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The Great Aussie Survivor – The Iconic “Cub Camper” Turns 50

Posted on October 5, 2018 | Author Adelaide 4WD | Category

Cub Campers is one of the great Aussie success stories. The camper trailer manufacturer, which employs 60 people and has a multi-million dollar annual turnover, is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

From its humble beginnings back in 1968 (when a four bedroom Sydney home cost $20,000) Cub has weathered the storm of several economic recessions and rising competition from the Chinese import market. When Cub started out half a century ago there were around 50 manufacturers of caravans and camper trailers. Of those, only two survive today: namely Cub and Avida (formerly Winnebago). Household names like Viscount, Millard, Chesney and Coronet have all disappeared.

Cub has remained in the same family, the Fagan family, from its first day of operation. It is still 100 percent Australian owned and its camper trailers are manufactured by Australian workers at its factory in Western Sydney using Australian steel and Australian canvas. The Cub camper, which is known for its quick easy setup and off-road capabilities has come a long way since the 1960s. The Cub is a sophisticated, robust, and luxurious camper trailer that can take its owners to the far reaches of the Australian outback. There are six rear-fold models in three different sizes, catering to both the on-road and off-road market. The most recent addition to the range, an off-road forward fold, was a finalist in the 2018 Camper Trailer of the Year Award.

This Aussie success story began when retired pharmacist JK Fagan purchased a small block of flats with an adjoining box trailer business in Lakemba in South West Sydney. JK’s idea was to rent out the flats and outsource the business – but when his son Roger came on board, he had other ideas! Roger saw the potential in the RV market. He invented what is believed to be the first soft floor camper called the Trailer Camper. It was little more than box trailer with a canvas roof – but it would be the start of an Aussie RV empire that would go on to produce 20,000 camper trailers, and counting.

Since that first camper, Cub has been a market leader in camper trailer innovation. In the 1970s, Cub was a pioneer in developing the off-road camper.

“The process was more of an evolution rather than a one off design,” says Cub co-founder Roger Fagan. “We used to manufacturer horse floats and sell them to buyers in Western Queensland. The roads there were very rugged with lots of corrugations – so we had to strengthen the chassis and suspension to make sure it could cope with the conditions. We then adapted that design to suit our camper trailers” Fagan says. Since then Cub has remained a leader in the off-road market.

In the 1990’s Roger invented the ‘Ezy-Wind’ system that revolutionised camper trailer setup, making it quicker and easier than ever before. This invention allowed Cub to expand its market to cater to the booming grey nomad sector. Roger also invented the first deep-sided ‘Spacevan’, now known as the Longreach. This innovation gave Australians the ability to venture off the beaten track with the comforts and roominess of a caravan – without the bulk. In the RV market, Cub has a strong reputation for being easy to setup, light to tow and practical to use. Those simple but key qualities is why Cub has been around longer than any other camper trailer brand.

Cub’s longevity has not come easily. The business has experienced the ups and downs of several recessions. Roger says the toughest period was the 1980s when there was a massive downturn in the caravan and camping market. At the end of the 70’s there were about 35,000 RV units being produced in Australia; that figure plummeted to 6,000 by the end of the 80’s.

While many camper manufacturers weren’t able to weather the storm, Roger entered the export market. It was a risky move but it paid off. At a time when Paul Hogan was starring in Aussie tourism campaigns and Crocodile Dundee was raking it in at the box office, the Americans couldn’t get enough of ‘Aussie made’. Roger even found himself the star of his own news story.

Roger, who has now retired, has handed the business over to his three adult children. His son Shane, Cub’s Managing Director, began as a factory worker at Cub more than fifteen years ago.

“I remember Dad just walked me into the factory, showed me the saw for cutting steel and said ‘you’ll work it out’. There was no favouritism. I just had to join the production line and learn,” said Shane.

The next big challenge came began after 2000 when Chinese imports began making their way into the Australian RV market.

Once again Cub knew it had to react to changes in the market and as a result, it expanded its operation and purchased a three-acre premises in North Rocks, 20km west of Sydney. There, they established a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility and became pioneers in computerised automation. Cub also established a network of showrooms all around Australia.

“It’s about keeping our overheads down,” says 41-year-old Fagan. “Investing money in high-quality machinery has paid off.” “We are also pushing ourselves to remain leading innovators in the industry. Our design team, also based at our North Rocks factory, are constantly working on new ideas and concepts to revolutionise the camping industry.”

The factory, in North Rocks near Parramatta in Western Sydney, employs around 60 people.

In 2017, Cub hired its first CEO, Simon McMillan, to oversee the next phase of growth. “I was attracted to Cub as it is a classic, authentic Australian company. Our strong customer focus combined with our high quality, easy to use products means that were are in an excellent position for growth and plan to be here for at least 50 more years.”

Cub’s 2018 range aims to signal Cub’s unrelenting market leadership aspirations for the years ahead. The range includes seven models in three different sizes to cater for the varying needs of couples and families.

Design and Development Manager John Learson says, “Over the last few years, the RV market has becoming increasingly sophisticated, demanding greater levels of quality, comfort, convenience and self-sufficiency. As a consequence, our 2018 range is infused with more up-market styling, higher quality finishes and upgraded electrical technologies.”

TIMELINE

1960s:    Fagan family start operating Cub trailers

1970s:    Roger Fagan designs and builds the first Cub Camper

1970s:    Cub becomes a pioneer in developing an off-road camper trailer

1980s:    Cub reacts to a collapse in the Australian dollar by exporting to America. Roger appears on National Nine News at a caravan show in Los Angeles in an interview with Robert Penfold. It’s a period that sees the decline of many RV manufacturers, but Cub survives.

1990s:    Roger Fagan invents the ‘EzyWind’ system which revolutionises the setup of camper trailers

2000:     Cub invents the high-sided Spacevan camper – enabling the comfort and storage of a caravan, yet maintaining the compact nature of a camper trailer

2008:     Adventurer Hans Tholstrup drives from Sydney to Melbourne towing a Cub Camper using just one tank of fuel.

2011:     Cub expands its operation and purchases a three-acre factory in North Rocks. It becomes a pioneer in computerised manufacture by installing state of the art equipment to streamline manufacturing processes.

2013:     Cub becomes environmental pioneers by installing solar panels on the roof at its factory headquarters which supplies up to 80 percent of its power.

2014, 2015 and 2016:

Cub wins NSW Caravanning & Camping Industry Association’s Manufacturer of the Year Award. (Cub was ineligible in 2017 because of three previous wins)

2016:     Cub inducted into the NSW Caravanning & Camping Industry Association’s Hall of Fame

2017:     Cub employee Carlos Chacon wins NSW Caravanning industry employee of the year award

2017:     Cub becomes Australia’s only manufacturer of forward-fold camper trailers

2018:     Cub celebrates its 50th anniversary making it Australia’s longest running camper trailer brand.

The 4WD and Adventure Shows congratulate Cub Campers on a strong 50 years, and look forward to welcoming them again to the Show in 2018!

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