In the United States and Canada, there are over 200 RV manufacturers. With so many options, how can anyone find the perfect coach? In this discussion, we’ll feature the 9 most popular travel trailer brands on the market and what makes them so special.
The Big Four
Every industry has its giants, subsidiaries, and independent companies. Almost every American knows the “Big Four” of the automotive industry: GM, Ford, Chrysler, and Toyota.
In the RV world, the giants are Thor Industries, Forest River, REV Group, and Winnebago Industries. Each parent has subsidiary companies that have unique specialties to compete in this heavily competitive market.
The biggest of the giants is Thor Industries. Currently, they own over a third of the RV industry. They became a publicly-traded company in 1986 (NYSE: THO).
The company started in 1980 when investors Wade Thompson and Peter Orthwein bought Airstream. Throughout the years, they acquired many major and minor brands in the RV industry. Thor Industries would also acquire companies buses, watercraft, and other related companies.
Some of their major acquisitions include:
- Dutchmen in 1991
- Four Winds in 1992
- Keystone in 2001
- German RV maker Hymer in 2019
- Jayco and its subsidiaries in 2016
In 1996, Peter Liegl purchased assets from the ashes of Cobra RV to open Forest River Incorporated. Liegl used the subsidiaries of Cobra like Flagstaff, Rockwood, and Wildwood to strengthen his fledgling company.
He started producing campers and travel trailers but soon jumped into the motorhome categories. As he expanded, he moved into related markets like pontoon boats, utility trailers, and others.
Wanting to get into the rising RV market, Warren Buffet saw a real opportunity. Forest River would become apart of the Berkshire Hathaway family in 2005. With this financial backing, Forest River became the second-largest RV corporation in the country.
Some of their major expansions include:
- Coachmen in 2008
- Established Primetime in 2009
- Revived Shasta in 2010
- Dynamax in 2011
- Launched the Berkshire class A diesel luxury series in 2017
In 2010, four companies; Collins Industries, E-One, Halcore Group, and Fleetwood Enterprises merged to become REV Group. They were already four separate entities under Allied Specialty Vehicles. Once merged, the corporate powerhouse was stronger than ever.
REV Group makes RVs, fire engines, ambulances, and other first response vehicles. They also own Spartan Motors. This gave REV Group the ability to build chassis, engines, and transmissions for heavy-duty diesel vehicles internally.
Once established and had some time under their belt, REV Group launched its IPO on the New York Stock Exchange in 2017 (NYSE: REVG). While they are the youngest parent group, they have some of the best quality RV brands on the market.
To help them break into the luxury motorhome category, REV group acquired Monaco and Holiday Rambler 2013. In 2018, they brought in Lance Camper for their lightweight travel trailer and truck camper market share.
In 1958, John Hanson had a rough time getting his travel trailer company off the ground in California. Two years later, four investors in Iowa liked his product and asked him to move his operation to Forest City, Iowa in Winnebago County. From that point on, the rest is history.
It wouldn’t take long for Hanson to break into the motorhome category with the launch of the Brave in 1966. At Winnebago’s height in 2005, they offered 92 different RVs and were a multi-billion dollar company.
1966 was a multi-landmark year for Winnebago. On January 24th, its initial public offering sold for $12.50 a share. Four and a half years later on September 9, 1970, it would list on the NYSE (WGO).
When the 2008 financial crisis hit the RV industry, Winnebago stripped down their lineup, renovated, and relaunched with their Minnie Winnie travel trailers. Its bold solid colors was so different, consumers were immediately drawn to it.
As a reaction to the retro-style fad, Winnebago released a recreation of the Brave Motorhome. It looked like the original 1966 version but had modern-day features. For 2020/2021, Winnie has RVs that range from travel trailers to class A diesels.
Some of their landmark moments include:
- Established the Itasca brand in 1973
- Relaunch with Minnie series in 2008
- Bought Grand Design in 2016
- Bought Newmar in 2019
- Launched the Voyage fifth wheel, Solis class B, and Off-Road Revel class B in 2020
Best Brands For 2020
There are two names in the RV world that have become household names. The first is Winnebago. The second, and most popular, is Airstream. This most iconic trailer brand is easily recognizable due to its aircraft-grade aluminum shell. The “Silver Bullet” has featured in television, movies, and other media throughout the world.
Airstream has it’s origins in Culver City, California. In 1931, Wally Byam loved camping, but his wife wasn’t fond of the #TentLife. He designed a DIY wooden teardrop that published in Popular Mechanics magazine.
His design became so popular, he opened his own shop. He built bigger travel trailers using aircraft-grade aluminum which was popular for RVs at the time.
Currently, Airstream makes eight different models. Except for the fiberglass Nest, they still feature the aluminum shell and designs from Byam’s era. The building techniques are still used today, but modern technology has enhanced the procedures.
Airstreams have the highest travel trailer quality ratings, especially while traveling. They’re able to sit low to the ground due to the patented torsion axle technology. Almost three-quarters of all Airstreams are on the road today.
To keep them up-to-date, Airstream has focused its interiors on European and contemporary designs. Overhead cabinets have rounded doors for extra space. White and light colors give their units an open feel making them feel spacious. They also lead with name brand components and the latest in technology.
Airstreams are more expensive than comparable models due to their construction materials, top-end features, and other factors. While spacious, they don’t have slideouts. They’re also heavy, so you’re going to need a tow vehicle with a high capacity to pull the bigger models.
When you buy an Airstream, you are buying the “Cadillac of Travel Trailers.” Even the lightweight models have the best of everything. Be prepared to pay for that quality and the status that comes with it. If you want to learn more about them, check out our feature article about them.
Casita is a direct order fiberglass RV company based in Rice, Texas. They are the offspring of the original “Egg on Wheels” Boler travel trailer that became popular in the 1970s as a reaction to the fuel shortages.
When Boler tried to branch out into the United States from its Canadian headquarters, it didn’t have the success they expected. The Eveland family bought out much of Boler America and centralized it in Minnesota launching the Scamp brand. John Lang would pick up the ashes of the Texas factory from Don Eveland to build up Casita.
Casita and its fiberglass shell competitors share the same heritage. Each company began with a complete set of fiberglass molds licensed from Boler. Many of the models produced today still use those original molds. The shells act both as walls and structural support. The campers themselves are ultra-lightweight making them ideal for almost any vehicle to tow.
Casita travel trailers hold their value the best due to their production method. Instead of mass production, they build each unit on a direct-order basis. The average wait time to receive your ordered trailer is between six months to a year.
Casita makes the decision process very straight forward for their customers. There are five models they can choose from. They can choose the standard version or deluxe version with a wet bath installed. Customers then choose optional components to make their RV unique to their camping needs.
Casita owners consider their units apart of the family. Rarely will you hear of someone selling their unit quickly. With the preset molds, you can choose between the 16 or 17 foot only, and every once in awhile seals leak, but overall Casita is the most popular eggshell fiberglass travel trailer in the category.
Coachmen has been a travel trailer customer reviews favorite since 1964. At first Tom, Keith, and Claude Corson started small in Middlebury, Indiana. In their first year, they built 12 travel trailers, a truck camper, and 80 truck caps. In 2008, They joined the Forest River family.
Coachmen now make 39 different lines of RVs in every category up to class A gassers. While their headquarters is still in Middlebury, their main manufacturing facility occupies a 90-acre facility in Centerville, Michigan.
The company’s travel trailers are the best quality and budget-friendly for the average American. Coachmen takes a realistic approach to their designs. They keep their features easily reachable, make their storage compartments strategic, and focus on consumer needs.
Some owners find the standard refrigerators small and A/C units underpowered. Things like bigger refrigerators and more powerful air conditioners. Coachmen has optional components that are bigger. They do offer bigger refrigerators, but you may have to give up pantry space to accommodate the size.
Overall, Coachmen is a reliable RV brand that’s been in business for over 50 years. Like other brands, many features and amenities come in different sizes as options. Carefully consider this when choosing your next RV.
4. Grand Design
When Don Clark and his partner started Grand Design in 2012, their focus was to avoid being the travel trail brand to avoid. They invested over three and a half million dollars to create a product inspection program that checks over 300 different points on every coach they build.
As a result, Grand Design RVs consistently have the least amount of problems of any brand in the industry. This is why they’ve won many awards throughout the years from dealer associations and RV publications.
RV owners love their brand due to their reaction to direct consumer feedback. You’ll see this each year in the new features. It could be as small as adding a shoe rack at the front door, or as large as having the largest shower in the industry.
This became so enticing to Winnebago, Grand Design became apart of Winnebago Industries four years after they opened their doors. With this partnership, you’ll see some of Grand Design’s “fingerprints” on Winnebago’s models.
There are a few complaints of parts not holding up to normal conditions. Like any man-made product, things happen. When you buy an RV, it’s always a good idea to go prepared with a checklist of things to look over.
Grand Design has consistently won awards for the best quality and being customer-focused. While rare problems have occurred, you can’t go wrong with any of their RV lines.
Cole Davis placed his new company in the heart of the RV Capital of the World. Keystone opened its doors in 1996 in Goshen, Indiana to quickly become the best quality lightweight travel trailer maker in the market.
Thor Industries acquired them in 2001 for many reasons. Keystone was the second-fastest-growing company in the nation in fiscal 2000. Their building techniques were highly prized in a time when the RV industry was scrambling to make their coaches lighter and more fuel-efficient as gas prices were trending upwards.
Keystone currently has 28 series of RVs. 11 are travel trailers, 11 fifth wheels, and two park models. When you look over the individual floorplans, some like the Springdale travel trailer has 34 different floorplans. Instead of showing you one floorplan with optional components in the margins, Keystone creates a whole new floorplan image with the other component.
For example, two floorplans could look the exact same, but one could have a 12 cubic foot refrigerator and pantry. The other could have a residential refrigerator. This gives their customers a visual representation of what the floorplan looks like both ways.
While Keystone is lightweight and very affordable, there are some, “you get what you pay for” issues. Models like the Outback have a built-in pet kennel for smaller dogs and cats, but the RV itself isn’t totally pet-friendly. It still has carpet and heat registers on the floor where they can catch their claws.
Keystone makes RVs that span all types of budgets. Some of their travel trailers and fifth wheels, like their flagship Montana, have four-season capabilities. Navigating through the various floorplans can be tricky, but your RV dealer can assist you with narrowing it down.
6. Lance Camper
Lance Camper started in 1965 in southern California. Richard Murray and sales specialist Ron Mertes sold their campers out of their business M & M Trailer Supply in North Hollywood, California. They changed the name to Lance a few years later.
The current president, Jack Cole, started with the company part-time while in high school. While they led the market in the area, their business suffered during the gas crisis of the 1970s. Years later, Cole purchased the company from Murray and Mertes to reestablish in Lancaster, CA.
Through hard work and determination, Lance has the best truck campers and travel trailers under 6,000 lbs. With great national sales and quality building, this enticed REV Group to acquire them in 2018.
Their new 2075 travel trailer won RV Pro’s Best in Show for 2020 with its rear pull out kitchen, state-of-the-art portable media system, and other unique features.
Lance’s four Seasons package has all of the right features but isn’t made for extreme temperatures. Late falls and early winter temperatures are manageable. If you plan on heading to the frozen north of Canada or Alaska, the overall insulation throughout the RV isn’t designed for those conditions.
Lance truck campers and travel trailers are one of the best brands if you’re looking for a lightweight RV. Interior design options are limited, but the quality is superior and features are top-notch.
Located in La Grande, Oregon, Northwood Manufacturing is one of the largest independent RV manufacturers in the United States. Northwood employs over 400 people using their “Absolute Northwood” construction techniques to build eight different RV lines that are all-season ready.
Since 1993, Ron Nash has led his company building travel trailers, truck campers, toy haulers, and fifth wheels. The entire RV is built in-house. This includes the heavy-duty chassis, aluminum superstructure, and cathedral arched ceilings.
To keep them warm, a combination of rigid foam and fiberglass batt insulation is used. Heat ventilation is ducted around the holding tanks and throughout the basement. Winterization by-pass valves are also included.
Northwood has had some issues with quality when it comes to components like the refrigerator and air conditioning in previous years. For those few instances, the company has been very quick to solve the issue. Their customer service and warranty repair program have good reviews.
You’ll mainly find Northwood RVs on the west coast. Many people enjoy the all-season aspect of their coaches from the wintery north to the desert south. They strive to do their best to avoid being the worst travel trailer in the west by solving problems fast. This is why they’re one of the biggest independent brands.
Who says your life is over after 40? For Joe Mullet, his best life began at 44. In 2001, he left his job as a plumber to start an RV company. After trying different markets, a friend of his pointed him towards teardrop campers. That’s where Pleasent Valley Teardrop Trailers was born.
After a struggle with the 2008 financial crisis, some help from Little Guy Worldwide, and a new name, nuCamp rose despite the economic challenges of the time. In 2018 they partnered with Barefoot Camper in Britain with plans to break into other markets.
Today their flagship [email protected] campers come in three teardrop versions and an all enclosed ultra-lite travel trailer. They’ve also launched the Cirrus truck camper and the new 28-foot Avia travel trailer.
The [email protected] CS-S teardrop allows you to stand straight inside and has a wet bath installed. Even their most basic [email protected] is full of features that rival most traditional travel trailers.
Complaints mostly come from expectations not suited for teardrop camping. This category of camper may have small refrigerators and other upgraded features, but long-term camping in them requires creative solutions.
nuCamp is one of the best travel trailers for 2020 in the teardrop category. Their quality and features are excellent. You may like how affordable they are, but do your research to make sure this style of camping matches well with your lifestyle.
On the other end of the spectrum, Tiffin Motorhomes are well suited for full-time living. This family-owned company make both levels of class A motor coaches, and recently entered the class C arena.
The Tiffin family has been a landmark family in Red Bay, Alabama for generations. The family’s entrepreneurship began with a general store in 1941. In 1972, Bob (the current patriarch) bought a defunct RV business and began building his own. As time went on, his three sons joined in on the family business.
Tiffin currently makes eight different models. Their model names have been around for decades: Allegro, Phaeton, and Zephyr. The Wayfarer is the new class C with many class A inspired features.
Full-timers will put Tiffin on their list of best travel trailers to live in due to the features inside. Things like residential appliances, dinettes with computer workstations, full-size wardrobes, and spacious floorplans make life comfortable.
Tiffin has very few complaints against it. They are built with solid quality and have the best features available for their time. Consumers who have bought used models are amazed at how well they perform both on the road and at the campsite.
This family-owned RV company has a long tradition of attention to detail and quality construction. Rarely will you find someone who has a serious complaint about them. This is why they are the best travel trailer brand for 2020 in the independent motorhome category.
Continuing Your Exploration
If you were to take a trip to an RV show or your local dealer, you’d see many of the more common big-name brands on the market. Yet there are plenty of independent and direct order companies that don’t ply their wares through RV shows or dealerships.
That’s why we do the hard work for you. We invite you to continue your exploration of our Camper Smarts website to learn more about the various RV manufacturers out there. We keep ourselves informed on the latest innovations, new releases and teach you the best tips on everything RV.
Charles Joseph is one of the original authors of Camper Smarts from when it first started.