Many truck enthusiasts have long wished for the ultimate truck; a Ford truck body, Ram Cummins diesel engine, and a GM Allison transmission. This imagined Franken-truck would incorporate what some believe are the best elements from the big three truck manufacturers.
Many truck camper enthusiasts have had similar thoughts about the ultimate truck camper; this model’s dry bath, that model’s dinette, and yet another model’s kitchen and cabover layout. In the future, perhaps we’ll be able to pull up to a drive through and place an order.
“Uh, hello? I’d like a long bed, single-slide, with the #3 dry bath, #7 dinette, and the #12 kitchen and cabover. Can I supersize that?”
“Yes, you can. Please drive around and the camper will be loaded on your truck.”
A few moments of large-scale 3D printing later, and you’re camping. It could happen.
In real life, the truck camper manufacturers sit around a table and dream up the next camper. They talk about what’s selling in the marketplace, what works best on their production line, and what is getting the best customer response in the field. Together with dealer feedback and internal experience and intuition, they design, develop, and deploy a new truck camper.
When Lance Campers sent us the floor plan for the 975, we could literally see the result of this process right before our eyes. There are obvious elements from previous and current Lance Camper designs, elements of what’s selling well in the overall marketplace, and elements that are new – all in one “new” Lance Camper.
To get the full story behind the 2016 Lance 975, we talked to Jack Cole, President, Gary Conley, National Sales Manager, and Randy Hunter, Product Development for Lance Campers
2016 Lance 975 Specifications:
The 2016 Lance 975 is a hard-side, dry bath, single-slide truck camper for long bed trucks. The interior floor length of the Lance 975 is 10’4” and the interior height is 79”. Lance is reporting the dry weight of the Lance 975 at 3,330 pounds without options and 3,930 pounds with standard build features including the Ultra Deck Plus bumper, air conditioner, generator, electric side and rear awnings, convenience package, four season package, back up camera, 24” LCD television, solar panel, and roof rack.
The tanks in the 2015 Lance 975 are 45 gallons fresh, 30 gallons grey, and 26 gallons black. The camper accommodates two batteries and two twenty-pound propane tanks.
TCM: Does the new 2015 Lance 975 replace any older models in the Lance line? At first blush, it looks very similar to the recently discontinued Lance 1181.
Gary: It’s actually more similar to our 971 model from 2008 and 2009. The 975 takes the 971 floor plan, adds five inches of floor length, and increases the available storage significantly. The 975 delivers a full-compliment dry bath camper with less weight and more truck compatibility than the 971 or 1181 could offer.
The 975 will be competing with 5,000 pound truck campers in the truck camper marketplace. The difference is, the Lance 975 weighs in at 3,330 pounds dry. People want a dry bath in a truck camper at a reasonable weight. That’s the niche the 975 is targeting; dry bath, full-wall slide-out, and reasonable weight
TCM: Again, at first blush, the dinette, dry bath, and cabover bedroom look nearly identical to the same features on the 1172.
Gary: The 1172 and the 975 have the same dry bath. The full-wall slide-out in the 975 is basically the same from the 1172, but a little shorter.
The forward dry bath and the rear window in the slide-out really open up the camper. We also made sure the cabover was accessible when the slide-out is in. The additional five inches of floor length allowed us to add the pantry and drawers in the galley
Randy: We designed the 975 slide-out shorter in length to create room for the rear storage compartment. The rear storage compartment is designed for storing of taller items like snow boards, fishing poles, as well as chairs, and more.
TCM: Can you get into the bathroom with the slide-out in?
Gary: No, you cannot access the bathroom when the slide-out is in. The cabover is accessible, but it’s not a straight walk-through. Once you get around the dinette, you can step in front of the refrigerator on the full-wall slide floor and reach the cabover.
TCM: After the first prototype was completed, were there any adjustments made before it was production ready?
Jack: As part of our product planning, we put a lot of eyes on the 975 floor plan as it was being developed. When the prototype was physically built, the camper had a whole new look.
I kept asking, “How can we get more room in the galley?” It turned out that there was a small space under the propane compartment and a small space on top of the propane compartment. I asked Randy if he could move the two small spaces together to create one larger space. He elevated the propane tanks and built an exterior storage compartment with the resulting space
Afterwards I kept going to the design team, looking at the 975, and asking, “Where are the walls?” Well, they had to make new walls to accommodate my request. That’s what happens when you start making changes. It takes time to build the parts, and rebuild the camper.
I made some changes to the 975 fairly late in the design state. I know that made an impression on the design team. The next model they will work on they will pay even more attention about how the camper is laid out. They will learn from this experience and produce an even better design.
I often say to our design and production teams, “You may only be in there for half an hour, but the customer will be in there for many years. Take the time to move the plumbing back, look for more storage opportunities, and make sure those spaces are not violated by fixtures or plumbing”. It’s important to think of the end user, and how they will use our campers.
Gary: There were some cosmetic and storage changes, but the prototype was essentially right. We showed the 975 prototype at a Lance Owners of America event this past weekend and it was very well received.
The rear window in the slide really adds a lot. You can sit in the dinette and look outside instead of at a bare wall. We had a window like this in our slide-outs years ago, but we got rid of it in favor of bunks in the slide-outs
TCM: Why did you decide to go back to the window and remove the bunk in the 975?
Gary: Most of our customers use the dinette bunks for storage, not a place for children to sleep. In the 975, we added a significant amount of exterior and interior storage to off-set the removed bunk. For the trade-off, the 975 gains the rear slide window and a feeling of openness customers will recognize immediately
TCM: What slide mechanism does the 2015 Lance 975 use?
Randy: We are using Happijac Secure-Trac fixed frame slide mechanisms for the Lance 975. We use the Happijac Secure-Trac slide mechanisms for larger slide rooms. We have a comfort level with Happijac slide mechanisms, especially for larger slide-out applications.
TCM: The Lance 1172 uses a Lippert Schwintek slide for its rear sofa and the full-wall dinette slide. Is that going to change?
Gary: Yes, about three months ago we made that change. The full-wall slide-out on the 1172 now uses the Happijac Secure-Trac slide-out. The rear slide will continue to be a Lippert Schwintek slide. All 2016 Lance 1172 campers will have this change.
TCM: Were there any new materials, components, appliances, or processes used in the development of the 2015 Lance 975?
Randy: We incorporated recessed soffit LED lighting in the 975 cabover to provide a soft accent lighting to the front wall. We had already been using the recessed soffit LED lighting in our trailers, and are now introducing them into our truck camper line
TCM: What is the height of the basement in the 975?
Gary: The 975 has an eleven inch basement; wheel well height. This is the same height as the 995, 1181, 1191, and 1172. The wheel well basement height gives you extra floor space without the increased weight of a truck rail height basement.
TCM: Tell us about the size of the holding tanks, and why you made the tanks that size.
Randy: The 975 has a 45 gallon fresh tank. It was a tank we originally developed for the 995.
Gary: When we’re designing a new model, we prefer to use an existing tank. We also believe 45 gallons – 51 gallons with the water heater – is right for a camper this size. Anything more would be nice, but it’s more weight. Most customers don’t want the extra weight
TCM: What size batteries can the 975 accommodate, and where are those batteries located?
Gary: The 975 can accommodate two Group 27 batteries. The batteries are stored on the driver’s side in an outside compartment.
TCM: What size propane tanks can the 975 hold, and where are they located?
Randy: Two five gallon twenty-pound propane tanks located on the rear passenger’s side below the galley.
TCM: Has Lance moved away from seven-gallon, thirty-pound tanks?
Gary: Yes, we have. Finding a propane filling station can be difficult, but you can go to any Lowes, Home Depot, or 7-11 and exchange a five-gallon twenty-pound tank. If it’s 9:00pm at night, good luck finding a place to fill your seven-gallon propane tanks. There are lots of places you can exchange a five gallon tank at that hour.
In the toy hauler and travel trailer market, the five-gallon tank is more accepted for these reasons. Those markets would rather have the convenience of easy exchanges than the extra capacity of larger tanks
TCM: It appears that both awnings on the 975 are powered awnings. Are powered awnings the only optional awning available for the 975?
Randy: Yes, powered awnings with LED lighting are the only available awnings on the 975. We are using a 12-foot Carefree of Colorado Latitude armless powered awning on the passenger’s side of the 975
Gary: The ease of operation for the Latitude awnings is fantastic. You just push a button, and the awnings extend, and then retract for travel. The Latitude has a built-in wind sensor that automatically retracts the awning in windy conditions to prevent damage. The Latitude awnings also don’t have arms that you can knock your head on
TCM: We are very excited to see the heated exterior winterization compartment with the bypass switch, antifreeze in-take line, and easy water pump access. We also like the service compartment with battery disconnect, drain lines, coax cable television connections, dump valves, and outside shower. Tell us about the design and implementation of these compartments, and whether we might see them in more Lance models in the future
Gary: Having one service compartment with all of these features is our preferred way to go. Unfortunately, not every floor plan allows us to design this feature. Forward bath designs, like the 1172 and 975, make service compartments possible. The answer is yes, we will put service compartments into future models, when the floor plan and design allows for it
TCM: Why are there two porch lights on the 975; one yellow, and one white?
Gary: The clear white LED lights are the docking lights. When you put your truck in reverse, the white LED light will illuminate the ground behind your rig. It can also light your boat if you’re taking your boat out of the water at night. The yellow light is your standard patio light. You can leave that light on and not attract bugs
TCM: The implementation of the hide-a-way galley trash can looks great. It’s even accessible from the back door for easy access, and retrieval. How did this design element come about?
Gary: I think everyone is sick and tired of hanging plastic trash bags on the oven. Having a designated place for a trash can makes sense. It’s what people expect in a kitchen.
Jack: If a 975 owner needs more galley storage, they can remove the trash can, leave the door, and create nice storage area. We opted for a trash can because it can be a nuisance to find a place for trash in a truck camper
TCM: What material is the bathroom tub and shower stall made from in the 975?
Gary: All of our wet baths are molded fiberglass. All of our dry baths are ABS plastic. The molded fiberglass wet baths are about 100 pounds. ABS is significantly lighter, and allows for more design possibilities. Often it’s the bathroom design that dictates the tub and stall materials.
For weight reasons, we prefer ABS. In fact, if we could pull a ABS stall for a wet bath, we would make the change. The ABS material and manufacturing process doesn’t allow for that size, so we use fiberglass for our wet baths.
The 1172 and 975 bathroom shower features a lip on the shower pan that’s an inch and a half on back side of wall. The side wall sits inside of the shower pan. If water goes up hill an inch and a half, it’s not going to leak. It’s like a lap seal, similar to a shingle on a roof
On the other side of the bathroom wall we added a nice entertainment center with shelving for flashlights, maps, and magazines. That entertainment center also has the television which swings for visibility in the dinette or cabover bedroom
TCM: Is it possible to mount a second television in the cabover bedroom?
Gary: Anything is possible, but it’s not a Lance option. Keep in mind we are trying to limit weight. A television doesn’t weigh much by itself, until you add the swing-out arm, wiring, and additional power outlets and cable television connections. All in all, a second television could easily add twenty pounds to the 975, or more.
The television location in the 975 has been successfully used in both the 1181 and 1172 models. I think 975 customers are going find that it works well
TCM: From the photographs, the kitchen sink and oven area appear to be a little tight, with limited counter area for food preparation. What was the decision there?
Gary: The galley in the 975 is actually the same galley from the 855-S. The one-piece counter top is the same mold. It might look a little tight from the floor plan and photography, but it works well in person.
Randy: We reviewed incorporating a flip-up counter extension to add food preparation space, but there were electrical switches in that location. We opted to give the customer quick entry-way access to lights inside the unit instead.
Gary: Everything is a trade-off
TCM: The angled cabinetry and drawers in the kitchen area must have presented some intricate design challenges, but what is the advantage to angled cabinetry and drawer storage?
Randy: The angled design was done for the visual flow of the camper interior. The drawers seem awkward initially, but there’s a silverware caddy in the top drawer and the functionality and storage opportunity is excellent, plus it provides a very unique appearance, and one which is hard to accomplish without CNC cabinetry construction capabilitie
Under the galley, we moved the P-trap to the side wall and the plumbing to the rear wall so you can fit pots and pans in that space. We take every available storage inch seriously.
Above the generator compartment and below the propane compartment on the passenger’s side, there’s a nice storage area that was originally only accessible from by reaching deep into the rear of the galley cabinetry, which was obstructed by plumbing. We redesigned that area to give the camper a 12”x26”x22” exterior storage area.
Jack: The angled pantry and drawers in the galley create new storage opportunities. I have been in many customers’ campers and I’m always amazing at how they store stuff. They come up with all kinds of creative solutions to bring extra things. Our customers know how to find a space and use it. They will use the space created by the angled pantry and drawers. If we had not angled them, they would have been six-inches shorter, and wouldn’t be nearly as functional.
Gary: In person, the galley also wraps around you making everything easier to access
TCM: What does the 2015 Lance 975 weigh with standard build features?
Gary: The base dry weight of a Lance 975 is 3,330 pounds. With standard build features the weight is about 3,930 pounds. That includes an optional generator, two power awnings, air conditioner, television, microwave, Fantastic Fan, battery separator, four season insulation, and the Ultra Deck Plus bumper. It also includes our standard thermal pane windows.
TCM: Where is the center of gravity on the 2015 Lance 975?
Randy: It’s 49-inches from the front of the camper.
TCM: Is the center of gravity marked on the side of the camper?
Gary: We don’t mark center of gravity because it moves based on how you load the camper.
TCM: Forgive the broken record, but I once again implore Lance Campers to come up with a solution for marking center of gravity. It is the opinion of Truck Camper Magazine that center of gravity stickers should be standard, and we’re open to exploring ways it can be done better, and more accurately. What is the MSRP for the 2015 Lance 975 with standard build features?
Gary: It’s actually the same MSRP as the Lance 995; $33,422. With the standard build features listed above, the camper will be around $40,000 including freight
TCM: That’s really interesting how the 995 and 975 are priced identically. Why did you do that?
Gary: Like Burger King says, “Have it your way”. We like to give our customers choices.
TCM: What is the warranty for the 2015 Lance 975?
Gary: There’s a two year structural warranty, one year inclusive of everything, and then individual warranties on the components.
TCM: How does Lance approach quality control during new camper development?
Gary: It costs same amount of money to do it right as it does to do it wrong. Nobody wants to design a camper with warranty issues. I think we’re pretty progressive with quality. If we find an inherent design problem, we aren’t going to wait until the next model year to fix it. We’ll make the changes and design that problem out right away.
We don’t want to ruin someone’s vacation. We are selling a fun product, often part of a customer’s dreams. People save for forty years to travel and explore. It’s a big let down if an issue with their camper gets in the way of that. We want our customers to feel they made the right decision buying a Lance Camper. With that focus, we strive to design and build campers that are better to use, handle better on a truck, and are as functional and trouble-free as possible.
Jack: As a company, we draw heavily on our fifty years of experience with truck campers. That said, we’re always experimenting with new materials. When mistakes are made, it has to be made right. Our goal is to manufacture a trouble-free product that meets or exceeds customer expectations.
TCM: When will the 2015 Lance 975 be available?
Gary: Two Lance 975 campers are shipping this week. The rest will be shipped by the second week of April. Expect to see the 975 at Lance dealers in the next month or two.
TCM: Is there anything about the 2015 Lance 975 that you would like to add?
Jack: I love the 1172 and all the room in it. The 995 and the 975 are right on target and killer floor plans. The 995 is doing really well already. I was watching the 975 model because I think it will be my next personal unit.
We have a young group of engineers who are very bright. Half of them came out of our production team and learned SolidWorks. It’s not very common to have production team members with assembly line experience working in engineering. When you marry the two mindsets of production and engineering, you advance the quality of the designs
Gary: If you look at 1172, 1052, 995 and now 975, you see a re-creation of the Lance truck camper line with high emphasis on function and design.
The 975 has more storage in the cabover, windows on both sides for cross ventilation, and a Heki skylight. The bathroom counter is really nice, which is something you don’t see often in truck campers
The Lance 975 features a Maggie Rack system to prevent the need to drill additional holes when carrying kayaks, paddle boards, wind surfing gear, and canoes on the roof. That’s another unique feature of Lance Campers. By keeping everything elevated, the Maggie Rack also prevents roof mounted objects from rubbing or puncturing the rubber roof material
The 975 incorporates our one-piece TPO front nose, the new standard bumper is three inches deeper, and we used a 80” tall and 26” wide door on the 975. For tall folks, the larger door will prevent head knocking.
TCM: Is this new door going to be on all Lance Campers?
Randy: The new door started with the 995, and will be incorporated into other models over time.
Gary: We put a taller door on the 1172. The 1052 may get the taller door, but that hasn’t been determined yet. Tall people are going to really appreciate the taller egress
TCM: Are there any other new model announcements coming from Lance in 2015?
Gary: It’s going to be a camper designed for the half-ton short bed market. We will introduce it in Truck Camper Magazine before August.
TCM: That sounds very interesting. Is there any other news to share from Lance?
Gary: Lance Campers has over 47,000 fans on Facebook. We invite Truck Camper Magazine readers to become a Facebook fan of Lance Campers.
Right now we’re having a fun Lance Land photo contest. All you have to do is download a Lance Land sign, print it out, and then take pictures of yourself holding the sign where you go camping with your Lance. There’s a PDF on our website and on the Lance Camper Facebook page.
For more information on Lance Campers, visit their website at www.lancecamper.com.