The Status of the Caravan Industry in Australia
This is part one of a three part series by Colin Young of the Caravan Council of Australia.
Part 1: Manufacturer & Dealer (Supplier) Issues…
As the end of an extremely difficult and strange – and hopefully never-to-be repeated – year nears, it is prudent to analyse all of the prime recreational vehicle (RV) issues – both good and bad – that have occurred, and been brought to the attention of the Caravan Council of Australia (CCA).
Sadly, there are still numerous serious problems – and all too often continuing – that are badly tarnishing the image and reputation of the industry, and causing much grief to many caravacaravanners.
Professional and ethical caravan and camper-trailer companies are being “tarred by the same brush” that the lesser-respected companies are using.
The horrible corona virus pandemic has certainly caused many severe hardships, due to all of the imposed restrictions and the interruption of business operations, but the resumption of “normal” lifestyle activities provides an excellent opportunity for the industry to work together to achieve a very high level of professionalism and credibility, and create a clean and positive image for the RV industry. Needless to say, the pandemic has also caused much disappointment and frustration for RV owners.
The CCA has been receiving the usual large number of calls and emails from caravan owners and potential-buyers. The vast majority of callers have experienced problems with their caravans, ranging from annoying minor faults to serious and dangerous defects. Most of the issues have been related to the usual “Top 5”, which are noted below.
Complaints were split fairly evenly between:
Manufacturer matters – Design and Quality – especially the long-time major problem regarding Ratings and Masses (refer Definitions) for both caravans and tow-vehicles and handling concerns on the road, and…
Dealer (Supplier) matters – regarding the information provided to them by sales-personnel when first discussing a possible purchase, the hassles of having minor faults acknowledged and rectified promptly, and the extremely stressful, lengthy and expensive process of having to take legal action when the Dealer simply refused to abide by the Australian Consumer Law (ACL) requirements when there were clearly major non-compliances with the ‘van.
The extent of litigation needed to be initiated by ‘vacaravanners is completely unacceptable, and stamps a severe “black mark” on the reputation of the caravan industry. While some cases were taken to the various Administrative Tribunals, most were taken to Courts.
The experience in either case was very traumatic, time-consuming and undeservedly costly. Fortunately, in nearly every case, the action was resolved – thankfully in favour of the Applicant (‘vacaravanner) – without a Finding (which would have become embarrassing public knowledge) having to be made, with a strictly-confidential Personal Settlement agreed upon.
Very pleasing was the exceptionally high number of enquiries from first-time buyers, requesting information on what to look for – and what to be aware of – when selecting a new ‘van.
The CCA never mentions any Brands or Companies, but has assisted many potential-buyers with their free “Buyer-Assist” package, which provides among other things, Check-Lists for “Evaluation” of what they really want, “Comparison” of what different ‘vans are available (as they inspect each Make & Model ‘van), along with a detailed “Pre-Acceptance Inspection”.
The not-to-be-proud-of “Top 5” – some unfortunately “with a bullet” – issues are:
1: Too many new, under-resourced, manufacturers and importers competing in a very limited, and highly-competitive, market:
It is obvious that many of the newer, and smaller, companies who have entered the industry in recent times, are appreciably handicapped by being grossly under-resourced in a number of essential areas – engineering, legal, finance, management, Quality-Assurance, marketing – and as such, have no option but to “cut cocaravanners” in a futile attempt to successfully compete with the long-established, well-resourced, highly-experienced, and well-known professional companies.
The number of problems and complaints against newer, and smaller, companies is significantly disproportionately high, in relation to the number of vehicles sold by them.
The caravan industry needs to protect itself, by insisting that the Government urgently introduces mandatory, comprehensive and fully-independent audits and assessments of all businesses involved with the manufacturing and marketing of caravans and camper-trailers in Australia.
2: Too many serious Non-compliance, Safety and Quality problems… with subsequent complaints and litigation.
In a number of cases, there is an unfortunate culture of “get these things out the door quickly… and we will worry about (or ignore) problems with them later”. Often there is no proper Quality-Assurance program in place.
Accordingly, there are no professional Work Instructions, Assembly Drawings, and Check-Lists. Consequently, especially with inexperienced production personnel, mistakes and inconsistencies frequently occur… and are not detected, until the owner inspects their new “dream” ‘van.
3: Marketing personnel not educated in major Technical and Legal issues regarding caravans.
Many ‘van owners – and potential buyers – have complained about the poor knowledge, and unprofessional conduct, by some sales personnel… especially at major Caravan Shows. Often the sales-person cannot, or will not, answer even basic critical questions, and in the worst cases, provides statements which at best, are ignorant and mis-leading, and at worst, are down-right lies.
Frequently, very little attention is given to the “intended use” of a proposed ‘van… both the proposed travel plans of the potential buyer, and the suitability (Ratings, Mass, Power, etc.) of the proposed tow-vehicle.
4: Major systemic industry problem: Vehicle Ratings and Masses frequently grossly misunderstood… or simply ignored.
It is of great concern that many people continue to believe, and use, the hideously-incorrect “old husbands’ tale” – or “equation” – that:
Empty Ball Loading = ATM Rating minus GTM Rating
GTM Rating = ATM Rating minus Empty Ball-Loading
This is completely wrong, wrong, wrong… as there is no logical relationship involved whatsoever! It is like trying to compare apples with bananas.
The ATM & GTM are fixed “Ratings“… allocated by the manufacturer – using an engineering assessment – in relation to the maximum-permissible “All-Up” & “Axle(s)” limits.
The Empty Ball-Loading is an “actual mass” – that must be measured – and is obviously applicable only for the empty (Tare Mass) condition.
The correct formula is, at any time:
Actual Ball Loading = “All-up Mass” minus “Axle(s)-Loading”
5: Serious Consumer-Protection (ACL) – Non-Compliance issues with Dealers (Suppliers), especially regarding the rectification of Defects.
It is quite apparent that there is a significant lack of understanding of – and abiding by – the important fundamental legal requirements of the ACL (Australian Consumer Law).
The Product issues include:
Fit for purpose; Of acceptable quality; As advertised or promoted; Safe and (fully) compliant; and Free from defects.
Many new caravans have an actual Tare Mass that is much heavier than the stated Tare Mass.
The true Tare Mass of a caravan is the “mass of the completely-empty caravan, as it leaves the Dealer (Supplier), fitted with all items that were stated on the Sales Contract.
There is a most-disappointing lack of technical knowledge by some Dealers’ Sales Personnel… along with questionable sales tactics, regarding their conduct with potential-buyers of caravans.
All too often, the word “intended” – regarding both the intended tow-vehicle, and the intended “use of the caravan” – is given no real appreciation of its importance.
Caravacaravanners often report that sales-people – especially at Caravan Shows – are far too pushy, and do not have the best interests of the potential-customer at heart.
Naivety, along with “making up answers on the spot”, simply not knowing the answers to reasonable questions, and grossly-exaggerating the features and benefits of a prospective caravan, are regularly cited as being “hard-sell” behaviour.
Stringent and prompt action needs to be taken by the relevant Government departments, when a consumer reports a serious non-compliance. Immediate remedial undertakings must be enforced – exactly as is mandated for motor-vehicle faults – with substantial penalties imposed for ignoring or delaying the rectification.
For far too long, the “culture” of a number of businesses has been to severely frustrate the Consumer, by using “all the tricks in the book” to delay having to rectify problems, and to have the matter drag on as long as possible, in costly and stressful legal procedures.
Hopefully effective immediate action will be taken to ensure that a new highly-respected image for the Caravan Industry in Australia is created, for the benefit of everyone…