound-rated platform that features rugged grid-work construction with welded steel plates and tie-downs rated for 5,000 pounds. MSRP is $34,500.

Riverside Travel Trailer also used the Louisville stage to introduce the new Dream. With a starting price of $26,250, the Dream line aims to tap into the market of more-affordable towables to appeal to a wider segment of the population. Despite the price, the trailers feature the same construction methods as Riverside’s more-expensive models. “It’s an all wood-core product, screwed together and done the right way,” Sell said.

Initially, the trailers will be offered in six floorplans. The Dream D270RLS is a couples’ trailer with a single slide, comfortable seating in the living area, a walk-around queen bed and a 7,900-pound gvwr.

Starcraft
Starcraft’s new Mercury Super Lite line of travel trailers is a direct response to what dealers asked for, according to Nick Eppert, the company’s general manager. “The Mercury Super Lite line is our new value-priced product aimed at the half-ton fiberglass lightweight market,” he said.

One of two initial floorplans with an outside bathroom door, the 33-foot 3-inch Mercury SuperLite 27BHU has a gvwr of 7,750 pounds and a starting price around $31,000.

Travel Lite
According to Dustin Johns, president of Travel Lite, the new Falcon trailer was based on one overriding concept: “Could we make the lightest travel trailer per square foot on the market?” What the company came up with is a line of stylish trailers from 20 to 24 feet with dry weights from 2,480 to 3,215 pounds.

Travel Lite didn’t skimp on things that make RV camping more enjoyable. “For example, most manufacturers use a 3-cubic-foot refrigerator in a unit of this size — we went with a 5-cubic-foot model,” Johns said. “We also went with dual 20-pound propane tanks, room for a second battery and larger holding tanks.” The Falcon line features 18- or 20-inch wheels wrapped in 10-inch-wide Goodyear or Michelin tires.

The smallest, the Falcon F20, is a rear-dinette floorplan. Like the others, it has solid-surface countertops, aluminum cabinet doors and a queen-size bed beneath the aerodynamic front end. “There are no wood drawer or cabinet fronts in the entire unit,” Johns said. “Everything is aluminum.”

Travel Lite makes each floorplan available in a special Eclipse model where the rolled-aluminum exterior side walls, awning cover, fenders and wheels are black and accented with blue lighting. The Eclipse Package adds a few hundred dollars to starting MSRPs from $14,670 to $19,900.

Venture RV
While popular floorplans debuting in more expensive fifth-wheel lines do sometimes “trickle down” to more affordable travel trailers, cost and space still limit what designers can do. That’s not the case with Venture RV’s SportTrek Touring Edition 333VFL.

“It’s a fifth-wheel-inspired floorplan with a front living room, so the sofa’s up front,” explained Dave Boggs, general manager of K-Z RV’s Venture RV division. “A lot of fifth-wheels do extremely well with front living rooms, so we decided to take it to the travel-trailer market.”

The 333VFL, with its 9,995-pound gvwr, features a rear bedroom with a king-size bed, and a midcabin bath and galley. Beyond the sofa that lines the front cap, the front living room has street-side theater seating opposite an entertainment center with an electric fireplace in the curbside slideout. The outside kitchen includes a refrigerator and a two-burner stove.

The SportTrek utilizes StepAbove entry steps developed by MORryde that go all the way to the ground for stability and fold up when not in use. “We’re the only ones in travel trailers to use it,” Boggs said. Starting price for the 38-foot 11-inch fifth-wheel is about $38,000.

Winnebago
With side and rear patios, the new 44-foot 11-inch Winnebago Scorpion 4027 represents the largest footprint in the company’s fleet of fifth-wheel toy haulers. The rear patio serves as the ramp door for loading toys into the 13-foot-deep garage. The side patio is unique in that, in addition to the steps leading to the ground, it has two entries from the trailer itself, one from the garage and the other from the midlevel living room.

Both slideouts are on the street side, with the living-room slide housing a sofa and a refrigerator. The second slide, featuring wardrobe storage, is located up front. A curved loft overlooks the living area. In the garage, opposing sofas, a half-bath and an optional powered-lift queen bed complete the fifth-wheel.

The triple-axle, one-and-a-half-bath 4027 has a starting price of $99,500, a 16,320-pound uvw and a gvwr of 20,800 pounds. Freshwater capacity is 137 gallons, and the gray and black tanks are each capable of holding 92 gallons.

Winnebago’s Spyder line of toy-hauler trailers debuted a new floorplan, the Spyder 29KS, featuring a kitchen slideout and plenty of curves. The 29KS measures 32 feet 2 inches — including a 16-foot garage — and has a gvwr of 12,400 pounds, so there’s plenty of capacity for toys. Speaking of capacity, the 29KS comes with 100-, 41- and 41-gallon tanks for fresh, black and gray water, respectively.

A private bedroom up front includes a walk-around queen bed flanked by closets. A three-piece bathroom separates the bedroom from the living room, with entry doors from both areas. The hallway from the bedroom past the bathroom leads to the L-shaped galley, housed in a slideout.

From there, the rest of the trailer is the living area and garage, featuring two chairs opposite a fold-up sofa, a mammoth flat-screen TV with storage behind it, and additional storage areas tucked above curved, back-lit shelving. Opposing-slide sofas as well as an optional powered-lift queen bed are in the rear, just in front of the ramp door. Base MSRP for the Spyder line is $47,256.


 

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