Thanks to platforms like the F-Series and E-Series, the name "Ford" graces the grilles of many a motorhome and camper-hauling truck, including new off-roaders like the Sportsmobile Classic and EarthRoamer XV-HD. Now Ford is moving its badge rearward, to the camper shells themselves. The company will offer a full line of licensed camping trailers, toy haulers and truck campers.
Henry Ford didn't invent the car, but he played a pretty important role in its future. Similarly, he didn't invent the RV, but he did play a major role in popularizing the idea of vehicle camping.
Together with an impressive group of "Vagabonds" that included Thomas Edison, Harvey Firestone and naturalist John Burroughs, Ford made a series of trips around the United States starting in the mid 1910s and continuing through the early 20s. Tents, not vehicle-mounted or towed camper shells, provided the roofing over the Vagabonds' heads during the journeys, but the grand caravan of vehicles did include at least two light recreational vehicles: one with integrated gas stove and icebox and another with purpose-built storage for camping gear like tents, cots and lights.
Newspapers around the country poured out stories about these high-profile boys trips (wives later got in on the fun, too), and reporters and photographers often tagged along. This proved valuable advertising for the likes of Ford vehicles and Firestone tires, but the growing size of the caravan and public attention was eventually cited as a reason for the discontinuation of further trips in 1924. By then, though, the Vagabonds had already established a connection between automobile touring and outdoor recreation in the minds of millions of Americans.
Fast forward about a century, and the efforts of early pioneers like Henry Ford and the designers that built campers around the likes of the Model T have flourished into a very healthy RV industry. According to the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association, sales of RVs have been rising steadily each year for the past half-decade, reaching more than 356,000 in 2014, an 11 percent increase from 2013. The association says RV ownership has reached a record level of more than 9 million households, a 16 percent increase from 2001 levels.
Ford already has a pretty nice piece of RV business in supplying chassis to motorhome manufacturers, and its F-Series and E-Series chassis have served as leaders in Class A and Class C motorhome markets, respectively. In August 2014, Ford cited data from market analysis firm Statistical Surveys Inc. showing that it had a 63-percent share of the Class A and 72-percent share of the Class C chassis markets between January and May 2014.
Now Ford's set to have its very own line of branded RVs. It announced last week that it is working with Indiana-based Livin Lite to offer Ford-licensed RVs in a variety of styles and sizes. The first wave of products will include camping trailers, toy hauling trailers and truck-bed campers. Livin Lite specializes in trailers and slide-ins, and Ford makes no mention of Ford-branded camper shells being built onto Ford chassis to create all-Ford motorhomes.
"Exploring America is in our customers' DNA and recreational vehicles are part of Ford's history, so these new camping options are great for our adventurous customers," says Mark Bentley, Ford Licensing manager. "Licensing our name and design language to Livin Lite was an easy decision. Their use of advanced materials and innovation mindset makes them an excellent fit with the Ford brand."
Ford Truck Design worked with Livin Lite over the past 15 months to develop the first product designs. In addition to flashing Dearborn pride with large Ford badges on the sides, Ford has injected its DNA into the line with an F-Series-inspired front window, F-Series-style wheels and Lariat trim-inspired interior appointments. Each initial model that Ford has revealed also includes a curved front.
Ford says the line will launch in early 2016 with slide-in truck campers built for 6- and 8-foot (1.8- and 2.4-m) beds. Travel trailers and toy haulers in 22- and 24-foot (6.7- and 7.3-m) lengths will join the lineup in the second quarter, and Ford has plans to add future models including more compact pop-up campers and longer fifth wheels. The models will be available through certified Livin Lite dealerships.
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