Northern Lite is unleashing a torrent of new standard features and options across its clamshell fiberglass truck camper line. And that’s not the really big news. Check out the new glass frameless thermal pane windows, and the all-new 10-2 EX dry bath!
At the end of our interview with Keith Donkin, General Manager for Northern Lite, stated, “This has been a year of a lot of changes. In fact, we have more model year changes for 2021 than any other year in our history. In every model, there have been significant improvements.”
There can be no doubt that 2021 is bringing a long list of changes to Northern Lite – some of them quite major. For example, the 2021 Northern Lite 8-11 EX short-bed models can now be optioned with a built-in Onan 2500 LP generator. For Northern Lite’s short bed customers, that’s a big deal!
Northern Lite has made a huge upgrade to its Sportsman line. Now called the Sportsman Plus, Northern Lite offers their 8-11 EX and 9-6 Sportsman Plus models with more standard features and options than ever before.
The Limited Editions are also getting meaningful updates. For 2021, Northern Lite Limited Editions will come standard with two 185-watt solar panels. That’s more standard solar than other manufacturers offer as an option. They also get a wireless backup camera, removable third step, and a 10.5-foot side power awning.
Of all the updates, we are most excited to see the optional frameless windows and the new 10-2 EX dry bath. While we appreciate the lighter weight, wider-opening, and superior thermal insulation of the Dometic S5 acrylic windows (still standard across the board for 2021), something tells us the optional frameless windows are going to be a big hit. They sure look fantastic in the photos.
For all the details, and to help us sort our what new feature and option goes with which 2021 model, we talked with Keith Donkin, General Manager for Northern Lite.
Click here to get a free 2021 Northern Lite brochure.
Above: The Northern Lite team practicing social distancing at their factory stations, all photos in this article courtesy of Northern Lite Mfg.
Is everyone at Northern Lite healthy and safe?
Yes. I personally don’t know anyone here in British Columbia who has had Covid-19. For the most part, we have been spared with authorities reporting no active cases in our area at this time. The majority of cases in British Columbia have been from people who have traveled.
Another factor was the timing of our Spring Break. Spring Break in British Columbia was after the authorities closed down travel and canceled flights and trips. Spring Break in Quebec occurred before the shutdowns and they had a lot more Covid-19 as a result. There have also been a good number of cases in Vancouver.
Did Northern Lite shut down?
No. We have stayed in production the whole time. The Canadian government deemed all manufacturing as an essential business, so we continued making campers.
Up until a couple weeks ago, no business in Canada could have over 50-people in their building. To comply with this order, we had to lay off 30-people.
The US-Canadian border was closed, but commercial traffic was permitted. All of our drivers are commercial, so we had no problems shipping our campers to the United States.
In the United States, the Payroll Protection Plan helped businesses pay their employees during the mandated shutdowns. Is there an equivalent for Canadian companies?
The Canadian government had a few programs for small businesses but, because of our size, we did not qualify. All of the government programs were for small businesses.
There was a wage subsidy program for employers whose business dropped by 30-percent. There also was a quickly instituted program for laid-off workers to get $2,000 CAD a month (approximately $1,483 USD).
Following a trip to England, the Canadian Prime Minister’s wife tested positive for Covid-19 in early March. So our Prime Minister was in isolation right off the bat. He practiced what he preached.
Did you need to change the factory for social distancing?
Coffee and vending machines that multiple people could touch were removed. Employees that work closer than six-feet are required to wear masks, which we supply. Everyone on our team was definitely understanding of the situation.
Before Covid-19, we were building at maximum capacity. Our output was reduced during the epidemic because we could only have 30-guys on the production line. Fortunately, we were able to utilize the inventory we had in stock.
Have you had any challenges getting materials, parts or appliances?
About two weeks ago Top Line – manufacturer of Phat ladders – announced they were closing permanently. Then, this past Monday, Top Line announced they had re-opened. That’s good news as we didn’t want to change back to “skinny” ladders.
Dometic has been extremely helpful in finding us what we need and making sure it’s shipped to us. Only one other US supplier has long lead times. We have samples from other suppliers should that become an issue.
Are you back in full production at this point?
Yes, we are back at full output. We started bringing back people in the fiberglass shop and pushed those units up the line. We have brought a majority of our people back.
Above: A fun drone fly-over inside the Northern Lite factory
What’s your personal perspective on the Covid-19 situation and what it means for Northern Lite and the RV marketplace in general?
People do not want to fly on planes or stay in hotels right now. The US-Canadian border is closed, so people are not going far for vacation. Having an RV means that you can control where you stay.
Throughout this situation, we have noticed that some of the worst areas impacted by Covid have had the biggest sales. Montreal was the worst hit and the dealer there has had phenomenal spring sales. In some areas of the United States, we noticed that as well. Now we’re seeing it across the board. Everyone is busy.
I’m sure there are going to be supply issues as RV manufacturers are being reopened and we are all trying to get products. I don’t think Covid is going away, so there is going to be strong demand for the next few years.
Above: Two 185-watt solar panels on a 2021 Northern Lite roof
That’s spot on with what we’re hearing. Let’s talk about your 2021 updates. Why are you making two 185-watt solar panels standard for 2021 Northern Lite Limited Editions? That’s a lot of solar power.
More and more people are dry camping. Last year we made two 100-watt solar panels standard. That’s enough for most people, but some wanted more. When I go dry camping, I want more solar power. Rather than adding a third panel, we are going with two 185-watt panels.
As you stated, two 185-watt solar panels are standard on the 2021 Northern Lite Limited Editions, and optional for the Special Editions and Sportsman Plus models.
The Special Editions and Sportsman Plus models still come standard with two 100-watt solar panels. At 200-watts, that’s more standard solar power than any other truck camper manufacturer offers.
Are you looking to also increase the size of the battery bank?
For 2021, we have done that for our 10-2 EX models. Previously we had two battery boxes. Now we have one large battery box that can accommodate larger batteries. For example, if a customer wants to install two 6-volt batteries in a 2021 Northern Lite 10-2 EX model, it’s simple. The new 10-2 EX battery box is the same size as the 8-11 EX’s battery box.
Tell us about the new 10.5-foot power side awning that’s standard for the 2021 Limited Editions. What was the standard for the Limited Editions before?
We replaced a 10-foot Carefree Freedom three-crank manual awning with a 10.5-foot Carefree Latitude power awning. The new power awning has LED lighting in the arms and end of the awning. It also has built-in wind sensors to bring in the awning if the weather gets bad.
This decision was based on the success of the electric rear awning. We wanted a side awning that was equally easy to deploy and worked well. The Carefree Latitudes were on the two units we took to SEMA last year, and have proven to be very reliable.
Does the new 10.5-foot power awning standard for all three Limited Edition models; 10-2 EX, 9-6, and 8-11 EX?
Yes. It’s standard on all Limited Edition models. The Special Edition and the Sportsman Plus will get the previous manual awning standard.
Northern Lite has never had a factory-installed backup camera. Why are you making a wireless backup camera standard for 2021 Limited Editions?
Before now, the dealers would install backup cameras for our customers. We find that it’s easier and cleaner to have it installed at the factory.
With the backup camera, we’ve chosen the monitor can be simply picked up and relocated into your camper. You can keep it on the countertop and plug it into the 12-volt outlet on the counter. It is a nice security monitor so that you can see what’s behind your camper. The camera itself is mounted slightly to the left of the entrance door. You can also use it to see what you’re towing.
The wireless backup camera is standard for 2021 Limited Editions and optional for 2021 Special Editions.
What is the make and model of the new wireless backup camera?
It is a Furrion Vision 4.3” with night vision and wide-angle viewing.
For 2021, Northern Lite is adding an exterior 110-volt outlet to every model. Why is an exterior 110-volt outlet something that you wanted to add across the board?
On the last few trips I’ve taken with my demo camper, I felt it would have been handy to have. With the built-in Onan LP2500 generator, I could use the exterior 110-volt outlet to charge my ATV and electric bikes.
Customers can also run portable speakers, laptops, or really anything that needs 110-volt power. For those reasons, we added it as a standard feature in everything we build. It’s convenient.
Talk to us about the new removable third-step. Why did you develop this feature?
For taller rig set-ups, the third-step gets you closer to the ground. It stows when traveling above our folded two-step. Two quick pins are pulled to get in and out of the camper. It’s just about invisible when it’s in the stowed location.
When you are staying at a campsite, you fold it down and it hooks over the bottom steps. It is powder-coated to match the standard steps and bumper.
We have been working for over a year to get the third-step production-friendly. We didn’t want any moving parts. We tried slide assemblies. This system hooks over the bottom step and has proven to be reliable.
For 2021, the removable third-step is standard on the Limited Edition and optional on the Special Edition and the Sportsman Plus.
The 9-inch wider U-shape dinette that’s standard in the 2021 Sportsman Plus models surprised us. Where did this design concept come from?
Before Covid-19, we had an order of 50-units from rental companies. Then all flights from Europe got canceled and the rental unit order was canceled. That left us with 50 units we needed to find a home for. We tweaked the units to make them retail-friendly and they were very well received.
The rental units all featured the new 9-inch wider U-shape dinette. When the rental companies placed their order, they asked us to add 8-inches to the dinette’s width. When converted into a bed, the wider dinette allows for more comfortable sleeping for adults.
Originally we were going to add 6-inches, but went ahead with the requested 8-inches. When we showed the rental companies the prototype, they asked for one more inch.
Doesn’t the 9-inch wider dinette come into the main walking area?
It does, but it doesn’t feel crowded or impact the kitchen space. We also made sure that the space between the end of the seat and the refrigerator had enough room to open the door and, if needed, to swap out the refrigerator. You also gain space in the dinette for sitting. It’s been very well received by everyone who’s seen it.
The 2021 Sportsman Plus actually only comes with the wider U-shaped dinette. This dinette is optional in the Special Edition and Limited Edition, but is only optional in the 8-11 EX and 9-6.
For 2021, the Sportsman Plus models only come with the brown and light grey leatherette interior. Why did you select that interior?
We just felt that the brown and light grey leatherette was the best all-around look for the bigger dinette. Since we aren’t giving a decor choice for the Sportsman Plus models, we wanted something that would be popular with a lot of customers.
Prior to the 2021 models, the 8-11 EX models did not have an optional built-in Onan 2500 LP generator. How were you able to add a built-in generator option to the 8-11 EX for 2021?
We were able to add the Onan 2500 LP to the 8-11 EX by custom designing a box. We added two access doors to install and service the generator. This box is only put in if the camper is factory-ordered with an Onan Generator. Otherwise, it comes with the standard storage box which holds a portable Honda eu2200i portable generator.
We have always offered a built-in generator for our 10-2 EX and 9-6 models, but not on our 8-11 and 8-11 EX short box models. That stated, the standard storage boxes on these units will carry a Honda eu2200i or eu2000i portable generator. That’s a popular choice for many of our customers.
Built-in generators are not standard on anything we build. We sell very few of the built-ins in Canada. They typically just go to southern states. Northern Lites are well insulated, so many customers never need an air conditioner. Also, a portable 2,000-watt generator will run our air conditioner and microwave.
Above: A 2021 Northern Lite 9-6 Sportsman Plus
Are there any exterior changes for 2021?
We did a mid-model year change of the exterior graphics in 2020, so we’re continuing with those. The Limited Edition has the raised chrome graphics. Grey carbon fiber graphics are standard on Special Editions for 2021.
Above: The raised chrome on the Limited Editions
The Limited Editions were a big success when they debuted in late 2018. Are they still outselling the Special Editions and Sportsman models?
Yes, the Limited Editions are our top sellers. Customers like that the Limited Editions come fully optioned. The Limited Editions also have standard features that you can’t get in the other models including the solid hardwood table, raised graphics, and the 10.5-foot power side awning. You can’t get these features if you don’t buy a Limited.
The Special Editions are still about a third of our sales. As a relatively new line, the Sportsman Plus models are doing very well.
Above: 2021 Northern Lite Sportsman Plus
Why would someone get a Sportsman Plus over the other models?
Not everyone needs everything on a Limited Edition or Special Edition. The Sportsman Plus models come with fewer features, but you still get the core of what makes our products unique and desirable. Specifically, you get our two-piece fiberglass construction, class-leading quality, and 6-year warranty. The Sportsman Plus models have a lower price point, but we don’t cut corners on anything.
The Sportsman Plus is only available as an 8-11 EX and 9-6. Why not offer a 10-2 EX Sportsman Plus model?
The demand for a 10-2 EX Sportsman Edition just isn’t there. People that want a 10-2 EX want either our Special Edition of Limited Edition models.
Above: Sportsman Plus U-Shaped Dinette
For 2021, the Sportsman models are now called Sportsman Plus. What’s the thinking behind the name change?
Brad Trites in marketing came up with the “Plus”. The name change refers to the new 9-inch wider dinette and all the added features for 2021. Our Sportsman was never a big seller. With the added features and new name, the Sportsman Plus models have a new energy.
Above: The second cabover wardrobe in the Sportsman Plus
Are there any more changes to the Sportsman Plus models?
A Fantastic fan is now standard on the Sportsman Plus model. The rest of the changes are options. The Sportsman Plus can be factory ordered with a built-in Onan 2500LP generator, a second cabover wardrobe, two 185-watt solar panels, and a wireless backup camera.
Above: The popular black with steel grey interior in an 8-11 EX Limited Edition
What’s been the most popular Limited Edition interior combination?
Black with steel grey with the Greystokes cabinetry is the most popular Limited Edition interior.
Above: The popular brown and grey interior in a 10-2 EX Special Edition
What’s been the most popular Special Edition interior combination?
The brown and grey leatherette has been done a lot. That’s another reason why we made it standard on the Sportsman Plus models.
Above: A black and steel grey U-shape dinette with the Greystokes decor
Is the Greystokes cabinetry outselling the Sapele?
It is, but not by a lot.
Is there anything else about the 2021 Northern Lite updates you would like to add?
Actually, we haven’t even talked about the two biggest changes for 2021. First, we have a brand new dry bath in the 10-2 EX dry bath models. And second, we are now offering a frameless, thermal pane, glass tinted window option.
Wait, what? Did you say you have a new dry bath – and frameless glass windows?
Yes. Let’s start with the new dry bath. The new 10-2 EX dry bath is now the biggest bath in the history of Northern Lite. It is 5.5-inches wider, 12-inches longer, and comes with a molded seat. There is also a fixed shower curtain that separates the toilet and the shower and more shoulder room on the toilet. It’s a brand new design utilizing a brand new fiberglass mold.
We’ve been working on this bathroom for 7-months. It turned out beautifully.
How did you make a larger dry bath without changing your primary top and bottom body molds?
We removed the pull-out pantry and added that space to the bathroom. We needed the additional space for the shower. The positive is that you get a much bigger bathroom.
Above: The 10-2 EX dry bath has no pantry, but a bigger bathroom
The 8-11 EX and 9-6 also have a new wet bath. The new wet bath does not have as many dramatic changes, but there is an extra 2.5-inches of width in the toilet area.
Did you change the wet bath in the 10-2 EX wet bath models?
No, the wet bath hasn’t changed. And the 10-2 EX wet bath models still get the pull-out pantry. The 8-11 EX’s dry baths are also unchanged.
The 10-2 EX dry baths were a relatively recent introduction. Why did you decide to make this change?
I wanted to have the largest shower out of any truck camper out there. With the new 10-2 EX Dry Bath, we believe we are within a half-inch of the largest slide-out camper’s showers. Brad is 6’3” and he has plenty of space.
Everyone who has stood in our new shower has been impressed. The 2021 Northern Lite 10-2 EX models with the dry bath have just started to land on dealer lots.
Above: 2021 Northern Lite with frameless windows option
Let’s talk about the other bombshell you just dropped – frameless glass windows! Northern Lite is now offering glass thermal windows?
Yes. For 2021, we are going to have a new glass thermal pane window as an option. They will be frameless and tinted.
We have had acrylic windows since 2004, and I still believe they are the best windows you can buy. You can’t beat our standard Dometic S5 acrylic windows for cold weather camping, but not everyone wants acrylic windows. I wanted a glass window option for those customers.
The new frameless windows look bigger. They also require a different cut out during manufacturing. You can’t just swap out the acrylic windows for the new glass ones.
One downside of the frameless window design is that they don’t open nearly as wide as the Dometic S5 acrylic windows. There are definite pros and cons to both products.
Aesthetically, the new frameless glass windows are a knockout. I had them installed on my demo unit and the design and tint look fantastic.
Which models will have the glass thermal window option?
Frameless windows are now optional for our Special Edition and Limited Edition campers. At this point, they will always be an option. Our standard windows will remain the Dometic S5 acrylic windows in those two models. The white frame glass thermal windows are still standard in the Sportsman Plus Models.
This has been a year of a lot of changes. In fact, we have more model year changes for 2021 than any other year in our history. In every model, there have been significant improvements.
A lot of things are a result of things we have tested on my personal demo camper. We really do listen to customers and I use the campers myself. We are continuing to make a great camper even better.