FIRSTLY, WHAT ARE HYBRIDS?
AOR Managing Director Steve Budden explains that an RV classifies as a hybrid when “the entire kitchen, pantry and fridge are on the outside of the trailer.”
Managing Director of Complete Campsite David Bradburn concurs.
“Campers have always been designed with living outside and vans with it inside,” he says. “Hybrids are when the RV offers both. A hybrid has all the comforts of a van, albeit it’s smaller — but that’s good, in that you can take it offroad and get to spots that caravans traditionally can’t.”
Director of Rhinomax Steve Punton agrees hybrids are “the best of both worlds” and points out several technical indicators.
“In general hybrid campers employ composite wall materials in their construction, helping them to be lightweight and hardy and eliminating the need for canvas,” he says. “A pop-top roof is another common feature.”
WHEN AND WHY DID HYBRIDS EMERGE?
Budden recalls the emergence of cheap, imitative camper trailers around 2005 and 2006.
“I thought, that’s the end of the camper trailer scene,” he says. “That’s sort of where it all started. We started developing hybrids in 2006 and 2007.”
Budden then took the Quantum, which he identifies as Australia’s first hybrid, to the Brisbane show in June 2008.
“It was fairly expensive as a little 13ft pop-top — $70,000 back then — and people were laughing at it, saying they could buy a cheap van for 25k,” Budden says.
“But it had already been to the Cape and around Innamincka and done extremely well. It took about a year for people to start buying it and in the first year we sold probably 5 or 6.
“We plugged away at it for four, five years,” Budden continues. “We were selling 13 a month or 150 a year in 2010, ‘11 and ‘12.”
Complete Campsite’s David Bradburn reflects on when he and co-developer Ian Simpson started developing the Exodus product around 15 years ago, back before it amalgamated with Complete Campsite, which originally produced soft and hard-floor models.
“It was a bit slow to start with,” Bradburn recalls. “Hybrids were cutting-edge. People were looking at it and thinking, what’s all this about? People scratched their heads, then they went away and thought about it. It took a little while, like anything new.”
The brand has gone on to produce more than 500 Exodus hybrids over the years.
Meanwhile, Rhinomax’s Punton says that the lifestyle embodied by hybrids emerged out of hard-floors.
“When hybrids first came out, they followed on from the hard-floor camper trailers,” Punton says. “What people were actually wanting was something that was hard walled, hard roofed, and without canvas. That was where the idea of a hybrid came from.”
WHAT MAKES THEM SO POPULAR TODAY?
Punton says the hybrid sector has soared because it gives users the comforts, security and features of a van along with the offroad performance and manoeuvrability of a camper trailer.
“It’s a very interesting spot to be in the market because you’re pulling customers from each segment,” Punton explains. “You’re attracting avid adventurers who have spent many years travelling with their trusty camper trailer… Conversely your caravan owners may be finding they do not need the space and storage of a 20ft-plus caravan and that the experience of towing a huge rig down the highway or through city streets on the way home is the least enjoyable part of their trip.”
Bradburn directs readers to the Complete Campsite Facebook owners’ group to fully understand why people love them.
“Our customers like the storage, the way it works, the way the kitchen swings around,” he says. “They like the look of it. A hybrid has to work, but it’s also got to have form. Plus, there’s the practical features — payload capacity, water tanks, storage capacity, electrics, off-the-grid living.”
He also identifies resale value as a major driver, stating that for a quality Aussie-made camper like the Exodus, even after 10 years, “You might get 90 per cent of your money back, not taking into account inflation. Not many products have such strong second-hand value.”
Budden thinks the success of hybrids relates to the blended indoor and outdoor living.
“A whole bunch of people out there love living outside and cooking outside, but when the weather turns or there’s too many flies, they want to go inside and be really comfortable,” he says. “With a hybrid they have everything: outside living and inside comfort at night. They can turn the heater on and have a hot shower.”
HOW ARE HYBRIDS ACHIEVED FROM A MANUFACTURING PERSPECTIVE?
Punton says it’s a combination of clever design and modern composite materials “that enables us to create quite spacious and well-equipped internal layouts within our hybrids’ compact dimensions.”
AOR hybrids have managed to achieve the best of both worlds in innovative ways, such as their convertible components. For example, in the Odyssey, the bed lifts up to reveal the dinette.
Complete Campsite’s Bradburn explains that time is another key ingredient.
“We can’t pump them out like sausages,” he laughs. “They take two, two and a half months to build… Generally, there’s a wait list because there’s a lot more work involved.”
HOW HAVE HYBRIDS CHANGED OVER THE YEARS?
“When people expect more, they push you to give them more,” Bradburn says. “That has meant more refined interiors, more comfortable upholstery, more electronic capability.”
Bradburn also owns Bluewater Cruising Yachts, which are “designed to travel around the world in four to six metre seas.” Complete Campsite has transferred that thinking into building hybrids.
Their Exodus range is now up to Mk3, which features a fully moulded fibreglass interior, making for a monocoque construction whereby everything is joined.
“We’ve had no delamination, no cracking, no structural issues whatsoever,” Bradburn says. “And these campers have been flogged!”
Rhinomax agrees that it has been a process of refinement, with Punton highlighting an increased inclusion of technology.
“The overall designs haven’t actually changed a whole lot over the years,” he says. “But, through the integration of modern materials, we’ve finessed the designs now to the point where now we are really struggling to improve on what’s there.”
AOR says that they’ve started producing an increasingly diverse range of trailers to cater to demand in a crowded market.
“We’re very big on producing new trailers, one a year almost,” Budden says. “In 2010 we started to diversify our model range. At first, we had two models — the Quantum and Odyssey. Now we have 11. That’s one a year, fully developed, fully offroad capable.”
WHERE IS THE HYBRID MARKET HEADED?
Customisation and a focus on core business define the path forward for Complete Campsite.
“The way we innovate, we can customise anything,” Bradburn says. “We have about 10 standard designs, but from there we customise and it’s unlimited after that… We can make one-off moulds very cost-effectively.”
Going forward, Rhinomax will be increasingly focusing on technology, followed by safety and security in the outback.
“We like to think we’re at the forefront of the up-and-coming technology with our RM Digital Command systems, our electrical systems,” Punton says.
“Our latest model is due to be released in the not-too-distant future which is a cross between a hybrid and a caravan. We’re calling it our 16ft hybrid tourer, which will be another model in our Expedition Series.”
Budden says that the hybrid market is headed the right way, with AOR going stronger than ever before.
“We had the Synergy come out this year and another trailer is coming out next year,” he says. “We’ve taken on another 2000sqm of production area and have increased production by 50 per cent, so it’s been a good year — believe it or not.”
KEEPING AUSSIE HYBRIDS STRONG
The future of Complete Campsite looked uncertain last year when the long-standing company entered liquidation. New owner, David Bradburn, says it came as a shock to everyone, and quotes COVID-19 as the determining factor.
He explains that demand never ebbed and that it’s business as usual now. Everything has been running smoothly, helped by the fact he has been producing, supplying and fitting out for Complete Campsite for a long time. Many of the same staff remain involved.
Complete Campsite’s 2020 liquidation draws comparisons with the fate of numerous other prominent Aussie-made camper businesses in recent years. Fortunately, many of these brands have entered new ownership, ensuring their innovative products remain available to consumers.
“A lot of companies come up with weird and wonderful things, because it seems that whatever they make is going to be a success,” Bradburn says, reflecting in general terms on the trend among other companies. “They become so successful that they need a bigger factory and more staff… But if you have a downturn, suddenly it’s very difficult to downsize.
“We’re not going to do that. We’re going to stick with what we know and continue to develop that. We’re not going to start building Unimogs or $500,000 campers or anything like that!
“We’re in a good position; we own a factory, and we have an established business as well,” he says, referencing his other business, Bluewater Cruising Yachts, which diversifies his interests and broadens his expertise.