Paul Owen delves into the fascinating journey of the Rockwood brand, and takes a peek at the spacious 2516S.
You don’t have to be a billionaire to buy this ritzy Rockwood 2516S dual-axle caravan. At $119,000, this 26-footer is priced in territory inhabited by a multitude of similar Australian-made caravans measuring 22 feet long, and the double-doored, double slide out-equipped Yank arguably lords it over any RV from across the Tasman Sea when it comes to bang for your buck. The only billionaire our headline refers to is the man who liked the company that built the Rockwood so much that he had to buy it. Warren Buffett, one of the richest men in the world, owns Forest River Incorporated through his investment accumulator, Berkshire Hathaway, and Forest River Inc. is the parent company of Rockwood.
If you’ve seen the 2017 film, Becoming Warren Buffett, you’ll know that the 92-year-old from Omaha, Nebraska, who has a net personal wealth of 107 billion US dollars, lives an extraordinarily quiet and humble lifestyle. He has inhabited the same modest house for most of his life, drives a Cadillac that he bought 30 years ago, and eats McDonald’s for breakfast. Despite once rivalling the now-dethroned Elon Musk for the title of world’s richest man, Buffett doesn’t carry a mobile phone, and his desk has no personal computer.
Instead, he reads newspapers in the morning (he owns more than 50) along with reports about possible acquisitions to add to the Berkshire Hathaway Empire. One crossed his desk on June 21, 2005, advising him that Forest River Inc., then a more modestly-sized RV manufacturer based in Indiana, met Berkshire Hathaway’s criteria for acquisition. By the afternoon that day, Buffett was pitching an offer in a telephone call to Forest River’s founder, Peter Liegl, and the pair closed the deal a week later. Rockwood was already part of the Forest River RV family when Buffett made that initial call, having kicked off making caravans and camping trailers back in 1974. When Berkshire took over Forest River, the corporation embarked on a program of rapid expansion and further acquisitions of other manufacturers, particularly those also based in Indiana, which is the hub of RV production in the US. Rockwood is one of 49 RV brands made by Forest River in 30 factories.
As one of the cornerstones of the corporation it pumps out 120 RVs per day in Millersburg, Indiana, building 130,000 per annum. It’s this economy of scale that enables the Rockwood 2516S to achieve more competitive pricing than alternative Australian caravans in the far-flung New Zealand market, despite the longer shipping distance from Millersburg.
Built for Long-Term Living
With the production line rolling along like a juggernaut in Millersburg, Rockwood can’t afford to adjust the specifications of the 2516S to suit particular export market preferences or cater to the tastes of individual customers. What the US market receives is therefore pretty much what we get here in New Zealand, and the Rockwood is tailored totally towards North America, where there is greater emphasis on long-term freedom camping and the use of well-equipped spacious caravans as permanent homes.
The 2516S might look huge to many of us at 7.8m long, 3.3m high, and 2.4m wide (before the slide outs are deployed) but by US standards this Rockwood model is a bit of a pup. It is a member of the brand’s ‘Mini Lite’ model range, albeit the largest, heaviest caravan of that family and the only one with two slide-outs. “The 2516S might look big when compared with dual-axle Australian caravans but it is seen as a compact model in the US,” says Ken Jackson, of NZ Rockwood importer, Sun Marketing. Although the 9.1m long 2608BS ‘Ultra Lite’ model might be the most popular choice of the 150 Rockwoods that Sun Marketing imports and sells each year, sales of the 2516S Mini Lite are beginning to gain traction for their increased ease of towing and larger payload.
“You can tow both with an ordinary ute with 3500kg towing capacity, but a lot of people feel more comfortable towing a caravan that’s 7.8 metres long instead of something that’s 9.1m in length.” At 2744kg when unladen, the 2516S is some 300kg lighter than the most popular Rockwood model allowing it to donate that weight difference to increasing the payload without breaching the 3500kg gross trailer weight barrier. The smaller Rockwood can be used to cart 782kg of stuff while the 2608BS has a maximum load capacity of 411kg.
This increased rating is handy if you want to add more solar panels to the 190w energy collector already installed and feeding the 1000w optional inverter of the 2516S and/or add a bike rack substantial enough to cart some full-power e-bikes. Worthy of consideration when weighing up the worth of a higher payload are the three large tanks fitted to the Rockwoods. The 2516S can carry 204L of freshwater, 227L of greywater, and 113L of toilet waste. Although it’s highly unlikely that the caravan will ever be towed with all three tanks full to the brim, each of these litres can add an extra kilogram in weight. There’s also a Rockwood’s twin domestic batteries and twin gas bottles to accommodate within the payload limit.
Although the 2516S is relatively light given its size and the two slide outs that extend on the port side, it’s built to last. The caravan body is framed by aluminum components on all six sides and is mounted atop a heavy-duty galvanized steel chassis. Square-section aluminum tubing frames the side walls and forms the floor joists, while the roof is trussed by cast aluminum cross members with curved top pieces to promote water runoff. This structure gets clad by fully laminated panels made of fibreglass, plywood, and insulation layers. Further insulation is supplied by the radiant foil layer in the underbelly, front cap, and slide out floors.
The frameless windows are all made of laminated automotive glass, and further ventilation is provided by the large Maxix air-conditioning system mounted on the roof and by opening the twin doors. Also up there is the Teton WIFI booster with LTE preparation and antenna. It all rides on four independent Dexter torsion axles, each capable of carrying 2367kg of mass, towed by a hitch that can sustain 350kg of constant downward force. A Tyre Pressure Monitoring System gives plenty of warning of any puncture in the Goodyear Endurance tyres. You won’t need to use the TPMS to check the tyres for any bleeding of pressure as Rockwood fills the tyres with Nitrogen before the 2516S leaves the factory and the molecules of the gas are too large to fit through the molecular gaps in rubber.
Lost in Space
With the two powered slide-outs deployed, one for the rear bedroom with its 2.03m x 1.54m queen bed and the other shifting a pair of super-comfy lazyboy-style armchairs and the full-size fridge to enlarge the floor space up front, the Rockwood offers plenty of living room. Even the toilet feeding waste into the permanent tank has an area to itself and looks like a proper throne instead of something squashed into a corner. You could probably read a full-size newspaper while sat there on important personal business given all the elbow room.
It’s the forward kitchen across the front of the Mini Lite that gives the strongest hint to the ability of the 2516S to be comfortable permanent home rather than just a temporary holiday caravan. Few caravans have the space for double sinks, yet the Rockwood also surrounds these fittings with plenty of bench and cupboard space. The kitchen extends around a corner making it an easy swivel of the hips for the cook to reach the fullsize Dometic oven/grille from the sink and the gas hobs above it. There’s also a microwave located above the stove.
The bathroom between the rear bedroom and the living area is just as user friendly as the rest of the Rockwood, with a door at each end to guarantee privacy. The shower is as large as those found in many Kiwi homes, and the wash basin cabinet alongside doesn’t want for capacity. The Rockwood might sit high on its torsion-sprung chassis but the extendable ladders make climbing aboard and exiting via the twin starboard-side doors of the 2516S easy. Once inside, the 6’8” (2.03m) floor-to-ceiling measurement offers plenty of headroom for most folk and adds to the impression of a surfeit of living room.
At the rear of the Rockwood is a sturdy towbar-style mount ready for a bike rack, below a robust-looking rear bumper bar. On the left side of the rear wall is a ladder, so you can clamber up onto the walkable roof to clean and/or winterproof it easily. You might even want to take a couple of deckchairs up there to get a better view when the Rockwood is parked up at some special event. The attention to detail is impressive all over the Mini Lite. Nice touches include the black canvas roof covers that roll out with the slide-outs to deflect heat and ensure weathertightness.
There are outdoor feeds for a shower, BBQ, and TV (New Zealand-bound Rockwoods let the buyer decide the choice of TV), and the 2.5 x 6 metre awning on the door side of the caravan is easy to deploy and looks stronger than most. Rockwood wire and plumb the caravans bound for this country to New Zealand standards at the factory, and appliances such as the fridge, air conditioning, oven and instantaneous hot water system are all fitted in the factory in the USA. The caravans come with a New Zealand electrical WoF and full gas certification.
Personally, I’d endure the four-month wait for a ‘Newport ash and chocolate’ version of the interior décor of the 2516S, as the latter darker hue adds some contrast when compared to the usual ‘Newport ash and stone’ decoration of NZ Rockwoods. It all adds up to something that is more a mobile cabin than a caravan, equipped and designed to meet the needs of any couple, whether on tour or settling down for a bit somewhere. Especially when you factor in how much the Rockwood Mini Lite 2516S gives you for the money.
|MAKE & MODEL:
|Rockwood Mini Lite 2516S
|Heavy-duty glavanised steel trailer
with electric brakes
|6.95m L with 2.03m head room
|Fresh 204L/Grey 227L/Black 113L
For more information, visit https://www.sunmarketing.co.nz/