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The Status of the Caravan Industry in Australia – Part 1: Manufacturer & Dealer (Supplier) Issues

The Status of the Caravan Industry in Australia – Part 1:  Manufacturer & Dealer (Supplier) Issues

This is Part 1 of 3 separate Articles on the Status of the Caravan Industry in Australia. Information supplied by Colin Young of the Caravan Council of Australia.  These articles will specifically be concentrating on issues in relation to:

1: Manufacturers (and Importers) and Dealers|
2: Caravanners
3: Government

There are problems that are still sadly tarnishing the Industry’s image. Ans they need to be quickly resolved.

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).  

Contents

Sadly, there are still numerous serious problems – and all too often continuing. These are badly tarnishing the image and reputation of the industry, and causing much grief to many caravanners. 

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 ‘vanners 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 (‘vanner) 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 freeBuyer-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 Top 5 Issues

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 limitedand 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 corners” 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-complianceSafety 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. Also 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 mis-understood… 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 
     or        
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. Also 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).  

Product issues include: 

Fit for the 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). And is 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. Including 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.  

Caravanners often report that sales-people – especially at Caravan Shows – are far too pushy. Also does not have the best interests of the potential-customer at heart. 

Naivety, along with “making up answers on the spot” and simply not knowing the answers to reasonable questions. It includes grossly-exaggerating the features and benefits of a prospective caravan. These 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. It should be exactly as is mandated for motor-vehicle faults. Including 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. Using “all the tricks in the book” to delay having to rectify problems. Also making 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… 

Disclaimer: This information is provided in good faith, in an effort to improve road safety. It is believed to be correct, but no liability whatsoever is accepted for any issues arising from using this information.

Original article provided courtesy of
Colin G Young
Member IEAust & SAECCA
(Honorary Manager & Professional Automotive Engineer)
www.caravancouncil.com.au

The CAA is a completely independent, non-profit, non-commercial body. They provide free no-obligation compliance and technical advice. This is to all manufacturers, importers, dealers, mechanics, owners, and potential buyers of recreational vehicles.

 

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