Sure to float your boat
Water leaks are the biggest enemy of Caravans. As Michael Grealy reports, this relative newcomer to our roads has a water-tight reputation that is hard to beat.
A widely-respected boat building and fishing identity, John Haines had talked about building caravans for years with his son, also called John, but they always seemed to be inundated with boat orders.
The Haines Group has been in the boating business since John Haines Snr AM and his brother Garry first started building a fiberglass version of tinnies in their backyard back in 1959.
John passed away in 2009 and it wasn’t until two years later that son John, now heading the family business, was able to pursue the dream.
By then the Haines Group had grown to become Australia’s largest fibreglass trailer boat builder with a major manufacturing plant at Wacol, south of Brisbane.
But a downturn in the boating industry in 2011 gave Haines the opportunity to look for new ways of diversifying off the back of their half century of experience in delivering marinegrade leisurecraft .
Push came to shove thanks to John’s uncle, Hank, who believed a reliable range of lightweight off-road caravans would be a hit with buyers.
Hank Rojek knew what he was talking about. He happened to be managing director of Ipswich Lifestyle Centre, Queensland’s largest caravan dealership west of Brisbane.
“It was a logical move, if we were to continue in manufacturing, to look at caravans,” John Haines said. “We have a 9000 square metre undercover factory on a 10 acre site and we had under-utilised capacity.”
Then there were the synergies that made the transition easier. Not only the capabilities of its plant and machinery, but also the Haines Group research and development expertise and its staff – expert boat builders and cabinet makers – as well as a full metal fabrication shop that allows it to build its own welded aluminium chassis and its computer-controlled overhead routers for assembly.
There are signs hanging throughout the Wacol factory that say Quality First – Build it as if you are going to own it.
For John Haines the market niche he was aiming at was always going to be premium off-road fibreglass vans that would match the family’s exacting standards for quality.
Firstly, at Hank Rojek’s urging, he recruited Peter Russell, former owner of Boroma Caravans, for the integral role of gearing up the business as caravans project manager and general manager of manufacturing.
The Haines Group CEO says he’s “absolutely ecstatic” with what the company has achieved in just a couple of years.
“I am exceptionally proud of our Seachange product. There are a lot of really good manufacturers out there – we set ourselves apart with our fibreglass construction.”
At the Wacol plant, the Seachange 550, 595, 640 and 670 series caravans are built on the same production lines as the Haines Group’s famous Signature range of boats.
The Seachange range has won wide acclaim on the show circuit this year. For many Sydney caravan lovers, their first look at the Seachange range was at the recent NSW Caravan and Camping Supershow at Rosehill where Peter Russell and Hank Rojek showed off a 640 Elite QB van and one of its 595 series.
More recently, the company showed off its latest release, a 420 Tough Nut van, at the Brisbane Caravan and Camping Show.
One of the first construction features you notice about the Seachange 640 Elite QB van is the impact of the fibreglass manufacturing.
Fibreglass combines versatility, durability and strength to provide the van owner with a low maintenance, non-corrosive caravan that stands the test of travel and time.
The rolled roof and wall panels of the 640 Series consist of welded box section aluminium frames, insulated with a fire-resistant expanded polystyrene foam then lined with fibreglass. This delivers a lighter, stronger structure that’s cooler in summer and warmer in winter months.
The design of the 640 Elite eliminates the need for the traditional J-mould joint. The objective with this technology is that owners won’t have to worry about deteriorating joints that can ultimately leak water.
The Haines Group’s Peter Russell said of the aluminium floor rails: “The aluminium frame gives us strength but saves us considerable weight in an off-road van. It’s like a house – start with good foundations because everything is built on top of it.”
He added that the fibreglass panels provide great resistance against hail damage or damage from trees but should it occur, they are repairable.
The 640 Elite uses the Cruisemaster all road coil suspension system for economical load protection and towability with twin shocks. Softer spring rates are aimed at protecting the van and its contents.
It has a full length, hybrid light weight 150mm chassis, combining hot dip galvanised steel and aluminium. Other general external features include 16 inch alloy wheels, roll out awning, two 9kg gas bottles.
The exterior looks stylish with the front and rear pods both custom-moulded fibreglass, shaped to reduced drag and allow air to easily pass over the top.
Stepping inside, it’s smart and comfortable with clean lines and a polished finish down to its glossy white walls.
The bathroom has a full ensuite with a moulded fibreglass shower unit and exhaust fans, a porcelain toilet and a Caroma vanity sink.
There’s plenty of storage space around the Queen size bed, underneath it, in cupboards above and in the hanging mirror-fronted wardrobes.
Even within the café style leatherette seating, there are pull out drawers for more storage.
In the kitchen area, the 640 Elite is finished in brushed stainless steel, and Duropol laminate benchtops with timber edging. The cabinetry is securely attached to the framework, the cooktop and grill has three gas burners and one electric plate and the Dometic frige/freezer has a capacity of 184 litres.
The 640 has an extensive range of factory fitted options and the Haines Group will custom build to meet customer desires.
One of the standout exterior options that I particularly liked was a Webber Baby Q slide out barbecue that sits neatly under the awning. Another was the front through boot that’s has lockable doors, is galvabond lined and wide enough to fit things like deck chairs and inflatable equipment.
At the 2013 Sydney Caravan Show, the Seachange 640 Elite QB displayed had a wealth of features and a price tag of $118,920. Its standard price is around $97,000.
Maybe the last word should go to retired builder Aubrey McLean, of Splityard Creek, west of Brisbane, who’s owned a Seachange 640 Elite van for almost a year that he pulls behind his Nissan Patrol ute.
Now in his 60s, Aub bought his first caravan in his 20s and he’s had them all his life. The first thing that impressed him was the external finish and the way the front, back and top panels wrap around the walls and shut out the possibility of leaking water.
“The further I looked, the more I liked it, particularly the tremendous craftsmanship and beautiful finish. Everything is nice and simple and accessible and it’s got great suspension.”
• Experienced marine manufacturer
• Light fibreglass construction
• Luxurious interior
• Dealerships confined to Bundamba, near Ipswich serving Southern Queensland and Northern NSW; Kingsley in WA; and Bundaberg in North Queensland.
For more information: www.thehainesgroup.com.au