In 2022, a new company entered the RV realm with some fresh ideas on how to make travel trailers last longer. International RV Manufacturing introduced the LIV, or Lightweight Innovative Vehicle. The LIV stands out in the pack of travel trailers in one key area: It’s constructed using a thermoplastic sheet material that’s over an inch thick! International RV believes building trailers out of plastic is the solution to not only bringing weight down but also to solve the water leak and rot issues that have plagued the RV industry for decades. The company has some fresh ideas for the future, let’s take a look!
I was introduced to the LIV travel trailer at the Indiana RV Open House back in September. Then, International RV had only recently started production, and the very first units were reaching customer hands. Now that International RV has that production line running, the company is already working on improving its designs and quality. At the same time, it also wants to keep innovating by trying out new features you don’t often see in other travel trailers. I spoke with International RV’s Geof Hoffman, a representative wearing many hats at the company, about the LIV trailer’s present and future.
Just outside of the 2024 Florida RV SuperShow in Tampa, Florida, International RV rolled out its latest designs. The headlining trailer, at least when I visited, was the 2024 LIV 201BH. It’s 21′ 8″ long, weighs 2,500 pounds when empty, and carries a starting price of $22,190. New for this year is a refinement in the trailer’s design.
International RV Manufacturing
I touched on this company’s history in my entry for the 2023 Indiana RV Open House, but more context is going to be needed before I continue about the future of LIV. Here’s what I wrote for the RV Open House:
I spoke with LIV representative Brian Walczak. He told me that LIV was created two years ago in Americus, Georgia, to solve the problems faced by RV owners around America. As I said, if you’ve ever owned a typical camper before then you know how frustrating they can be to live with. You could follow maintenance to the letter and still find your trailer leaking water after less than ten years of use. That water damage is catastrophic, too, destroying everything in its path from the roof to the walls and the floor.
(Above: You’ll find a slab of the plastic used to build the walls of the LIV travel trailer. Hoffman had me swinging a mallet at the panel in an attempt to damage it. Later, he grabbed a sledgehammer. I was able to make little marks and dimples into the plastic, but that honeycomb structure proved to be tough.)
LIV is showing another way to defeat leaks: Thermoplastic. Walczak tells me that every LIV trailer is built from top to bottom from a thick thermoplastic honeycomb that is ultrasonic-welded together, making for one immense unbroken shell. IV doesn’t just use thermoplastic for the shell, either, but for its trailers’ floors and interiors that are also ultrasonic-welded to the structure. Inside of these trailers, you’ll notice no fittings or fasteners holding those plastic pieces together.
In building these trailers basically entirely out of thick plastic, LIV says its trailers are so strong that they don’t need a traditional frame. Indeed, peek under a LIV and you’ll find a small chassis that the plastic box rides on. At the show, LIV marketed these trailer bodies as being so strong that they’re like a unibody car. LIV also showed photos of a LIV stacked on top of another LIV, a demonstration of roof strength.
If you’ve ever owned almost any travel trailer before, you’re almost certainly aware that most travel trailers can become a headache as they age. Remember, the common way to build a travel trailer involves taking a wood box, draping it with thin lauan plywood walls, putting in more plywood for the floor, and protecting it with a rubberized roof, all sorts of seals, and often, fiberglass siding. Even if you keep up on the maintenance, one of the seals can give way, or the roofs leak, allowing in water, which causes catastrophic damage. Water leaks cause walls to split apart, floors to fail, mold, and worse. Of course, none of this even mentions poor initial quality, such as rusty frames or incorrectly installed parts.
One part that I didn’t note in that previous entry is how some of the team from International RV Manufacturing came from the boat world. The company is related to Factory Direct Marine & RV, a retailer specializing in boats, RVs, and their associated parts. Thus, a lot of what you see in a LIV trailer was inspired by boating. We’ll get back to that in a moment.
The LIV 201BH
Now that International RV’s production line is going and trailers are reaching customers, the company is working on tightening up its ship and improving its designs.
Something I noticed back in Indiana was that while the LIV trailers seemed to live up to the promise of being innovative, they didn’t really look that aesthetically pleasing. The outside of a LIV was white with a splash of graphics. The underlying plastic honeycomb structure was also visible. Inside, an early LIV is full of exposed furniture fasteners and there really isn’t any color to speak of.
Hoffman tells me that the 2024 201BH on display in Florida, which was built just two weeks ago, is an early example of International RV’s design update. Now, you can have your trailer in a color other than white and the team is working on cleaning up the interior layout to make it a little more beautiful. The primary bed is now a Murphy bed and when it’s in the stowed position, you get a sofa to sit on. The trailer’s rear bunk beds have been shifted to the right. Below, you now get carpet that covers the whole floor.
The previous 201BH featured a permanent primary bed up front, the bunks were placed behind a wall, and the carpet looked like a bunch of car floor mats. It was functional but looked a little clunky. This, I think, is a big improvement. I’m told that in the future, you might see further developments in the form of more color and even more interior refinement. Here’s a photo of the original 201BH:
Moving back outside, you’ll notice that this trailer does have a frame. I’m told that larger LIV models have an aluminum frame for additional strength. The use of aluminum was another intentional decision to prevent the rust that I and others are seeing on trailers with steel chassis.
You’ll also note that the roof isn’t cluttered with a ton of equipment. This was another intentional decision to reduce the number of holes in the roof. The trailer has a heat pump under the bed!
Aside from that plastic body, a LIV travel trailer is about as you’d expect, despite the low price. Standard features include an instant water heater, a two-burner stove, a microwave, a power jack, a power awning, an electric fireplace, and a Bluetooth stereo with speakers inside and outside.
Options include carpet, a larger refrigerator, a backup camera, off-road tires, a lithium battery, an outdoor shower, and more. In terms of holding tanks, you’re getting a 30-gallon tank for fresh water, 30 gallons for grey water, and 25 gallons for waste. Again, the features are nothing game-changing. What makes a LIV stand out is its plastic construction.
On top of all of this, International RV believes the trailers will be so leak-free that it gives owners a lifetime rot and mildew warranty on the LIV structure. I’m also told that the plastic of a LIV trailer has UV protection so that, hopefully, 20 years from now you won’t have a brittle structure.
International RV also isn’t resting on its laurels as the company is already working on its plans for the future. Some of this includes minor changes. The company has taken note that some owners aren’t fond of seeing the honeycomb structure, so one of the next updates will smooth out the outer plastic for a more traditional look. There are other small design problems that should be solved as well, including the fact that you cannot prop the entry door open when the awning is open:
Whoops – the prop rod just doesn’t reach far enough to hook into the door!
International RV also wants to make an even smaller and more affordable trailer. Making its debut in Florida is the company’s smallest offering, the 17FD, an 18’5″ trailer that weighs just 1,590 pounds and costs $18,990. Same plastic, same aluminum frame, same features, but smaller! Mind you, that’s a lot more trailer than you get with a fiberglass Scamp, but for less money. Sadly, the newest example didn’t arrive in Florida until after I had to catch a flight. Hoffman will be sending me further details about this new unit soon enough.
(Above: For now, the trailer’s walls aren’t smooth, but have a pattern from the honeycomb structure underneath.)
International RV also wants to change how trailer brakes work. Most travel trailers have electric brakes. This requires your tow vehicle to have a brake controller or you have to buy a special dongle to actuate the trailer’s brakes. Now, this isn’t a big deal if you have a truck or SUV. Many of these have trailer brake controllers built right in. If you don’t, the usual route is to wire a controller in. International RV is targeting owners of vehicles that aren’t super capable. The company wants to see people towing its trailers with a Mini Countryman, Subaru Forester, or Lincoln MKX. However, smaller tow vehicles may not have brake controllers and International RV has found that installing a brake controller to certain modern computerized vehicles can be a bit of a task.
Its solution will come from the boating world with perhaps some inspiration from U-Haul. Many boat trailers and large U-Haul trailers use a surge brake system. A surge brake system is self-contained, requires no modification to the tow vehicle, and requires no fine-tuning from a brake controller.
In the tongue of a trailer with surge brakes, you’ll find a master cylinder. When you apply your tow vehicle’s brakes, the tongue of the trailer pushes a rod into the master cylinder, activating the brakes. The brakes work by using our old friend physics! That way, you don’t need to fiddle around with controllers and wiring. Hoffman says that surge brakes also have fewer parts to go wrong. Surge brakes also work in situations where electric brakes may not, such as being submerged in water. Of course, that part doesn’t matter as much to a travel trailer.
There are some downsides to surge brakes. For starters, if you want to reverse without activating the trailer’s brakes, you have to slide a pin into the tongue to lock it into place. Also, if you get into a situation where the trailer is swaying too much, you can’t actuate the brakes as a way to straighten the rig out. You also don’t have much trailer brake control on hills, either.
So, surge brakes aren’t a perfect braking solution, but they do work. I’ve towed U-Haul trailers from coast to coast with a Volkswagen Touareg VR6 and have no complaints about U-Haul’s surge braking system. Most people will probably be just fine with International RV’s future surge brake system.
Finally, International RV is aware that some of its trailers are falling short on quality. There is a LIV travel trailer Facebook group run by the company. Owners are reporting issues including faulty holding tank monitors, too much interior condensation, sticking doors, bad caulking jobs, plant matter sticking to the roof sealant, inefficient propane gas flow to activate appliances, and more. Some people have also complained about missing cabinet doors, loose bolts on stabilizers, and tripping breakers.
Condensation isn’t anything new and happens with a lot of trailers, especially when you’re running a heater in the cold. In my experience, cracking open a window or running a dehumidifier works pretty well in the fight against condensation.
Hoffman was forthcoming about these quality issues. He tells me none of this is by design or was supposed to happen. The International RV team asks owners with issues to reach out so they can be fixed. Likewise, Hoffman believes many of these issues are originating at the factory. Plans are in motion to retrain workers and tighten down quality control at the plant. Hopefully, they can root out where things are going wrong because there’s no reason why a camper should leave the factory with missing parts.
I still love the concept of the LIV. In theory, these trailers should last a lot longer than the typical travel trailer fare. I also love the low prices. The LIV proves that you can get a sizable trailer with a few tricks up its sleeve without paying huge money. Also worthy of some love is the low weight, which means more people with crossovers can get into RVing. However, the trailers still have room to improve in both quality and design.
As of present, you can buy a LIV from a dealer in Americus, Georgia as well as a dealer in Tennessee, two dealers in Florida, and one dealer in Indiana. We’ll keep on watching this brand and I’d love to test one of these. Maybe this year’s EAA AirVenture Oshkosh? We’re always excited to see new developments in the RV world and it will be interesting to see how plastic trailers fare.
(Images: Author, unless otherwise noted.)
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