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The Topeka, Kan.-based National Association of Trailer Manufacturers (NATM) hasn’t made a lot of waves in the recreation vehicle business. But that’s begun to change as NATM has experienced a membership growth spurt in recent years and has partnered with the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) in a Trailer Safety Industry Coalition (TSIC) set up to forestall further safety regulation by the federal government.
The coalition, which is developing a consumer wheel safety education program, is co-chaired by Bruce Hopkins, RVIA vice president of safety and education, and Jack Klepinger, of NATM-member Wells Cargo Inc., Phoenix, Ariz.
The tire safety coalition falls neatly within NATM’s mission of being more involved with national safety issues to minimize as much government red tape as possible. NATM, founded in 1987, originally represented livestock and horse trailer dealers and manufacturers and more recently has expanded into general trailer builders.
“Historically, NHTSA has not viewed our industry to be very sophisticated,” said NATM Vice President Matt Arnold, general manager of Haulmark Industries Inc., Bristol, Ind., who became vice president at NATM’s national convention and trade show attended by 1,550 people and 220 exhibiors Jan. 30-Feb. 4 at the Las Vegas Hilton Hotel. “We want to educate NHTSA on our members’ desire to build trailers that are safe.”
The trailer safety coalition is spending about a quarter of a million dollars on a study regarding the causes of wheel failures and to educate consumers on preventive maintenance. RVIA has contributed $80,000 to the coalition and NATM $40,000. Other associations and component manufacturers donated about $175,000. “The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) is convinced that more wheels have come off than have been reported to them,” Hopkins said. “Members of the coalition were concerned about what NHTSA’s response to this might be in the end.”
Trailer safety, in turn, has become a major goal within NATM, whose compliance officers inspect manufacturer-members on a voluntary basis every two years to ensure that they are meeting the requirements of the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. NATM issues stickers that cost 75 cents per trailer. There’s no charge for the inspection, but if the manufacturer does not purchase any NATM certification stickers within 24 months, they are charged $700 for their next inspection. Approximately one million NATM stickers were sold between 2002 and 2005.
“We’ve gone from no compliance program at all to one that we think works pretty well, even though it’s relatively new,” said Pam O’Toole, NATM’s full-time executive director.
Meanwhile, NATM’s membership has grown substantially from fewer than 200 in 1998 to 850 in 2005. Member companies pay NATM $700 in annual membership dues.
NATM currently has eight employees and is planning to buy its own building in Topeka, Kan., sometime this next summer. “I think our growth is attributed to the increased scrutiny by the federal government,” said NATM President Andy Gehman, president of MGS Inc., Denver, Pa., a speciality equipment trailer manufacturer. Gehman specifically cited the TREAD Act that now directs vehicle manufacturers to report statistics about vehicle safety problems to NHTSA as but one example.
“The proliferation of regulations keeps wrapping around us,” Gehman said. “At the same time, over the last 20 years, there’s been a huge increase in usage of trailers for whatever purposes.”
O’Toole said NATM membership is particularly suited for manufacturers who are just getting into the business. “For the new manufacturers, it’s great because we go out and help them figure out how to do it right,” O’Toole said. “The manufacturers who have been around awhile realize that the compliance system is helping level the playing field. There was a time when some trailer manufacturers put used tires on their trailers to save money. That doesn’t happen anymore. We have raised the bar.”
Only a handful of manufacturers, we’re told, belong to both the RVIA and NATM. “We would like to recruit more RVIA members because we think we have some things to offer them that are different from RVIA,” O’Toole said. “We think our compliance program looks at different issues than RVIA looks at, and we review technical issues in our magazine. We don’t want to compete with RVIA, but we think some of their members would benefit from NATM.