Everybody’s getting into the act.
That’s one way to describe the ramp-trailer market, which many inside and outside the RV industry believe is the hot new thing.
Ramp trailers – also called toy haulers, garage models, sport utility RVs, or SURVs, and sport utility trailers, or SUTs – are the travel-trailer and fifth-wheel floorplans that include sometimes spartan, sometimes posh living quarters in the front and a “garage” in the rear for hauling ATVs, motorcycles, dirt bikes, sand rails and other equipment for use at a destination.
But the biggest difference from the mainstream travel-trailer, fifth-wheel is that ramp trailers are designed for dry camping, not necessarily for lengthy stays at a campground.
It is generally believed Alfa Leisure Inc., Chino Calif., built the first toy haulers during the 1970s and its former production manager, Mark Warmoth, later went out on his own and founded Weekend Warrior Trailers Inc., a Perris, Calif., firm that builds ramp trailers exclusively.
The toy-hauler market was a sleepy segment of the towables business until major motor sports manufacturers such as Yamaha began aggressively marketing four-wheel, all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) during the mid-1990s, Warmoth said.
Four-wheel ATVs, also called quads, became hugely popular in California, the nation’s most populous state with 34.5 million residents, where they are used during weekend getaways in the desert region east of Los Angeles and San Diego.
The ramp trailer is the perfect fit for those wanting to haul their family’s fleet of quads for a weekend of ripping around among the sand dunes, Warmoth said.
Now, several manufacturers in the RV industry’s mainstream believe the eastern two-thirds of the country is ready for a ramp-trailer boom. Some cargo and specialty trailer manufacturers also are looking to get a piece of the action in the toy-hauler business.
A few years ago, several major towable RV builders entered the SURV segment when they, basically, cut the back off a traditional travel trailer or fifth-wheel and replaced it with a ramp. But those firms have come to realize that attention needs to be paid to cargo-hauling capability, which requires, for example, the use of folding beds, chairs, couches and dinettes to make room for cargo.
Here is what some of the mainstream RV industry players now are doing about the toy hauler business:
• Alfa Leisure currently builds the highline Alfa Toyhouse, which company executives argue may have more sales potential in the eastern two-thirds of the country, because it is more popular with older, more-affluent buyers, as opposed to younger families with quad-riding kids. Consequently, Alfa Leisure may eventually build a plant in the eastern portion of the country to supply dealers there.
• The Keystone RV Co., a subsidiary of Thor Industries Inc., has created a separate operation called the Key Performance Division to be responsible for designing, building and marketing its Tail-gator and Raptor ramp trailers.
• Forest River Inc. also created a separate division, called Work and Play, to build toy haulers that emphasize their cargo-carrying capabilities.
• National RV Holdings Inc. subsidiary National RV Inc., primarily a builder of Class A motorhomes, has halted production of traditional travel trailers and fifth-wheels and now its towables operation only produces its Rage’n and Blaze’n ramp trailer models. National RV does not plan to resume production of traditional travel trailers and fifth-wheels until late 2005 at the earliest.
Among cargo and specialty trailer builders, Carson Trailer Co. of Gardena, Calif. and the Overland Express Living Quarters Division of J&L’s Cargo Express Inc., Bristol, Ind., are among the firms involved in the ramp-trailer business.
Carson Trailer entered the SURV business about six years ago and toy haulers now account for about 8% of its unit volume, although SURVs comprise a larger portion of its sales revenue, because ramp trailers are more expensive than the company’s other products, said Bill Modesette, president.
“The traditional RV trailer has lost popularity because they’re a one-purpose trailer,” Modesette said. The SURV market “is not even close to saturation. We’ve seen people start with a $1,000 utility trailer and then trade up to an enclosed trailer and then to a ramp trailer and then to a bigger ramp trailer.”
Joe McDermott, National RV’s vice president of sales and marketing, agrees that families that enter the RV lifestyle with the purchase of a ramp trailer may stay in the toy-hauler segment without ever graduating into motorhomes.
“We’re finding people are aggressively trading-in 22- and 23-foot ramp trailers for larger ones because they bought a bigger truck or Mom wants more comfort,” McDermott said. As a result, fifth-wheel SURVs in the 35- to 40-foot range are “an emerging market,” he said.