Towing system manufacturer Roadmaster Inc. this week (Nov. 3) will ship the first container of Roadmaster self-centering, self-locking tow bars to Europe, where the company is setting up a distribution system to launch retail sales after the first of the year.
“Europeans have never towed cars behind their motorhomes,” said Jerry Edwards, founder and president of the Portland, Ore., company. “And they have about a half-a-million motorhomes over there.”
Roadmaster earlier this year received approval for its tow bar to be used by European “caravaneers” beginning in January from the Dutch National Police Agency in The Netherlands, which acts as a safety certification authority. Having received approval for use in Holland, Roadmaster tow bars automatically were certified for use in other European Union countries with the exception of Germany, where approval is pending, Edwards said.
Roadmaster products were introduced in Europe during the recent Caravan Salon RV show in Dusseldorf, Germany, and drew a great deal of consumer attention, Edwards said.
“On average there was no less than 20 people in our booth at any time,” said Eric Jason, national sales manager. “Our product was judged to be one of the top three new products shown at Dusseldorf.”
Roadmaster tow bars will be manufactured in Oregon and distributed in Europe from a warehouse in Amsterdam. “The Netherlands is a good location to get to the big part of – Europe, Italy, France and Germany, when it comes aboard,” Edwards said.
New brackets were designed for the front ends of European cars so they can be towed. Among the differences, when they do tow, Europeans use a ball system to attach the tow bar to the towing vehicle as opposed to the receiver system used in the U.S.
“What really brought it about in Europe, was the lack of standards,” Jason said. “People were towing cars with handmade, antiquated towing systems. Whatever they could weld together, they used.”
Jason said the company’s main challenge is to familiarize European motorhome owners about towing cars behind their coaches. “This is a totally new concept to them in general,” Jason said. “They’ve not been exposed to the towing culture. It’s not something the average caravaneer ever thought about.”
One of the difficulties in opening the European market to a U.S.-built product is the currency conversion. Roadmaster intends to sell a package that includes the tow bar, necessary wiring, safety cables and towed-vehicle brakes for 5,000 EUs – which in early November was equivalent to $5,400 dollars, down from a 2008 high of about $5,600. “It’s tough to tell right now what the European price will be because of the fluctuation of the Euro, which has dropped quite a bit,” Edwards said.
How well will Europeans embrace the new product? “We expect to do some numbers,” Edwards said, “but we have no idea how many. Once the sales start, it will be easy to judge.”
In the U.S., Roadmaster towing system are distributed wholesale through major distributors, including Coast to Coast Systems, Stag-Parkway, Arrow and NTP. Camping World is Roadmaster’s largest retailer.