With the new Travelino, the Knaus Tabbert Group puts forward its best efforts to create what might become an actual benchmark in the RV industry over the next few years. In order to gain a comprehensive insight in this issue, we interviewed Mr Thomas Frick, Head of Knaus Tabbert Group’s Technology Concept Development.
Words Jörg Nullmeyer
APRIL 2017 – Presented in 2014, the Travelino prototype was the starting point for a debate that, within the Knaus Tabbert Group, resulted in a broader project that is almost unprecedented in the European caravan industry’s recent history. The new Travelino creates the foundation for the redefinition of the Knaus Tabbert Group’s caravan building system, and perhaps, in future, will help develop new solutions for motorhomes. At first sight we saw only a new small caravan at the last Caravan Salon in Düsseldorf. But only the exterior resembles the previous models. Technically, the caravan is the first of a new product family, which focusses on lightweight construction and many innovations in detail. The investments made by the Knaus Tabbert Group are quite notable, which is a clear sign that the chief goal here is not simply to create a new caravan model, but to dramatically change the way recreational vehicle construction is conceived. This is precisely why we requested the opinion of one of the most highly regarded persons in this paradigm shift, Mr Thomas Frick, Head of the Knaus Tabbert Group’s Technology Concept Development.
Mr Frick, could you please explain how the Travelino project was born?
We are introducing the second Travelino at this year’s CMT fair. In 2014, we introduced a Travelino for the first time at the Caravan Salon in Düsseldorf. At that time, it was a concept focusing on the topic of lightweight caravan construction. We completed this in collaboration with a partner company. With the trade show presentation of the Travelino, the topic of lightweight construction was presented and discussed in public. The Travelino brought a very positive customer and media response. This feedback led to a lot of further open questions that transcended the concept of the original Travelino. In addition, today we tackle issues that deal with ongoing political discussions. For example, in Norway, Germany, the Netherlands and in other European countries, politicians are debating the large-scale introduction of electric mobility as well as a ban on the new registration of vehicles with internal-combustion engines. In this context, we have to ask ourselves how we can react to such a situation as an industry, because ultimately traditional vehicles are necessary for caravans today. In addition, we have to consider both low emissions as well as other topics such as rising energy costs, sustainability, and environmental concerns. These are all things that give us an overall picture for our future vehicles. That is why Knaus has taken a very bold step forward. We retracted the vehicle completely, when back to the drawing board and re-envisioned the entire concept. In collaboration with our external partners, we asked ourselves what a vehicle would look like if it could answer all of these questions. This was the initial starting point for the entire process. In 2015, we finally launched the white paper. Starting from scratch, we came up with ideas for a caravan that provides answers and solutions for future needs.
At that point in time, the Travelino was nothing more than a model of a caravan. Do you have plans to develop additional models and are you planning to adapt the Travelino project to other brands of the Group?
At Knaus Tabbert, we viewed the Travelino as the start of a big project. We are now trying to adapt the system to other vehicle series. This is a very complex topic, we have not only worked on a construction site, but the entire vehicle concept has been re-designed piece by piece. In a second step, we are going to produce the following series and models, which bring the principle of frame technology into a higher variety of products.
Are you planning to transform this Travelino concept for motorhomes?
As a logical consequence, motorhomes will be very important for us at a later stage. The technology offers many advantages, which cannot only be used in caravans but in all types of RVs.
Travelino is the start of a big project. We will expand the production site in Jandelsbrunn through an inv estment of € 33 million in 2017. 33 Can you provide us with some information about the weight reduction in kilograms or per cent, compared to a normal structure?
That is a very difficult question to answer. Currently, we are faced with the following situation: a present-day caravan is basically a square box. A box that is, properly formulated, nicely disguised, is equipped with all functions and that shapes the vehicle using more conventional technologies. The frame technology allows us to create a new type of three-dimensionality, not only with an automotive design, but also with the reduction of the aerodynamic resistance. Now, completely different design possibilities are available, which cannot be represented with the standard construction methods. For this reason, a direct comparison is not possible. However, in terms of its weight the Travelino is about 200 to 250 kilograms lighter than standard caravans with similar structural sizes. This means that a comparable caravan would be around 900 to 920 kilograms, while the permissible total mass of the Travelino is 750 kilograms. A rough guideline is a weight saving of around 20 per cent. However, this depends on the design and the installed functions. Therefore, it is a difficult question to definitively answer.
What about the chassis?
Of course, we also took every detail of the chassis into consideration. In this way, we were confronted with topics that were new to us. Now, we have found a solution where, together with our partner BPW, we also work with bionic concepts. In addition, we have reduced the amount of material and material strengths and used modern surface technologies such as micro-galvanizing. These factors have all contributed to weight savings. We have used an axle that reduces vibrations, which means that fewer vibrations enable a reduction in material strength. We have worked on countless details with the effect that we have achieved about 30 per cent in weight savings compared to the standard chassis.
What about the furniture? Have any innovations been made to the furniture?Is the weight less than in a normal caravan?
Not only the chassis and the frame, but our furniture has also changed. In this context, we use several approaches. On the one hand, we utilise sandwich materials for the furniture – materials that are rarely used in furniture construction for caravans. In addition, we use furniture made from EPP – expanded polypropylene. This gives us completely new design possibilities. Because we are able to shape this material, we can integrate additional functions. This also works well with wood, but it is a very elaborate process, since construction requires the use of numerous parts. Now we can integrate everything into the mould tool, which saves us additional weight. Especially with the combination of new lightweight construction materials in sandwich construction in the wood area on the one hand and the EPP on the other hand, we have been able to achieve very good results. This has the consequence that the entire manufacturing and processing has changed. It is no longer possible to saw, mill and connect everything as it is now. You can’t affix anything by driving a screw into foam. This is why we have devised new connectivity solutions. The connectors are embedded in the sandwich. By sequence that the entire working and processing has changed. It is no longer possible to saw, mill and connect everything as it is now. You can’t fix anything with a screw in the foam. This is why we have devised new connectivity solutions. The connectors are in the sandwich. By means of ultrasound, the connecting element is heated for a very short time, that gives an intimate material connection between the outer layers and with a similar high tearing strength that is achieved with conventional material. The result is excellent. Currently, this is not possible with other processes in the sandwich. In addition, we glue the surface elements, such as side walls, together in such a way that we obtain an extremely stable structure which no longer requires the furniture as static support. If they drive today with a classic caravan without furniture, the vehicle would be broken within a few kilometers. There is no sufficient stability. The furniture is important to make the entire system sufficiently accessible. We now have a system that is self-stabilized and therefore we can position our furniture modules almost freely in the vehicle. In the future, we are in a position to produce our own ground plans, which give us completely new possibilities.
Do you know already a price for this product? Is it much more compared to a traditional caravan?
We now have a few things that are exceptional at Travelino. At the moment, we assume that we will have a very good level of equipment and furnishings. We do not want to offer a normal standard but products at the highest level – also in every detail. One example of our premium equipment is the new underfloor heating system. It gives us more space in the vehicle, however its cost is high. We have other issues in preparation that do not make the standards comparable. The Travelino is certainly a little more expensive than a standard caravan. If, however, we produce corresponding volumes in three to four years, then a relative price neutrality is probable. The integration of the new technologies means, of course, new work processes in production. In order to achieve this, we will massively expand the production site at our German headquarters in Jandelsbrunn. In 2017, we will invest a total of 33 million euros. This means that we achieve a higher level of automation through the installation of a new technical system that offers significantly more process reliability. Ultimately, the issue of quality is given a higher priority because the bonding process must be defined as precisely as possible. We will avoid screw connections if possible and are therefore in the need of an increase in process reliability. The frame is of course a very important module for us. Besides the optics and the low weight, it offers the possibility to implement additional functions. This allows us to distinguish ourselves further from the competition.