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Truck Camper Niche Market Grows in Popularity

One of the smallest segments of the recreational vehicle industry is having a steady year, according to a report in the Goshen News.

Truck campers, which slide into the back of pickup trucks, are just ahead of van campers in annual shipments from manufacturers as reported by the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA). Actual number of sales are hard to come by as states don’t require truck campers to be registered like a towable. But voluntary reporting to RVIA by some of the 17 truck camper manufacturers show 2,200 such units were shipped to dealers in 2010.

Why buy truck camper? Because pickups are plentiful in both Canada and the United States, according to several manufacturers that displayed product at last week’s National RV Trade Show in Louisville, Ky.

“In both Canada and the United States, much of the market is on both the East Coast and West Coast,” said Keith Donkin, general manager for Northern Lite in Kelowna, British Columbia, the sole remaining pickup truck camper manufacturer in Canada. “Probably because there is more fishing and hunting on the coasts.”

One of the main advantages of pickup campers for sportsmen, according to Donkin, is they can also pull their boat trailer or another type of trailer while their pickup is loaded with the camper.

Northern Lite is known for its two-piece fiberglass shell. That shell is joined by a two-inch overlay around the camper in a similar fashion as some fiberglass boats.

The Goshen News reported that modern pickup campers feature all the amenities of larger travel trailers, just in a more compact package. Pickup campers have slide-out kitchens and dinettes, queen size beds, furnaces, insulated windows and bathrooms, some with combined showers. Northern Lite’s largest model is 10 feet, 2 inches long.

Consumers also like the quick loading and off-load times made possible by electronic jacks and quick-release tiedowns, Donkin said.

Donkin and his competitor, Mark Hovanec at Lance Camper Manufacturing Corp., Lancaster, Calif., believe the popularity of pickup campers is destined to climb.

“I think the trend people are seeing is a lot of baby boomers are downsizing their motorhomes and fifth-wheels and going into truck campers for driveability and ease of parking,” Donkin said.

Hovanec likened the trend to the Airstream trailer trend in the 1950s and 1960s. Those units were very popular, then slipped for decades, and have now rebounded.

“They were American as apple pie for so long, then there were other options in the RV industry,” Hovanec said of pickup campers. “But I think it will be like Airstream and have a resurgence.”

He believes pickup campers also offer a better camping experience, one where participants feel closer to nature than when they are housed in a luxury fifth-wheel or trailer.

“As the marketing guy,” he said, “I think we are going to see a resurgence in the devotion to our love of this product over the next couple of years.”

Many of the pickup campers in North America are made by Travel Lite in New Paris. Dustin Johns, vice president of the company, brought five pickup campers to the Louisville show this year. He was kept running all morning answering questions about the company’s new “idea” travel trailer, a new product that is a departure from the pickup campers. Still, Johns said the pickup camper market is steady, stable and important.

“The truck campers are holding their own,” he said. “They are more of a niche market, so we don’t expect to pull the numbers as other units. But that’s OK.”

Asked why Travel Lite is moving into the new area, Johns said, “Truck campers are a slow and steady thing for us. Our dealers do a good job for us but we want to grow.”


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