Kings of the road: behind the scenes of Kiwi success story
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Kiwi company says it's building 'an apartment on wheels' and not a motorhome
For TrailLite, the next few monthsare the busiest for orders but it's also its customers who help when it comes to the success of New Zealand's leading motorhome builder.
Based in Pukekohe, TrailLite is run by managing director Peter Newman (pictured on cover), with sons Adam (operations manger) and Shaun (general manager) part of the 60-plus staff building up to 70 motorhomes a year.
TrailLite started as a cabinetmaker before the company saw an opportunity in the booming caravan market, producing its first caravan in 1954.
Peter joined the business in the 1970s and took over in 1980 before predicting a trend towards the popularity of motorhomes in the early 1990s. Last year, the company built its last caravan and instead focused on the expanding motorhome business in New Zealand.
The chassis goes through an eight-stage production line in the Pukekohe factory. Photo / Ted Baghurst
Forty per cent of the products it sells from its Pukekohe and Christchurch yards are the imported Benimar range that is built in Spain and based on the Fiat Ducato, while the TrailLite-built motorhomes are based on cab and chassis of Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, Iveco Daily, Isuzu N series or Fuso Canter.
The chassis goes through an eight-stage production line in the Pukekohe factory to produce what the company says is "an apartment on wheels".
The company's range includes the 300, 500, 700 and 900 series, with the entry-level Oakura and Karapiro 354s starting at $199,000 and up to $319,767 for the Oakura 968X.
All the motorhomes are built to be self-contained, with some able to go off the grid for up to 15 days.
Some motorhomes are based on Mercedes-Benz Sprinter cab and chassis. Photo / Ted Baghurst
There are 30 floorplans to choose from, with TrailLite also producing the luxury Landmark models plus a limited number of customised products. Up to 60 hours of design and consultation go into a custom-made product, with assistance from the TrailLite's in-house designer.
One of the most memorable personalised requests from a customer was a chicken locker; an area on the side of the motorhome where the chickens could live and lay eggs thanks to 24-hour lighting. There were also steps for the chickens to exit the "coop on wheels" when the owner had camped up.
Customers are demanding not only more luxury but also more technology from the TrailLite motorhomes, with such features as internet, solar power, a satellite dish, television and audio system.
Kiwi customers want quality "not junk" said one staff member, with the use of New Zealand-made soft furnishing, mattresses, plus double glazed windows and top-quality furniture and fittings.
"We are building bespoke, quality products so we can build only up to 80 motorhomes a year," said Ashlee Rose, TrailLite's's customer relations co-ordinator.
TrailLite has a large number of staff who have been with company more than 15 years. Photo / Ted Baghurst
After the recent annual motorhome, caravan and outdoor expo in Auckland, the company expects a 23 per cent increase in orders from Kiwi customers, with the wait for the TrailLite motorhomes pushed out from seven months to a year.
The cabinetmaking background has helped with the production line, especially with assembly of the side and roof panels, while the company has "perfected" a vacuum seal bonding for the panels.
While it takes a total of two and a half days days to build a motorhome, the assembly time is seven days, taking into account time for sealant and paint to dry.
There are also those nifty aspects of the Auckland-build products such as a completed motorhome road tested with wine bottles in situ in the racks to check for rattle and stability.
TrailLite's standard floorplans are based on customer feedback and last year the company ran a competition for its motorhome owners to come up with innovative ideas to add to "the apartment on wheels".
The winning idea was airplane-like runway lights on the floor for night visits to the bathroom.
Photo / supplied
While a majority of its customers are baby boomers, Peter Newman is also seeing an increase in buyers with young kids, especially as the price of holiday homes increases.
"We've seen a steady increase overall in people buying our products over the past few years," he said. "We're the oldest motorhome manufacturer in New Zealand ... and we always build bespoke motorhomes."
For Peter, the company not only produces motorhome but its customers are "like family" and each year there is a TrailLite Get Together (TGT).
While there is the facility to increase production at the Pukekohe factory to up to 80 motorhomes a year, for Peter it's important to concentrate on hiring and maintaining "skilled workers".
A large number of staff have been with company more than 15 years, with the longest serving employee being Peter.