When electronics supplier US Lighting Group entered the RV market last month, the company said it planned to build its travel trailers differently – like an offshore race boat.
Wood and steel are nowhere to be found within Cortes Campers’ Euclid, Ohio-based manufacturing facility. The newest US Lighting Group division is forgoing traditional RV materials and making its travel trailers and future teardrop campers entirely from patent-pending carbon fiber and molded fiberglass.
“When we started this company, we said we were going to build campers the same way they build airplanes, except with 21st Century materials,” US Lighting Group CEO Paul Spivak said after touring various RV manufacturers.
Cortes Campers recently launched a new website to showcase its upcoming 17-foot travel trailers, which will be sold through the company’s dealer network – a first in the niche camper market. Spivak said he knows three other companies that make molded fiberglass campers, but none sell through a dealer network.
The company will sell to exclusive territories, with a yearly minimum quota of five campers per county. Spivak said the company will start taking most orders in the next couple weeks. Some units already are made, he said. The units’ first molds were being made last March.
“We are like little kids at Christmas time trying to get it out the door,” Spivak said. “The campers are built like we did it for ourselves.”
The company is currently waiting to receive its Furrion appliance order to complete the units. Cortes used Furrion products exclusively in its travel trailers.
The line’s exterior molded fiberglass construction provides more flexibility than traditional fiberglass because the molding process allows it to be formed into any shape. Metal can be bent only in certain directions, Spivak said, and wood cannot be bent at all. Cortes’ goal is lighter and stronger units, he said. The travel trailers also use an axle-less independent suspension from Timbren Axle to achieve higher ground clearance, the company stated.
Cortes Campers’ patent-pending aluminized fiberglass resembles a mirror and was created to reflect heat outside the vehicle, he added, eliminating a need for multiple air conditioners and providing heating and cooling savings. The exterior design also includes Cortes’ honeycomb core made from the aluminized fiberglass, carbon fiber and marine-grade gel coats.
Carbon fiber is used extensively throughout the unit, he said, including in the company’s patent-pending chassis construction, which is molded into the trailer’s fiberglass bottom half. Components such as kitchen cabinets are made from carbon fiber, too, Spivak said.
“Most people would say ‘this guy is out of his mind,’ because the materials are 10 to 15 times more expensive,” Spivak said. Carbon fiber is around $35 per square yard, he added.
However, Cortes Campers is balancing out expenses with a reduction in labor costs.
“When you see how fast we process carbon fiber, there is zero labor,” Spivak said. “In our Excel spreadsheet, the first column – raw materials – is very high because carbon fiber is expensive. But using molds and vacuum infusion processes, there is really low use of labor. At the end of the day, the spreadsheet total amount will cost the same [as other manufacturers].”
Spivak said his corporate philosophy is having a smaller workforce with higher paychecks, where employees are treated like partners. When buying expensive materials, a key business model is eliminating labor, he said.
Other travel trailer features include an 8-cubic-foot Furrion refrigerator and separate freezer, convection microwave and an oven. The unit’s acrylic windows do not transfer heat as easily as glass, Spivak said, providing better temperature regulation. The windows work like awnings rather than sliding out, he added.
If something happens to the unit, such as losing a bearing, the travel trailer comes equipped with a kit including a new bearing set and spindle, grease and tools to change it, Spivak said. The kit is molded into the unit behind a spare tire. In addition, the vehicles’ replacement part numbers are molded into the fiberglass – much like a speedboat, he said.
Cortes Campers’ sister companies provide RV industry components. Electronics supplier Intellitronix Gauges makes RV energy management systems with built-in circuit breaker panels, among other offerings. Cortes’ new units will include Intellitronix monitoring and multi-functional power management systems.
The parent company’s marine sector, MIG Marine, manufactures offshore power boats – which Spivak said somewhat inspired the Cortes Campers’ manufacturing processes.
“The industry should not be okay with a substandard product,” a US Lighting Group affiliate said. “Not only are we going to make this great, but we want to make everyone else great and set a standard in the industry.”
The company’s 17-foot travel trailers are the first project planned in its vehicle lineup. Cortes Campers is designing separate single and double-axle product lines, ranging from its smallest 14-foot unit to 35 feet in length.
A 25-foot travel trailer is the next to come, with concept pictures available on Cortes’ website, which is updated frequently, Spivak said.
“With [molded] fiberglass, you can make any shape you want possible,” Spivak said regarding the 25-foot camper. “We started with the hot dog as the ultimate shape, because it is the most aerodynamic to pull down the road. It looks like something out of Star Trek.”
“We are excited about the new exterior and interior designs we offer for outdoor enthusiasts, weekend campers and long-term RV travelers,” Spivak said. “The luxurious travel trailers and campers include additional storage space, windows, appliances and the latest technology to monitor essential energy sources. Cortes Campers are approximately 50 percent lighter, much stronger and smarter than anything you have ever experienced.”