Last you heard I was out on the Pacific coast enjoying the last few days of summer. For the past week or so, you heard… nothing. The reason for the radio silence can now be revealed – I stopped back by the factory to say hi to everybody, and pick up a few things and help install them on my CS Adventurous XL that I have been driving for a year now.
One human year is about six or seven Roadtrek years, it doesn't take long for the company to make massive improvements in systems. I left the factory last year with the very first lithium-ion battery and underneath air conditioner, plus some other stuff we won't talk about yet, because it's not in production. The lithium-ion batteries and underneath air conditioner are now in production – Mike Wendland and I have been feeding usage data back to the engineers on what our prototypes were doing and how they were performing in real-life field conditions, and all this data helped Roadtrek get these innovations on the market a few weeks ago.
But I left with the first guess at a system – mine needed some component swapouts, rewiring, and software upgrades to get up to current standards. It's not something I could shadetree on the side of the road somewhere, and not many dealers are up to speed on the stuff in my unit, so it was back to the factory to talk to the dozen or so people in the whole world who are familiar with this stuff. And get more stuff. Secret stuff.
After huddling up with president Jim Hammill, Vice President Howard Stratton, and Engineering Head Jeff Stride about what the plan was for my unit, I took the permanent bed up, got out my toolbox, and started working. Factory visits are a bit different in my case, no feet up in the visitor's waiting room – it's more like here's your lift and parts, help Kevin install this stuff, and hurry up – we need the lift for another job after lunch. My eight months on the factory floor gave me the opportunity to make friends among the Roadtrek production staff, and it was nice to work with Shelley, Kevin, Matt, Chris, Marianne, Yan, and all the usual suspects, every one of whom cheerfully informed me that they were going to keep me there over the winter. Buncha comedians, they are. My schedule was to finish up by Friday and head south before the advancing glaciers trapped me again.
Big Red, the very first Roadtrek ever made, is back in R&D, with the rebuilt engine installed, and the paint job is phenomenal. I was razzing Dave Kierly the paint shop manager, telling him he screwed it up – paint that smooth and shiny never came out of Detroit 40 years ago, and he needed to put in a few runs, drips, and some orangepeel if he wanted to make it original. The fiberglass top is also there ready to install, and the difference between it and current production tops shows how much Roadtreks have changed since they started. It's also quite heavy, and the new design is much better for wind resistance, handling, and fuel economy.
I was also amazed at a special order unit being built there – I called it The Beast of Kitchener because it looked so exotic and high tech, after The Beast of Kandahar, a flying wing drone which appeared without explanation over the Middle East in 2009, did much of the reconnaissance that led to the discovery of Osama Bin Laden's hideout, and was flying high cover the night the Seals stopped by after dinner. The unit they're building is an XL E-Trek with the warp core package: 1600 amp-hours of lithium-ion, underneath air conditioner, and the roof paved with solar. And it's black – ALL black. Black paint, ebony cabinets, black seats, even the front license plate mounting plate. The side chrome and wheels are the only bright visual elements on the exterior. And the amazing thing is – all the technology in The Beast of Kitchener isn't some hush-hush prototype – it's fully developed and available to regular customers right now. The future owner went on roadtrek.com, selected the “Build Your Own Roadtrek” tab, and started clicking on options.
It's all there, with a six year warranty, ready to order, and a year ago it was an idea – “new technology is available, but nobody's done it in an RV before – we need to build something, put it on the road, and get some performance data.” In that year, thousands of hours of usage data was generated and analyzed, hundreds of hours of engineering work was done, and the systems were developed from first approximation to consumer-ready. That's how fast things are moving at the factory these days.