Times change, and RVBusiness is changing along with them, which is a backhanded way of saying that the staff and contributors of RVBusiness and RVBUSINESS.com are dropping their annual “Best of Show” format in favor of a concept that looks instead at the entire model year: The “RVBusiness 2014 RV of the Year.”
Why? Because today, as most everyone knows, North American RV builders are introducing new models all over the calendar starting in September – from the Pennsylvania RV and Camping Association’s (PRVCA) Hershey Show to Elkhart’s RV Open House to the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association’s (RVIA) Louisville Show and even the Florida RV Trade Association’s (FRVTA) Tampa Show in January.
So, faced with all these trade-worthy venues, we’re opting to keep the ball rolling in an inventive way by instead combing though the hundreds of new or upgraded models released for the current model year in an effort to select one of them as the most interesting, inventive and/or eye-catching new unit of the model year while naming three others as viable contenders.
In our January/February print issue, moreover, we’ll add an array of “Top 2014 Debuts” that should amount to a pretty provocative look at the model year when all is said and done.
“It’s not a task we take lightly,” said RVBusiness Editor Bruce Hampson, who oversees the selection process. “But it’s a process intended to showcase the extraordinary authenticity, originality and creativity in design, styling and engineering that’s fast becoming the hallmark of contemporary recreational vehicles. What else did we consider? Innovation takes precedence over amenities — and a unit’s potential impact upon the marketplace carries more weight than a 16,000-pound GVWR fiver.”
And it didn’t take a protracted debate among our staff and contributors to come up with our inaugural “RV of the Year” — Thor Motor Coach Inc.’s unusual “Recreational Utility Vehicle,” the Axis and Vegas Class A, one of a number of new cutting-edge North American recreational vehicles that exhibit smaller dimensions and a distinctly European flavor in a market still populated by plenty of big towable and motorized RVs.
Among the “RV of the Year” contenders – units that drew enough praise from the staff that they prompted us to pause before making a final selection:
• Winnebago Industries Inc.’s Trend Class C Motorhome
• Jayco Inc.’s Jay Smart Travel Trailer
• Keystone RV Co.’s Montana Big Sky Fifth-Wheel
Why TMC’s Axis, Vegas?
Elkhart, Ind.-based TMC, a division of Thor Industries Inc., is actually not the first motorized manufacturer to introduce a contemporary 25-foot Class A coach — nor is it the first to build a motorhome on the Ford E-series chassis.
However, the Axis/Vegas is the first in the modern era assembled on a Ford E-350 commercial platform that not only helps to keep the unit’s $93,675 base MSRP well below six figures, but also provides nearly limitless repair facilities should a problem crop up on the road.
The Ford chassis also allows for higher gross vehicle weight ratings (12,500 pounds) and gross combined weight rating (18,500 pounds), allowing TMC engineers and designers to better equip the coach, while it’s wide stance, long 188-inch wheelbase and narrowed (by 7 inches) front clip further improve stability.
TMC combines that with attractive exterior styling that would put the coach right at home on any European highway. And there’s a profusion of space inside, including an electronically actuated bunk over the cockpit and a unique double-hinged “extender-room” door that essentially turns the mid-coach bathroom into a virtual changing room, which drew the overall kudo’s of RVB’s staff.
As for the contenders?
Jayco Jay Smart: There’s no denying the impact that European design is having upon the American RV industry. The Jay Smart is less a U.S. travel trailer built with a smattering of European influences as it is a European caravan “Americanized” for domestic use. That’s not surprising, given that one of Jayco’s design and engineering consultants on this project, Brian Donat, has been working in Europe for three years. By reconfiguring the trailer’s center of gravity — the engineering team modified the chassis and hitch and extended the A-frame — the Jay Smart is designed to have a hitch weight of between 100-150 pounds. With four floorplans in the works from 19 to 26 feet, the Jay Smart weighs in at between 2,400 and 4,100 pounds. Other innovations include a friction pad on the front and back of the hitch that locks down tightly on the coupler to prevent chucking, an optional maneuvering system attached to the axles to enhance maneuvering into tight locations and acrylic windows throughout.
Winnebago Trend: While dealers got their first look at Winnebago Industries Inc.’s compact Winnebago Trend Class C motorhome at the Iowa manufacturer’s May Dealer Days, it was quickly evident from the “mob scene” that developed at its retail debut in September at PRVCA’s Hershey Show that U.S. consumers were intrigued by the Trend, the first U.S. Class C motorhome built on Chrysler’s Ram ProMaster van chassis – an Americanized version of Europe’s popular Fiat Ducato. Now it’s up to Winnebago, which has also introduced a Travato Class B motorhome on the Ram ProMaster, to determine over the long haul just how well current and new American motorhome buyers like the downsized, 9,350-pound GVWR Trend and its Itasca Viva! companion line. The four-sleeper Trend/Viva!, with its easy-access cab equipped with a powered StudioLoft bed, is available with MSRP’s of $88,650 in two floorplans with a fuel-efficient V6 Pentastar gas engine getting 14 to 16 mpg.
Keystone Montana Big Sky: Beyond all of the standard amenities available on Keystone RV Co.’s upscale 40-foot Montana Big Sky fifth-wheel — like its 12-cubic-foot Dometic fridge, 8,000-pound axles, 48-inch by 30-inch shower and outside entertainment centers — what really caught our eye was a hard-to-define aspect called eye appeal. The interior of the fifth-wheel — now a stand-alone Montana brand versus an upgrade of existing lines — simply looks that good, thanks to the combined efforts of Joe Kalil, director of interior design, and Mike Mack, product manager for the nation’s top-selling high-profile fifth-wheel line. “On the road there are 65,000 Montana owners, and they were wanting something to step up to, and that’s why this Big Sky was created,” says Director of Marketing Jim Mac. “And, yeah, it’s beautiful. I mean, that’s the first thing you see, and with a starting base MSRP of about $89,000, it’s quite competitive with some of the best known higher priced brands on the market.”