Home » This Company Wants You To Buy A Camper Made Out Of Plastic, And That’s Only The Start Of The Innovation

This Company Wants You To Buy A Camper Made Out Of Plastic, And That’s Only The Start Of The Innovation

Plastic Living Ts
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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.

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

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.

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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:

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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.

International RV Manufacturing

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(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.

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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.

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The LIV 201BH

 

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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.

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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:

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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.

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Note the small aluminum frame members and one of the tanks.

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.

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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.

The Future

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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:

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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.

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(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.

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Tie Down Engineering

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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Ben
Ben
1 month ago

The company wants to see people towing its trailers with a Mini Countryman, Subaru Forester, or Lincoln MKX.

I’ll bet they do, since they don’t have to pay for the transmission replacement that would likely result. If those vehicles are rated to tow at all, they are almost certainly not rated to tow something with the frontal area of a travel trailer, regardless of the weight. Aerodynamics are much more important to towability at speed than weight, which is why I got drastically better mileage towing 5000 lbs of relatively low-profile car than I do towing 3500 lbs of brick-like travel trailer. That, combined with the ill-considered decision to use surge brakes in pursuit of these poorly suited tow vehicles, is my second biggest concern with these (behind the obvious UV issues with plastic left out in the sun 24/7).

That said, they get points for spec’ing usable tank sizes and the concept isn’t bad. I hope these work out, if for no other reason than to have more options in the market.

Greensoul
Greensoul
1 month ago

I’m curious to see details on how they handle the electrical wire runs with this type of construction

Ben
Ben
1 month ago
Reply to  Greensoul

In my trailer most of the wiring is run behind cabinets or in a little tunnel along the base of one wall. There is some run through the ceiling for the AC unit, but it sounds like that wouldn’t be necessary in this one.

Defenestrator
Defenestrator
1 month ago

Not sure how attaching them to the honeycomb structure would work, but fewer roof protrusions means you could put a lot of solar on top of these. Combined with some LFP cells and the heat pump plus an electric fridge and you could really minimize the need for propane without limiting the ability to go without hookups.

The quality issues sound like a mix between user error (condensation happens), typical Elkhart quality, and more serious QC problems. Hopefully they can at least get the last of those three dealt with.

MikeInTheWoods
MikeInTheWoods
1 month ago

How would it fare against cracking apart after miles of washboard roads and rough asphalt? That would be my concern.

Geoffrey Reuther
Geoffrey Reuther
1 month ago
Reply to  MikeInTheWoods

Initially probably fine, but after a few years, terribly. Coleman (and by extension Fleetwood) made one-piece ABS roofs for their top-end tent trailers for several years in the late 90’s and early 00’s. They would invariably crack as the UV weakened the plastic to the point that just about any stress would cause it to fracture and then leak. Your only options at that were a new $10k roof (and depending on how bad the leak was, a canvas replacement as well), or self-repair and resealing using significantly labor-intensive methods. This would typically happen between 5 and 15 years, depending on use, exposure, and storage.

Drive By Commenter
Drive By Commenter
1 month ago

These look pretty nice! I’m personally okay with seeing the underlying honeycomb, but I’m weird like that.

The heat pump under the bed can be a good and bad thing. Plenty of Aliner owners complaining about the Cool-Cat heat pump installed under the bed. Having a variable speed central home heat pump too, they’re not exactly quiet in heating mode. Cooling is a lot quieter.

For the brakes, why they didn’t install an Autowbrake trailer mounted electric brake controller is beyond me. I splashed out on one for our Aliner. That thing just plain works. It uses a brake signal activated accelerometer to gauge how much current to send to the brakes. It’s mounted on the tongue and just works. It’ll do a slight amount of braking or a lot of braking depending on how much delta-V it senses. Hills don’t phase it and it works just fine in reverse. The one downside is that it takes half a second to release from a dead stop. It’s not too big a deal since it functions as a full time hill-hold. The necessary mods on our tow pig were a 7 pin connector, 4-pin trailer light harness that plugs into the 7 pin and a dedicated power wire from the 12v battery for brakes and battery charging. Not affiliated, just a happy customer.

BobWellington
BobWellington
1 month ago

Makes sense as my neighbor’s camper always has a tarp covering it.

John McMillin
John McMillin
1 month ago

As a Scamp owner, I’m old-school, and skeptical about the endless waves of new, boxy trailers. But the value proposition for this one is undeniable, and the light weight is unbelievable. And a slide-out, on top of that? Daym!

John McMillin
John McMillin
1 month ago

Indoors and outdoor kitchens are a functional luxury. Too bad the outdoor kitchen isn’t under the awning. And what’s that beside the bathroom, bunk beds for kids? They look dark and hard to access.

Given your interest in exploring small wheeled spaces, MS, you should make a modest investment in a wide-angle lens and a little coaching about how to use it best.

Urban Runabout
Urban Runabout
1 month ago
Reply to  John McMillin

Having spent a night in a similar setup in my BIL’s trailer – They’re like being in a coffin.

Millermatic
Millermatic
1 month ago

So… if the whole thing is plastic… how about off-gassing and VOCs?

John McMillin
John McMillin
1 month ago
Reply to  Millermatic

Probably endemic to all trailers. My 2-year-old Scamp smells terrible when it’s closed up in hot weather, and it has the natural wood interior.

Lauda76
Lauda76
1 month ago

Caravans, including very capable off-grid versions are big business here in Australia. many manufacturers made the move to composite construction in the last few years but the leader and still top of our shopping list is ZoneRV (https://www.zonerv.com.au). So many older-style construction vans were basically putting the tow-car and van combination overweight and that is a factor in case of an insurance claim. Anyway, check the Zone site above, gasless (inside), one-piece roof, Starlink pre-wired, timber-free, adjustable + auto-levelling airbag off-road suspension etc etc.

Gene1969
Gene1969
1 month ago

I appreciate that you mentioned the Scamp in this article. I feel that is a great reference to compare the LIV against even if they are different sizes. The demographics are similar.

I hope you get one for a deep dive test and evaluation.

Spartanjohn113
Spartanjohn113
1 month ago
Reply to  Gene1969

I hope to see one of the 17-footers in person and see how it tows with my Maverick hybrid. However, I’d likely have to drive down to the International RV factory in Georgia to make it happen.

Gene1969
Gene1969
1 month ago
Reply to  Spartanjohn113

With the mileage you get with the Maverick it might be worth it.

DadBod
DadBod
1 month ago

It’s cool to see someone try to build a not crappy RV. The “too much interior condensation” complaint is something I thought of, since these are basically huge beer coolers. How do they handle interior moisture, especially when parked for weeks or months at a time?

Knowonelse
Knowonelse
1 month ago
Reply to  DadBod

When we are not using our slide-in camper, I have a fan set up inside with a timer along with an open (protected) vent.

Defenestrator
Defenestrator
1 month ago
Reply to  DadBod

The moisture during storage is usually pretty easy to deal with. Depending on the climate you may be able to get away with an open vent and small heater if it’s plugged in, or just seal it up as best you can and leave a couple buckets of desiccant in it. Or one of those little peltier dehumidifiers if it’s really humid and has power.

The harder part is managing moisture while it’s in use. Gotta ventilate daily and sometimes if it’s cold actively wipe up water in the morning. Those little mini-humidifiers aren’t enough to keep up with people.

JunkInTheFrunk
JunkInTheFrunk
1 month ago

This is a heck of a package for under $25k. The murphy bed is a really nice addition for usability, and I like that they took the AC off the roof. They’ve done a really nice job with outside storage as well.

Pat Rich
Pat Rich
1 month ago

I have a few concerns about the UV stability as well as the fire risk of thermoplastics, but it’s a very cool idea. The weight advantage is incredible! I can’t believe they are getting an 18 foot trailer below 2000 lbs. That being said, I think they are nuts to try and tell people to tow something with that kind of windage with a small car. It may not weigh much but the forces from aero are still going to be substantial.

I would love to see this applied to some off-road trailers to bring their weight and cost down.

Piston Slap Yo Mama
Piston Slap Yo Mama
1 month ago

What’s the R-value of the LIV plastic panels? I’d guess it’s pretty darn good, but not including that spec here is frustrating for those of us living in a deep freeze or a sweltering jungle.

UV is my mortal enemy. I’d love to know if there’s a multi-decade guarantee on the exterior’s color retention and ductability. It’s 2024, you’d think there’d be a paint coating by now that would laugh at the sun’s cancer rays.

Space
Space
1 month ago

If they entrap enough air into the structure they could easily get an R-4aybe even a 5.

Man With A Reliable Jeep
Man With A Reliable Jeep
1 month ago

Honestly, when you said plastic, I thought it would be cheesy-built, but overpriced. But…neither is the case. This is innovative, presumably durable, lightweight, and doesn’t seem like there’s many compromises. The prices appear to be reasonable too.

You convinced me, I’m a believer. My hope is that they carry over these developments to slide-in campers

MrLM002
MrLM002
1 month ago

Personally I prefer aluminum bodied trailers. UV rays damage plastic, and for something that will most likely spend the overwhelming majority of it’s life outside that can cause issues.

Also from an environmental standpoint plastic degrades into microplastics and we’ve yet to find a way to get rid of microplastics.

Eggsalad
Eggsalad
1 month ago
Reply to  MrLM002

I agree WRT UV degradation. Maybe if you have a garage or barn to store it in, but I suspect most folks don’t. Also, I’d prefer if it was more the size of a Scamp.

John McMillin
John McMillin
1 month ago
Reply to  Eggsalad

In a sunny climate, you’d have to keep a white cover on it. That deep blue color would really soak up the rays.

Space
Space
1 month ago
Reply to  MrLM002

Sure there are plenty of ways to get rid of microplastics, you can encase them in glass and drop them in the ocean, burn them, fly them into the sun…

Cal67
Cal67
1 month ago
Reply to  MrLM002

I’m with you on being leery of plastic due to UV issues. I’ve seen even UV rated plastics break down and fail within 5 years. UV resistant just means it deteriorates more slowly. If you look at ambulance construction, using welded aluminum tubing keeps it lighter than steel but still makes them strong enough to withstand a substantial impact. The warranty on this unit saying the plastic structure will not rot or mildew for the lifetime doesn’t mean much. It could still leak and all the other internal components could rot or mildew. It also seems strange that they focus on removing the A/C from the roof but still install roof vents. Any opening in a roof is a weak point that will eventually leak.

Defenestrator
Defenestrator
1 month ago
Reply to  MrLM002

The challenge with aluminum-bodied trailers in practice is the sealing. That’s a lot of seams that all have to be kept water-tight, unless it’s welded or single-piece.

For microplastics and waste, it’s worse than aluminum but probably better than the usual fiberglass/plywood laminate that has half as much plastic but lasts less than a quarter as long.

MrLM002
MrLM002
1 month ago
Reply to  Defenestrator

Also the fiberglass/plywood laminate has basically no chance of being recycled. This has the possibility of being recycled.

That being said I’m still really only interested in trailers with metal bodies, preferably aluminum.

Sc00t3r
Sc00t3r
1 month ago

We saw a couple of these colorful trailers when we drove through Tennessee over New Years and reminisced about the bright yellow 2007 Fleetwood Evolution E1 pop-up camper we used to have. For our next camper, it checks a lot of boxes: lightweight (check), minimal leak risk (check), easily towed by standard crossovers (check). However, I would be concerned how stable it would be in the Texas winds as it is lighter than a standard camper but has the same side surface area. Perhaps they should adopt a low profile solution like a Trailmanor or a Hi-Lo? If they did that, I’d be very tempted to drive back to Tennessee to get one…

Shop-Teacher
Shop-Teacher
1 month ago

That’s pretty neat. I wouldn’t need to upgrade my truck to tow that. I like how low it is.

Live2ski
Live2ski
1 month ago

Fun fact, the mountain art on the side of the trailer are the Boulder Flatirons

Erik W
Erik W
1 month ago

These have been on my radar for awhile now. I see them listed for around 25k which is hard to beat right now. I like that I could probably tow it without having to dd a big pickup. Never seen one that wasn’t plain white or with a slide so that’s big news! I hope they catch on.

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