By Ronnie Wendt
ELKHART, Ind. — If there is an overriding theme at this year’s RV Open House in Elkhart, Indiana, this week, it is technology. The smart RV is no longer talk of the future; the smart RV has arrived.
“The industry is definitely moving in the direction of the smart RV,” states Sam Jefson, public relations specialist for Winnebago Industries, which introduced ASA Electronics’ iN-Command system on some of its 2019 offerings. With the iN-Command system, RVers can control RV functions, such as climate control, slide outs, awnings and lights, as well as monitor batteries, holding tanks and auxiliary fuel, from an app on their smart phones.
Jefson says Winnebago has rolled out the technology with its travel trailers, which tend to be used by a very tech-savvy demographic, but adds he fully expects all units to eventually be similarly equipped.
Keith Larson, director of sales for Winegard, reminds that consumers homes have already gotten ‘smart,’ and reports they now expect the same in their RVs. Jon Jordan, president and CEO of Yak Power agrees.
He states, “Consumers are putting this technology into their homes. It’s a natural progression for them to want this technology in their recreational vehicles too.”
Yak Power recently announced an expanded version of its patent pending, digital switching system designed for RVs. The new 14 circuit system, which builds upon the company’s recently introduced 8 circuit design, is specifically designed with the demands of the RV industry in mind. It features 8 switched zones for lighting, pumps, fans, or other ON/OFF type control, as well as, 6 momentary type switches for controlling forward/reversing type appliances like slides, awnings, or jacks.
Yak’s products and accompanying app enable RV users to control their RVs from wireless keypads in the RV or from their mobile phones. In addition, the company’s Convenience Center enables consumers to monitor tank levels, battery power and more. The products, notes Jordan, “are modular so they can be expanded and configured to the actual RV build of a specific RV manufacturer.”
Because the Yak systems can be operated from a smartphone, users can control RV functions from wherever they are. “I like to say you could be in Bangkok, and operate the awning on your RV in Alabama,” he says, noting the system could be used to cool an RV after being gone all day so that it’s comfortable upon your return, to put down an awning when the wind picks up, or turn the lights on for Grandma who is arriving after dark.
Jordan calls control like this the wave of the future and adds, “As more systems like ours become available, demand will continue to increase.”
Winegard is making tech headlines as well as more OEMs prewire their units for Winegard ConnecT 2.0. Some companies are also making this technology standard on their rigs.
Redwood, Winegard Company and ASA Electronics, for instance, recently announced a connectivity collaboration to develop the latest in the ultimate Smart RV product lineup.
Redwood is making Winegard’s Smart ConnecT 2.0 standard on its products, which provides the RV with an Internet data connection that acts as a gateway to the ASA iN-Command system. This will allow owners to connect remotely to the iN-Command system and control functions such as lighting, climate control and scheduling, as well as monitor tank levels, battery voltage, water heater and pump and generator functions from virtually anywhere in the world.
Designed specifically for the mobile environment, the Winegard ConnecT 2.0 WiFi Extender + 4G LTE is a long-range, high-performance WiFi extender that increases the range of accessible WiFi hotspots, well beyond the range of a typical smart device. The product uses its multiple, built-in smart antennas to scan and connect to WiFi signals, rebroadcasting them in and around the camp site. The 4G LTE model can also connect to nationwide 4G LTE when WiFi is not available, ensuring reliable, uninterrupted, in-motion and stationary coverage. Users can stay connected to family, friends, web content, entertainment, and now their RV.
The 4G LTE ConnecT 2.0 model is now certified with AT&T and Verizon as a 4G LTE mobile hotspot, and RV enthusiasts can either add it to their new or existing data plan by simply swapping out the included SIM card or choose Winegard ConnecT’s data plan, which features no-contract, 30-day plans with no data throttling, so users only pay for the time it’s being used.
Winegard’s ConnecT 2.0 allows users to connect all their devices through a secure hotspot, enhancing the security of Internet access overall. “Our product connects to WiFi and all their devices connect to it. This adds another layer of security,” Larson states.
Larson notes Winegard will soon introduce an app, which will allow users to control their ConnecT 2.0 system from their smartphones. This user-friendly app will be available in about a month and it will walk users through set up and operation.
“Internet connectivity is an important piece of the puzzle in a smart RV,” states Larson. “Internet connectivity is considered the fourth utility by today’s consumer. People see access to the Internet as important as gas, electric and water.”
He adds, “Yes they want to get away, but they still want to be connected to friends and family. There are also more people working from the road, and they need Internet access too. The biggest buzzword coming out of Elkhart this week is Internet connectivity.”
“Though millennials are driving growth when it comes to connectivity, I think RVers at all ages are starting to look for it, and that’s only going to grow,” he says.
Whether you call it boondocking, dry camping or just remote camping, this too is driving market changes, reports Jonathan Krawchuk, business development manager for Samlex America. “We are seeing an increasing number of individuals who report campgrounds are filling up. They say it is hard to find a plug-in campsite unless you book months in advance,” he says. “As a result, more and more people are doing dry camping or boondocking but not all trailers are equipped for this.”
Samlex has introduced its Evolution F Series Inverter/Charger, which offers a pure sine wave inverter, adaptive battery charger and transfer relay in a single unit. “The difference between this unit and others in the Evolution family is it is half the size, making it perfect for Class B RVs or smaller travel trailers,” he says. “This product was designed for other industries we are in, but we saw an opportunity for it in the RV industry. It is good for smaller unit RV manufacturers and is also available on the aftermarket.”
Winnebago has introduced the Vita and Porto: A compact Class C diesel built on the Mercedes Benz Sprinter chassis. Both products are equipped with best in class storage, tank sizes and carrying capacity. Other features include a new quiet, durable Supershell composite sleeper deck, a new prewired track and roof panel for Wi-Fi and cellular boost antenna systems and industry leading off the grid capabilities.
Reports Jefson, “We are seeing a great interest in being off the grid. More and more people seek a product they can take pretty much anywhere. But they want to be off the grid and still be able to run their appliances.”
This can be seen, he says, in the popularity of Winnebago’s Travato 59KL and 59GL, which were introduced at Winnebago’s Dealer Event in March. The Pure3 Energy Management System powered by Volta Power Systems is a powerful, durable, and easy-to-use lithium system.
Under 200-lbs. the three-module automotive grade energy pack provides 8,700-watt hours. It is watertight and durable; and the steel housing is safe. The 59KL and 59GL come standard with a powerful inverter – a 3,600-watt pure sine inverter – bringing 30 amps of power wherever you are. Travato also have a dedicated 58-volt alternator, or under hood generator. A simple analog gauge changes color to let users know how much energy is remaining with just a glance.
“The lithium ion battery is really exciting technology,” Jefson states. “You can imagine the options it opens up if you are not tied to a campground.”
In another exciting development, Winnebago is capitalizing on the success and industry leading growth of the seven-foot wide, Micro Minnie trailer, and is extending the concept into the fifth wheel market with the introduction of the Micro Minnie fifth wheel.
“While the industry promotes 7,000-, 8,000-, and even 9,000-pound fifth wheels as half-ton towable, the new Micro Minnie fifth wheel in the 5,000-pound category will not only be best in class, but also work with the rapidly growing midsize truck category,” said Adam Christoffersen, product manager for Winnebago.
The product is a prime example of the industry paying attention to what customers need and want. Adds Jefson, “There is nothing else like it; it can be towed by a mid-size pickup truck. This is a little bit of a renaissance for the fifth-wheel market. Winnebago decided to add develop the Micro Minnie fifth wheel when it saw the rapid growth of the mid-size truck market. People who own these vehicles want something they can tow with these trucks.”
Thor Motor Coach (TMC) is also calling 2018 the year of innovative technology. Many of the new motorhomes unveiled at Thor Industries 9th Annual Dealer Open House feature Wi-Fi hot spots, solar charging, and app-enabled multiplex wiring systems.
The all-new Tuscany 45JA features a walk-in closet, dual fireplaces, a double sink vanity bathroom, and a large, elegant living space in TMC’s most luxurious diesel pusher. Technology keeps the Tuscany ahead of the curve with its Winegard ConnecT 4G/Wi-Fi System, 200-watt solar charging, Firefly multiplex, and Surgeguard power protection systems.
A new Windsport and Hurricane 33X are sure to stand out in the gas Class A motorhome market. The 33X is one of many 2019 lines featuring the multiplex wiring system. Simply put, a full-color touchscreen or mobile device can control the generator start, slide rooms, air conditioning and more. All Hurricane and Windsport models now include a large 10-inch dash radio screen.
Customers will also love the new Sprinter line-up, namely the Siesta, Citation and Synergy. For the first time, TMC will offer the 24-MB floor plan with an electronic-controlled murphy bed and increased living area to encourage longer getaways with the family.
Jon Krider, vice president of product development, at Thor Motor Coach says, “We’re always striving to mirror trends in the marketplace. People want the same technology they have at home, on the road, and they want tech that makes their lives easier.”
MORryde introduces another example of listening and paying attention to the market and what consumers want as it introduces its Quick Connect Step, which is a version of the company’s Step Above stable step solution. The Quick Connect Step features the same design and stability as the Step Above, only it is removable. Users simply add two small clips to the RV for the steps to attach to and then attach the steps as needed.
“As we attended rallies across the country, we found motorhome users liked our steps but couldn’t always use them in the flip-up form,” states Walt Mason, aftermarket sales MORryde.
He adds, “The only downside is you have to store the steps when traveling, but customers saw the viability of having stable steps as more important than the slight inconvenience of storing them.”