Torklift International is developing a new multi-function aftermarket truck camper bumper system. Here’s a sneak peek at the first Summit prototypes, and an important question from Torklift International.
With our original factory bumper, one almost needed a grapple hook and rope to climb into our project camper. The standard pull-down step and shallow bumper system created an extremely steep ascent. The angle and space between the steps was closer to a ladder than anything resembling residential height stairs. Getting out? We usually just yelled, “To Infinity… And Beyond!”, and jumped.
Okay, that was a bit dramatic, but we really did have an abrupt camper entry and exit. We often needed to apologize to folks who wanted to see inside our camper, but were uncomfortable with the step and bumper system. We were used to it, and got in and out of our camper like Bo and Luke leaping into the General Lee. That said, our original factory bumper and entry step system was definitely a hazard.
Above: Our original bumper and steep entry and exit angle – click to enlarge
“I sure wish we could get a Torklift International bumper like the Northwood Fox Landing, or the Palomino Landing Pad, or the Lance Ultra Deck Plus,” I said to Angela earlier this spring.
“Me too,” she answered. We were dreaming.
Fast forward a few months. We stopped by Torklift International in Washington State during our “Never Seen That Tour” to see their new factory. On the day of our arrival, we showed Jack Kay, President of Torklift International, our camper and factory bumper and step system. Moments later, our cat Harley came to the camper door and stole the show. He does that.
That afternoon we went to lunch with Jack and members of the Torklift International leadership team. Unbeknownst to us, a team of Torklift International minions was descending upon our rig while we were out. Measurements, photography, and notes were taken, and a call was made.
Jack’s phone rang at the restaurant.
“Hello? …Okay, good. Thank you.”
“No promises yet Gordon and Angela, but our team is working on a prototype bumper system for you.”
Above: Our old bumper (top) next to Prototype A of the Torklift International Summit bumper system (bottom) – click to enlarge
Above: The new taller and deeper Torklift International Summit bumper step with glow elements (top) next to the old bumper step (bottom) – click to enlarge
Well, toss the grapple hooks, burn the ropes, and cancel the extra life insurance policy! That was the best news we had in a long time.
It turned out that Torklift International was already working on an aftermarket bumper concept, and our rig was the perfect test mule. This was one of those win-win situations that you can’t plan for, but you can sure try.
Above: Torklift International Summit Prototype A bumper, brackets, and step – click to enlarge
When we returned home to Pennsylvania, Torklift International shipped the first prototype bumper to Stoltzfus RV & Marine, a Torklift International dealer near us.
During the test installation, we found a few items that needed to be addressed and sent our install notes and photography to Torklift International. This was expected, and is the very nature of prototyping and test fitting a new product.
“We will get right on that, and send you another prototype,” answered Jack.
Three weeks later, Torklift International adjusted the design and shipped a new bumper. Upon studying the design, it appeared they had nailed it. Two notches in the bumper deck would now permit the jacks be brought in for optimum placement.
Above: Martin and Bill at Stoltzfus RV & Marine were our install team. Removing Prototype A took some work since we used Sikaflex 521 under the brackets. Next time we’ll do a dry test fit first.
A few days before Thanksgiving, we returned to Stoltzfus RV & Marine, removed the Prototype A bumper and brackets, and installed the updated Prototype B bumper and brackets.
The notches in the Prototype B bumper worked well, but the brackets needed one more adjustment for perfection. Again, we sent our notes and photography to Torklift International so they could fabricate one more round of brackets.
Above: Installing Prototype B with Martin and Bill at Stoltzfus RV & Marine
Just prior to the second bumper installation, we interviewed Jack Kay, and Jay Taylor, General Manager, and Candice Boutilier, Sr. Vice President of Marketing, about the Summit bumper project. That interview unfolded a much bigger vision for the Summit, and an exciting opportunity for you to participate in what the final Summit bumper system becomes.
To be clear, what Torklift International built for us is just a concept. What they’ll bring to market next year as the final product is still very much on the drawing table. Will the final Summit look like the Prototype B bumper on our rig, or something never seen before? As you’re about to read, the answer is in your hands.
Above: The Prototype B Summit bumper installed on our project rig – click to enlarge
TCM: What’s the back story on the Summit project?
Jay: We launched into manufacturing custom aluminum OEM bumpers almost five years ago. The response to those bumpers from the manufacturers has been fantastic with strong consumer demand.
With each new OEM bumper debut, we received more and more requests for a universal fit aftermarket bumper system. You added to that growing chorus when you visited the Torklift International headquarters this past Summer.
About that same time Jack was preparing to climb Mount Rainier. As a team, we decided these two efforts should be brought together as part of our 40th anniversary celebration for Torklift International.
Above video: Torklift International Summits Mount Rainier
Jack: The experience of training for and then climbing Mount Rainier correlates with everything we do at Torklift International. Leading up to the climb, I had to train rigorously for the better part of a year. During the climb, I had to overcome unforeseen obstacles including crossing deep crevasses and rock slide areas.
While not physically dangerous like the climb, business can be same way. Moving our organization from point A to point B requires overcoming obstacles and crevasses in design, production, distribution, marketing, and sales. That’s the nature of business.
As Jay pointed out, the Torklift International Summit bumper system will be our 40th anniversary product. The challenge this product represents is perfect for this celebration. It’s also a wonderful opportunity to involve our loyal truck camper customers and make the Summit bumper system exactly what the truck camper community wants it to be.
TCM: The first prototype bumper ran into a conflict with the jack placement being too wide to accommodate State Deptartment of Transportation requirements. How did you overcome that design obstacle?
Jack: The Torklift International team is very good at overcoming design challenges. As we do with any challenge, we studied the situation, brainstormed new ideas, and our engineering team came back with a solution. Our bumper production team then took the SolidWorks design from engineering, built the second aluminum Summit bumper prototype, and brought it to our inventory and shipping team.
Above: The Prototype B Summit design is based on the Palomino Landing Pad with two lockable exterior storage compartments – click to enlarge
TCM: The Summit appears to be based on the bumper system Torklift International designed for Palomino RV, the Landing Pad. How does the Summit differentiate from the Palomino system?
Jay: The Palomino Landing Pad design is the baseline for the Summit because of the way it mounts off the camper jack assembly and is bolted to the truck camper. This method of attachment, and its popularity, made the Landing Pad a good starting point for the universal fit Summit. We plan to arrive at an entirely new design upon the bumper’s completion and hope the basis of the Landing Pad will spark imagination and ideas of what features customers are hoping for in a universal bumper application.
With your project camper, we have a proof of concept that an aftermarket bumper, based on the Palomino Landing Pad and its jack attachment method, works well with older units. Now we want gather feedback from Truck Camper Magazine readers as to what they want in an aftermarket bumper.
Jack: We are excited to include our customers in the process of designing and producing the Summit bumper. Right now it’s a blank canvas and we are asking for feedback. Specifically, we want a wish list of features and design parameters to guide us on the final design.
This part of the process is normally done behind the scenes, but we want to openly engage our customers and your readers on what they want to see in a bumper. When we have all the feedback, we will do our best to put the requested features into the final production product.
Above: The final Torklift International Summit bumper design can have LED lighting, glow elements, and auxiliary ports – click to enlarge
TCM: That’s an interesting approach to new product design, and one that our readership is going to enjoy participating in. Are you concerned about how a long list of customer requested features will meet the realities of design, production, cost, and installation?
Jay: From a design standpoint, all of those challenges come into play. In addition to your list, we need the bumpers to be durable, and be aesthetically beautiful when mounted on a camper. The Summit needs to able to handle the weight of people entering and exiting the camper.
What consumers don’t often see are the hidden elements in a truck camper. For example, the frame, location of plumbing, electrical, and gas lines, and how a generator is installed. All of these elements are critical to the Summit’s design effort, and vary from brand to brand, and camper model to camper model. It’s a complex challenge to balance these factors against customer wants and expectations.
This is also why the universal jack mount system from the Landing Pad is so attractive for an aftermarket bumper. Using this approach, the Summit will have the ability to fit the most campers possible.
Candice: All we really know is that the final Summit design will attach to the jack mounts, just as the Landing Pad does. After that, we will incorporate the wants and needs of your readers to make the ultimate aftermarket bumper system. We’re really looking forward to their feedback.
Jack: We developed a prototype for your project camper so folks could have something to look at and think about. It’s hard to sell a house with just a dirt lot. That’s why builders have model homes. Well, your prototype is our model Summit, a vision of what it could be. Now it’s your readership’s turn to tell us where to take it from here.
TCM: What materials will the Summit be manufactured from?
Jack: As you know, Torklift International has extensive product development experience with aluminum. The Summit will be manufactured with both aircraft grade aluminum, and military grade aluminum. By utilizing these materials, we are able to make our bumpers as light, durable, and strong as possible. They can safely handle the required load, while exceeding standards in durability. After all, the Summit will carry the legendary lifetime warranty Torklift International is known for.
TCM: Will the final Summit be compatible with all rear entry truck camper makes and models?
Jack: The Summit will be compatible with as many rear entry truck campers as possible. The only universal mounting points on truck campers are the jack mounts. By using the jack mounts for the Summit, it should fit most campers.
That stated, we may need to design two or even three versions of the Summit to ensure true universal compatibility. This is the same approach we take for our tie-down systems that differ in design for the brand, make, and model of literally hundreds of truck configurations.
TCM: Is compatibility with other Torklift International products and accessories a requirement? For example, the SuperHitch Outlaw Series, GlowStep system, and Lock and Load series?
Jack: Yes. We want to make the Summit fully compatible with all the accessories and features that Torklift International offers. We also want to be able to incorporate other features.
TCM: Is there a target date for the Summit availability? And what will the Summit cost?
Jack: We’re targeting it to be complete in 2016. The MSRP is a moving target based on how the Summit winds up being configured.
TCM: What’s the next step?
Jack: Now it’s time to hear from your readers. When you publish this article, ask your readers what they want in an aftermarket bumper system. Show them pictures of your installation, but make it clear that your bumper is just an example of what’s possible.
TCM: Are there design specifics that you’re hoping to discover?
Jack: Do folks want the possibility of a side-entry system or would they be interested in a slide-out storage platform?
We want to leave the field open and get as much feedback as possible. In the end, we may come back to the original prototype design, but it may change depending on what people want. The survey’s feedback will steer the final product.
Above: The Torklift International logo and LED light strip on the back of the Torklift International Summit Prototype B – click to enlarge
TCM: Is there anything else about the Summit that you would like to add before folks start answering the survey?
Jay: For the first time, Torklift International is openly gathering customer ideas during the prototype phase. We will carefully read all of the feedback you have for us.
It doesn’t cost anything to dream. We don’t care how wild or crazy your ideas are. We can do a lot from a manufacturing point of view. Even if an idea doesn’t get used for the Summit, it will be put on a list for R&D for the future.
Jack: Help us to envision what the back of your camper could be. Think about the things you want. What problems are you dealing with now? And what could be overcome through a new bumper design? This is an exciting opportunity to be actively involved in the design of the product. We’re all looking forward to your ideas and suggestions.
TCM: Thank you, Jack, Jay, and Candice.
Just in case you were wondering what we did with the first Torklift International Summit Prototype bumper, Torklift International showed us how to turn it into a canoe.