Special Report: Chinese Built Campers

Article by · 5 May 2017 ·

The good, the bad and the ugly

China’s assault on Australia’s camper trailer market has made them more affordable, but also flooded the market with some dodgy products.

By David Cook

In 2007 the online forum for camper trailer enthusiasts, CamperTrailers.org, suddenly found a third of its one million hits per month were coming from China.  Who goes camping in China? It seemed an inexplicable piece of data.

Then came the first wave of Chinese-built campers.  This explained the interest from China: they were taking our ideas to include in their products.

The first examples landing here were diabolically bad.  Welds were terrible, engineering questionable and component choice poor.  They seemed to fall apart while you looked at them.  The outback soon became littered with their bones.

First big improvements

Market forces came into play and the worst of the imports soon began to disappear.  The more adaptable manufacturers modified and improved their product.

Camping and caravan shows were suddenly well populated by Asian faces and there were numerous confrontations between hostile local manufacturers and Chinese people caught under or around their campers with cameras, note pads and tape measures.

Show organisers supported their local exhibitors by ejecting anyone engaged in such activities, but they’d simply buy another ticket and be back in within the hour.

In the past few years, though, the product coming from China has risen steeply in quality.

Now some Australian brands, such as Blue Tongue Camper Trailers and Skamper Kamper, are supplying field-tested units with locally installed modifications and fittings to upgrade their offerings.

Buyer beware

There is a manufacturing code in Australia, which should protect consumers, but it simply isn’t enforced.  A guild of local manufacturers appealed to authorities to weed out the dodgy importers by ensuring the same standards applied to all.

Buy what you need

In the far outback, where the gibbers are big, the sand deep and the river crossings difficult it’s still largely the domain of the Australian-made camper, but closer to the coast and major highways the Chinese product now seems all dominant.  A recent survey of my own undertaken at a campground at Scotts Head on the NSW North Coast during school holidays revealed some interesting statistics.

The park was occupied by 29 caravans and 42 campers, plus many tents.  Of the camper trailers there were four recognisable Australian brand campers: a Jayco, an Aussie Swag, a Camp-o-Matic (though these have in recent years been built in China) and a Challenge.  All the rest were Chinese in origin, and almost universally they exhibited a common and unique camp set-up.

But extensive offroad use imposes a lot more hammering to any trailer and that is where the Chinese campers have often failed to survive, despite all the marketing assurances that they are “built tough” and can take you to Cape York, the Kimberley or anywhere else you might wish to travel.

Today’s market

The better Chinese units, now with independent suspension, hot dip galvanised chassis with sound welding and the correct gauge of metal and high tensile fasteners are able to take you to most remote locations.

If there is an area in which Chinese-manufactured campers still fail it’s in their functionality.

It’s probably pretty accurate to say that nobody who builds camper trailers in China has ever used or slept in one.  They are simply making components for an item that’s sold overseas.

Do your homework

The sad part is that many customers are unable to see the benefits of the local-made product, so that companies such as Modcon, while still making their excellent local trailers, are now forced to import a Chinese copy to meet the demand for something cheaper.

What choice is there when faced with two campers appearing similar in design and finish yet one is close to half the price of the other?

For the full report on what to look for when buying a camper trailer, see Issue 24 of ROAM


About Time To Roam

Australia's premier magazine focused on the people and culture of caravanning and camping.


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    True of many, IMO some of the later models are more flimsy than the earlier builds. Our MDC is 2014 and it has seen some rough tracks including the Gibb River road with no problems at all. It’s not quite as flash as the Aussie built campers but hey I could not afford $40k for a camper, so if it came to that we’d still be in a tent. Of those 38 non Aussie campers at Scotts Head, I reckon most would not be in a camper if they had to buy Aussie!

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    We bought our first camper about 18 months ago, opting for a secondhand Australian built camper (an Adventure Offroad Pilbara). It was 9 years old at the time and a real credit to the quality of the manufacturer. We’ve taken it to Innamincka, Cameron Corner, Birdsville and plenty of places in between without a problem. The original canvas is still brilliant. The design is brilliant and it tows like a dream.

    Price? About the same as a blinged up import.

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    My 2010 MDC offroad trailer has been all over Oz, twice to WA goldfields, 5 times to Vic goldfields via western NSW (Burke, Tibooburra, Cameron’s Corner, etc) and only breakage – broken shockie bolt (replaced in Tibooburra)! No broken welds, no punctures, nothing. Only upgrades – I added checker plate box in 2010 and electric brakes this year. Love it! Six grand to buy and 40Ks worth of trouble-free travel on all types of roads (including 420 k along the NSW Cut Line).

    Go figure… Pete Bailey

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    If everyone bought Aussie manufactured campers then they could bring the costs down by buying bulk. Support Aussie manufactured designed and Aussie owned companies. Guaranteed to last. Will refuse to buy a Chinese ripoff.

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      Maybe if imbeciles on all sides of politics are not so green and could bring utilities prices down we can all support Australian made

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    William Hilder

    The Aussie gov’t. Needs to take a lesson from the Chinese and Jack up the import duty until their junk is out of reach of Aussies and do it for all the crap they dump on us mid Feb and nothing I bought my grandkids for xmas still works

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    Fact is that Australia can’t build anything an average bloke can afford because they have to employ lazy, entitled muppets who take sickies every week and are looking for every opportunity for a good bludge. Then there’s good old Aussie price gouging to top it off. Not sure about the rest of you, but I’m not paying over $100,000 for a hybrid camper from an Aussie manufacturer when I can get something functional from China at half the price. >HALF THE PRICE!< This country is doomed.

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      Hi Steve, have you ever imported a caravan from China? I was wondering if you could recommend someone

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    I worked for bayswater jayco sales in the Stirling model days and sold a caravan to a Chinese group,unbeknown to us it went on a boat to shanghai ,copies are coming back regularly

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    Dragan and Steve should not denigrate Australian workers or power companies. I am 💯 per cent off grid. I bought well with an Evernew. Aussie blokes are our brothers, dads, uncles and ourselves. Many imported products just don’t stack up against an Aussie one.

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