Aliner: A-Frame Innovator Keeps its Trailers Simple
Keeping life uncomplicated isn’t necessarily easy. But that’s what the staff at Aliner Inc., manufacturer of Aliner hard-sided folding camping trailers, and sister company Cabin A LLC, focus on – for both themselves and their customers.
“It’s real easy to complicate things,” said Mark A. Tait, president of the two companies that operate as subsidies of Columbia Northwest Inc. “We try to keep things uncomplicated.” Although building relatively simple “A-frame” camping trailers, truck campers and small travel trailers in the entry-level price range of $3,975 to $15,000, Columbia Northwest – marking its 20th anniversary this year – has had more than a few experienced RVers as customers.
“Most of our products aren’t entry level,” Tait said. “Amazingly, we’ve had a lot of customers who have had motorhomes and big rigs. They want to get rid of the complications in their lives, but continue to RV. They’re taking a more minimalist attitude. You can carry your house with you – like you do in a big motorhome or trailer – but that can become all-consuming.
“I’m not saying that we don’t get first-time buyers, but that is not our majority.”
Columbia Northwest traces its roots to 1969 when Tait’s father, Ralph Tait, purchased the remnants of Champion Motor Co.’s A-frame Ready Champ hard-sided popup camper, which Champion had discontinued.
Starting production in Bend, Ore., the senior Tait returned to his home turf in Pennsylvania after the two oil embargoes decimated the RV industry in the 1970s.
“At that time, it was more a hobby for my father,” Mark Tait said.
He partnered with his father in 1983 to redesign the Aliner and start up commercial manufacturing again. “It was heavy, complicated and took 10 minutes to set up,” Tait said. “We went about redesigning it, and had the first gas cylinder in 1983. It’s very simple to use and very lightweight.”
Today, the company boasts that it takes only 30 seconds to set up an Aliner for camping.
Aliner’s basic A-frame is designed around two hinged and counterbalanced roof sections and two folding sidewalls. The four separate pieces open with the help of torsion springs to form a triangle and store flat for travel. Besides the 15-foot Aliner with five floorplans, Columbia Northwest builds the 12-foot Sportliner A-frame style popup, 15-foot entry-level low-profile Scout A-style camper and 9-foot super lightweight Alite 400, which has a combined axle and hitch weight of 400 pounds.
Aliner’s off-road “Expedition Package” option, which can be outfitted on any Aliner trailer and which offers a heavy-duty 4” tubular aluminum superstructuree, off-road chassis, high-capacity torsion axle and enclosed storage over the tongue, accounts for about 50% of sales. Columbia Northwest debuted the first products from its newly formed Cabin A subsidiary at the National RV Trade Show in Louisville in December, including the Cabin A conventional travel trailer, Truck Cabin hard-sided A-frame folding truck camper and Cabin Cruiser A-frame popup.
The wedge-shaped 141/2-foot Cabin A is constructed in one piece without seams using brake-formed aluminum and is being marketed as a small travel trailer for people who don’t want to be bothered setting up a folding trailer at the campsite. The unit features three floorplans, including one equipped with Flexsteel furnishings.
“Our goal here was to give people an opportunity to buy an inexpensive and easy-to-tow travel trailer for less money than you would pay for a comparable canvas camper,” said Sales Manager David Tait. Fully equipped with the Expedition Package, the Cabin A retails for under $10,000.
The Cabin Cruiser is a high-walled version of the Aliner with self-containment features such as holding tanks and a bathroom, which aren’t included in the Aliner.
The A-style folding Truck Cabin truck camper is offered in two widths – 78 inches or 84 inches – to fit in either large or small pickup beds.
Aliner has had an international presence since 1993, when the design was licensed for manufacture in Australia by A-Van Campers.
With A-Van and his own brand of pop-tops, Mark Tait said, he’s “the second largest producer of RVs in Australia.”