Look up innovation in the dictionary and it’ll tell you it’s a new method, idea or product.
It’s not surprising then that it’s so vital to an industry’s growth. No industry can survive by purely doing things the way they always have, and with an industry like ours which is growing year on year, it’s even more vital, not only in its ability to survive, but to sustain that level of growth.
Industry statistics show in 2017 more than 22,000 RVs were manufactured in Australia, making it the second largest year of production since 1980. A camper or other type of RV is built every five minutes of the working week and there are now more than 646,000 RVs registered, a 5.2 per cent increase on the previous year.
Some bigger manufacturers are already looking to innovate in the way they do business. Listed RV group Apollo Tourism & Leisure acquired Camperco Group Ltd, one of the largest RV businesses in the United Kingdom, and closer to home, it recently bought two brands by the Perth-based Fleetwood Corporation.
It has also become the biggest shareholder in Camplify, which uses a similar business model to online marketplace Airbnb to enable people to hire out a camper or RV from private owners anywhere in Australia.
Tourism Holdings Group, New Zealand’s premier tourism company listed on the New Zealand Stock Exchange, which also has a manufacturing plant in Melbourne, has also looked at innovation as a way to evolve and develop.
It launched its own RV sharing economy, similar to Camplify called Mighway; and is also innovating in telematics systems in its rentals, where it is able to track what customers are doing.
THL’s CEO Grant Webster says it’s a way to reduce speeding, which it has already managed to do in 80 per cent of rentals in Australia, and has seen overhead roof damage reduced by 70 per cent.
He says with the evolution of autonomous vehicles, it becomes even more important.
“Telematics and having safety systems and collision preventive systems will eventually be standard in all vehicles before too long.”
Why should we care?
EMPRISE Group CEO Rob Gallagher says manufacturing in Australia has come under pressure from a number of factors and the ability for industries to adapt and innovate is critical in driving a sustainable future.
“As we have seen in a number of other sectors, innovation has spawned a range of new initiatives which has delivered major benefits in reducing production costs, improving performance and/or safety for consumers as in THL’s case.
“Keeping ahead of the curve as an industry is crucial to maintaining relevance but also meeting consumer demand. Some of the innovation in the RV sector over the past few years has really done that, interesting materials, process improvements and design enhancements have underpinned much of this change more so than technology or gadgets.”
Respected 4WD and offroad touring journalist David Cook agrees.
"Innovation has been at the core of Australia's overall global leadership in design and construction. The rapid evolution in camper design over the past decade-and-a-half has been founded in Australian manufacturer's unique sense of adventure and by them always seeking new and better ways of going camping, using better components and products. The most successful companies have been those most willing to push the boundaries. It has been at the core of this industry and its steps towards staying in front of competition from campers from elsewhere in the world".
Louise Bayliss, CEO of Setec, a leading supplier of power and battery management systems, says it’s a broader issue too.
“Innovation provides collaboration between suppliers, manufacturers, parks, leisure and tourism providers. This integration between all parties gives a strong voice with one message: the industry is contemporary, offering exhilarating opportunities for individuals to enjoy their RV experience. It ensures that all parties within the RV industry offer exciting products for consumers and potentially attract new customers, as well as industry leaders and talent.”
Innovation consultant Peter Smith says it’s also about remaining competitive.
“The RV industry is very competitive and when someone is making a purchase there may be one special innovative feature that is the tipping point for the sale. For example having all appliances running on one fuel source i.e. diesel, gas or solar.”
He says it’ll also assist in attracting a highly skilled and motivated workforce to use the equipment and use creative thinking skills.
It’s an area the Caravan Industry Association of Victoria has been working hard on and CEO Rob Lucas concedes there’s a way to go.
“Two of the most important elements of our Industry Blueprint which CIA VIC launched in 2012 are training and industry standards, and we have made real progress in these areas, but we have much still do to in order to raise our industry’s business standards to match the expectations of increasingly knowledgeable and sophisticated customers.”
Looking to the future
Bayliss says at the moment, we are on the cusp, with many new external factors that hold opportunities to influence the industry.
“Driverless and electric cars, new battery technology, faster and more extensive mobile coverage all provide incentive for the RV industry to innovate, adapt and keep in stride. We stand ready to become technology-leaders, rather than technology-takers, rising to the challenges in services and opportunities.”
She says the task does, however, have to be one we all take on, collectively.
“Innovation is everybody’s responsibility. It does not have to be immense or complicated, often innovation comes from an unassuming thought. At Setec, we have a formal innovation and ideas generation program called SIP, which is a bottom-up approach to innovation and the implementation of new ideas, where any staff member can offer an idea and the team vote on its priority of implementation.
“This places the onus of innovation on everyone which creates an environment of belonging and collaboration. It’s a simple process, yet a highly effective way to generate new concepts of design for the company.”
As Smith surmises, as long as we continue to innovate, the future will remain bright for the RV sector.
“The future of RVs is very exciting as the next generation of designers join with the technologies that are emerging. The speed of change is amazing. We hear futurist saying that there will be more business transactions this decade than the last century.”