As the recreational vehicle industry struggles with the economic downturn, it’s finding opportunity by going green. And composite materials are staking a larger claim in the sector because of it.

“One of the biggest reasons [for going green] is that technology is advancing,” says Kevin Bloom, media relations director for the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA). “Products like solar panels or wind turbines or water filtration are more accessible to people and the costs are starting to come down to the point where manufacturers can start incorporating those things into vehicles and trailers.”

Composites are included among these now more-accessible materials, comprising approximately 30 percent of the RV market, but the adoption of them on a larger scale is a relatively recent development. “Three years ago there were no composite RVs, so it’s certainly been growing in the past two-and-a-half years,” says Bloom.

Bloom says the lightweight nature of composites played well into industry development. “Another factor of course is that fuel prices went up considerably. As a reaction to that, RV manufacturers began looking for ways to increase fuel economy. On the trailer side, you’ll see smaller, lighter, more aerodynamic models, all of which combine to make towing a trailer more fuel efficient.” Bloom added that vehicles that use more composite materials are likely to be more fuel-efficient, citing a change in maximum efficiency from 15 mpg to 20 mpg.

From Wood to Composites

EverGreen RV, Middlebury, Ind., recently introduced the Everlite trailer, which exemplifies large-scale implementation of composites in RVs. The company claims the model is the first 100 percent composites trailer. EverGreen was formed by seasoned members of the RV industry, but this marks their first experience using composites in RV construction.

Kevin Slater, vice president of sales and one of the company’s founders, used wood in his previous manufacturing efforts. “We would have a full aluminum frame and then vacuum bond the walls and floors and the roof so they end up in one piece. Traditionally, up until now anyway, we would have a layer of luan or plywood behind the high-gloss exterior or exterior skin and also behind the vinyl interior wallpaper.”