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Northern Lite Raises the Roof

The foreheads of tall people everywhere can rejoice as the air conditioner in Northern Lite 10’2″ CD Special Edition has been lifted up, up, and away.  The new camper molds are here!

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Keith Donkin, General Manager for Northern Lite, was starting to leak the exciting news at the 2011 Springfield RV Show last February.  The new fiberglass molds for the Northern Lite 10’2” CD Special Edition were done and taller campers were just around the corner.

As someone who’s 6’3”, this was very welcome news.  The interior of Northern Lite truck campers have always been just tall enough to allow me to stand and walk around comfortably.  That is, until I hit the air conditioner.  Right smack dab center of Northern Lite truck campers, the underside of the air conditioner would hit me right smack dab in the center of my forehead.  And there’s nothing to ruin an otherwise favorable camper impression than a whack to the noggin.

I had voiced my concern to Keith a number of times.  He’d grin and say, “Just duck”.  I guess that’s funny coming from the guy with geese on his campers.  Anyway, for the past five years I’ve “ducked” and covered Northern Lite truck campers figuring most folks aren’t 6’3” or are clever enough to avoid a header.

Getting back to the 2011 Springfield RV Show, it was amazing how many tall guys kept coming out the Northern Lite 10’2” CD Special Edition and saying, “I love that camper, but I wish it were a little taller inside”.  Oh no, the dreaded air conditioner strikes again!  But this time, Keith would grin and say, “Just wait”.  He was about to take it higher.

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ABOVE: There I am standing 6’3″ tall and clearing the air conditioner.  And yes, I need a haircut.

TCM: Off the top of my head, I can think of at least one reason why you decided to raise the interior height of the Northern Lite 10’2” Special Edition.  But what’s the official story?

Keith: It was a combination of two things that made us change the interior height of our truck campers.  First, we keep track of what changes our customers want to our campers.  My father and I go to RV shows throughout the season and listen to what customers and potential customers have to say.  One thing that was brought to our attention was that people wanted additional head room, especially if they wanted an air conditioner.

TCM: I’ll take some of the credit for that.  I know we talked about it a few times.  Ahem.

Keith: Yes we did.  The second reason we changed the height of our campers was that customers didn’t like to use lift kits in the new trucks.  Changing the molds eliminates the need for lift kits.

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ABOVE: Here I am standing in the bathroom.  I took this picture myself so I have no one to blame for what has to be the worst picture ever.  Get a haircut you hippy!

TCM: As a molded fiberglass truck camper company, you can’t just adjust the frame jig on the line to accommodate the new trucks.

Keith: That’s right.  Because Northern Lites are made from a fiberglass mold, it’s harder than other manufacturers to just change the height of our campers.

TCM: Did both the top and bottom molds change, or just one of the two?

Keith: We actually just needed to build a new bottom mold.  The top mold is the same.

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ABOVE: This photograph was taken from the rear door facing towards the cabover bedroom.  Notice the space above the cabover bedroom entry.

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ABOVE: This photograph shows the increased height above the rear door.

TCM: Can you tell us about the process of building a new mold?

Keith: We start with a mold prototype, or plug.  We built the prototype in our shop out of gel coat, fiberglass, and balsa wood, which is typical for most fiberglass molds.  Once it was completed, we sent it out to a mold building shop.

It’s a very exacting process with lots of careful measurements.  We have made many molds so we’re experts in the procedure.

TCM: How much taller are the new molds?

Keith: The new molds are three inches taller.  You get an additional three inches of height for the entire ceiling in the main galley and you get additional headroom in our bathroom in all of our 10’2” models; the 10’2” CD Special Edition, the 10’2 CD, the 10’2” RR, and the 10’2” RD.  We did not increase the height in the overcab because it would hit the top of the cab for some truck models.

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ABOVE: The 2012 Northern Lite 10’2″ CD Special Edition with the taller molds does not look very different from the outside.

TCM: From the exterior, would a casual observer be able to tell the difference between a new and old Northern Lite 10’2” CD Special Edition?

Keith: From the outside of the camper you won’t be able to tell that the new 10’2” campers are taller.  They look almost identical.  From the inside, they still look very similar, except for the additional headroom.

TCM: Camper molds can last for many years and are considerably expensive.  Did you take advantage of this new mold process to make any other changes?

Keith: There was nothing else that we needed to change at this time.

TCM: We’re talking about the Northern Lite 10’2” Special Edition now, but I’m sure many of our readers are wondering how long it will be until we start to see some other Northern Lite models get the raised roof, new mold treatment.

Keith: Right now, it’s just for the 10’2” models including the Special Edition.  We put it in our plan for 2011 to do four new molds.  The engineering of building a new mold is not a super complex process, but it does take five to six months to complete.  The fourth camper will be a new model for a half ton compatible camper.  It will be the last mold set we do.

TCM: A new Northern Lite?  Can you tell us anything more?

Keith: Not yet.  For now all I can tell you is that we’re working on something exciting for the half ton camper market.

TCM: We look forward to debuting that camper in Truck Camper Magazine.  Will all Northern Lite campers get taller molds?

Keith: Our light series and our 8-5 Q Classics will not get new molds at this time.  And the new camper we are planning to build for 2011 may eliminate some of those models.

TCM: Did the new mold change the price of the 10’2” CD Special Edition?

Keith: No.  Building new molds is part of the operating overhead costs of our business.  Typically we’ve done one mold a year.

TCM: What is the weight change in the new camper?

Keith: It’s averaging about forty pounds more for the new molded campers, which is not a significant change.  In our brochure, we have the weight of the 10’2” CD Special Edition campers at 2,980 pounds.  With the new molds, the camper weighs in at 3,020 pounds.  Remember the 10’2” CD Special Editions have all of the available options included, minus the generator and new LED lighting package.  So, that’s a weight with a very long list of options that are standard features.

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ABOVE: The LED lighting package changes all of the interior lights inside of the 2012 Northern Lite 10’2″ Special Edition to LED.

TCM: Will the older lower profile mold still be available for special order, or is the new taller mold the only size available?

Keith: No. When we switch to new molds, all of our jigs have to be retooled.  Making a shorter camper for someone would be a retooling backwards job.

All of the interior walls are done by jigs, as well as the wall paneling and insulation.  When we made the new molds, all of this had to be modified by three inches.  We also had to change all the cabinet jigs.  There was a lot of prototyping that led to this small change of three inches.  We couldn’t change the jigs until the fiberglass shell was made.

TCM: Have there been any other changes for 2011?

Keith: The LED lighting that we’ve introduced has gone over really well.  It also comes with an exterior porch light.  The LED package is optional on all our models.  Ninety percent of our truck campers are going out with LED lighting.  We tried a lot of lights to get a color we are comfortable with.

There’s only a three amp draw or less and that’s with every light in the camper on.  Before we had all LED lighting that was over eighteen amps.  So, if you’re dry camping, have LED lights, and you keep your lights on, you can go camping six times longer.

There is also an optional 7′ wide rear awning now available for all 10’2″, 9’6″ Queen Classic, and 8’11” Queen Classic models.  Fat ladders are now standard on all 10’2″, 9’6″ Queen Classic, and 8’11” Queen Classic models.  And we are currently prototyping a dry bath model in our 10’2″ RR model.

TCM: Wow!  A dry bath Northern Lite!  I know a lot of people will be excited to hear about that.  Are the new 10’2” CD Special Editions with the new molds at dealers now?

Keith: Yes, the new 10’2” models are at dealers now.  You will know they are different because they have a serial number with a B in them instead of a N.

TCM: So, you’ll give us a call when the new half-ton model is ready?

Keith: Of course.

 

 

Truck Camper Information
American RV Dealership Grand Rapids, Michigan

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