Tomorrow morning, I’m flying back to the LiquidSpring factory and will pick up Rocky, our Tiffin motorhome, now sporting an entirely new rear suspension system. I’d like to share some photos that illustrate the conversion of the standard chassis springs-and-struts to LiquidSpring’s “Compressible Liquid Adaptive Suspension System” (CLASS), which I discussed in part 1 of this series. But first, I’ll relay a few things that I learned when visiting the factory last week:
The company. Many aftermarket RV mods are the products of small independent companies that are focused on one good idea, and this is no exception. The LiquidSpring website is very thorough, with lots of specific product information from concept to installation to operation. But no website or RV show booth can give you clear insight into the company's health. During my visit to LiquidSpring in Lafayette, Indiana, the company's trajectory was apparent. It is growing at a rate of 30% per year, and they now have 60 people employed at their factory. The company originally targeted the motorhome market but then faced the decline in RV sales during the economic downturn ten years ago. They moved the core of their business to modifying ambulances, where the need for a better rear suspension is obvious. They have dominated that market and are expanding into applications for motorhomes, now a more robust industry. So far, they have customized LiquidSpring kits for aftermarket installations on Class A and C motorhomes with a front engine gas or diesel chassis.
The factory. Their new manufacturing facility immediately struck me as efficient, organized, clean, busy – and already getting a little crowded. In fact, they are planning on adding a new building to their site next year. As I walked from station to station, I saw everything from welding to powder coating to quality control testing to kit assembly for shipping. The newest equipment, some now just being unboxed, includes laser metal cutting robots so that they can do more fabrication of their own parts rather than outsourcing. This should further improve efficiency and allow them to be more nimble as they introduce design improvements and expand to other applications and markets.
The installation. Goodbye to most components of my rear suspension including the leaf springs, the shock absorbers, and the Sumo Springs (see photos below). LiquidSpring has trained installers around the country to remove these parts and substitute their CLASS kit, and they will also work with you to identify and train a new installer near your home. If you choose to have the system installed at the factory, there are two advantages: you won’t have to pay for shipping the parts (saving up to $700), and you get an experienced crew (who have already installed CLASS on at least 5 Tiffin Allegro models). With high pressure hydraulics, I admit that I was a little concerned that a naïve installer might not do all the right assembly and tests to avoid leaks. Now that I’ve visited the factory, I realize that all the most sophisticated liquid-containing parts (including the strut module and the second fluid volume) are pre-assembled and leak-tested with compressible liquid already sealed within the chambers and hoses. Therefore, what a remote installer is doing is not a complete parts assembly from scratch, but more of a remove-and-replace job with pre-tested kit components. I also saw the factory crew testing and documenting performance of the power modules (which include the pumps, control valves, and computer controllers) prior to shipping.
Future developments. I spent some time talking with the CEO, Dean Bartolone, about the challenges for addressing the ride and handling for F53 chassis motorhomes. Although the current LiquidSpring product line only switches out the rear suspension, he reiterated what I wrote in part 1 – that dealing with the instability around the rear axle (which carries most of the motorhome weight) is an important part of improving the ride up front. Dean also told me that they are already designing a system to replace the suspension in both front and back. In fact, they currently have an ambulance at the factory that is being used to test and refine a prototype of this four-corner system. It’s not clear when they will be porting that to motorhome applications, but that is definitely part of the plan. It will be sold as an add-on kit for those who have already purchased the rear suspension CLASS, and part of what they are doing now is to see how to best combine and integrate the two kits (e.g., feeding into a single electronic control unit and power module). The total cost of buying the entire four-corner package in the future is projected to be close to the same price as purchasing the rear suspension kit now and adding the front suspension kit when available. This made me feel better, of course; early adopters need not fear that their investment is wasted if they want to later upgrade to a four-corner suspension system.
In part 3 of this series, I'll try to summarize my first impressions during a 500-mile test drive back to North Carolina. I’ll end part 2 by showing you some pictures that illustrate the replacement of Rocky's rear suspension by the LiquidSpring factory crew: