The history of AL-KO

By: Peter Quilty


AL-KO’s Australian story is a rags-to-riches chronicle of revolutionary growth in a specialised international market.

AL-KO-Electronic -Stability -Control -presentation

From a small South Melbourne factory in post-WWII era Australia to punishing its products in the unforgiving Victorian High Country in 2017, AL-KO has come a long way in the past 71 years. 

AL-KO’s Australian story had its genesis back in 1946 with the establishment of Hornby Engineering in South Melbourne, Vic – a company which produced axles and braking systems for the caravan industry.

Hornsby -Engineering -in -1946

Since then, there have been several acquisitions by the company, eventually leading to the formation of parent company DexKo Global Inc. in 2016 – a strategic alliance between AL-KO and Dexter to become the global market leader in caravan, motorhome and trailer axles and components.

An -axle -assembly -at -AL-KO-factory -in -1993

And more recent product innovation and development, complemented by investment in engineering and technology, has cemented AL-KO’s status in a specialised worldwide market.

Old -AL-KO-factory -in -Hallam -VIC

The AL-KO Toughest Tow Test aimed to put some of AL-KO’s latest, and some of its staple, products under the pump in the High Country, to see how they’d handle terrain most caravanners wouldn’t attempt. This included the Enduro Outback offroad independent trailing arm suspension and the newly-released Off-Road Coupling, as well as AL-KO’s Electronic Stability Control (ESC), 50mm ball coupling and Outback leaf spring suspension, which has been part of caravanners’ lives for much longer.

AL-KO-Enduro -Outback -Suspension

When ESC was released in May 2012, it was a revolutionary, world-first breakthrough in caravan towing safety. Since then, the Australian caravan industry’s overall uptake (both new and aftermarket) has been phenomenal.

After seeing these products perform up close and in the flesh under testing conditions in the High Country, I headed out, upon my return, to AL-KO’s main manufacturing facility and Australian head office and in Dandenong South, Vic.

FACTORY FLOOR

Motorhome -chassis -assembly -at -AL-KO-factory

AL-KO’s technical and manufacturing manager Rob Funder walked me through several assembly lines, and I was also introduced to a team of mechanical engineers who develop and test the products.

It was a real eye-opener, and just a few of the processes I witnessed included: axle and stub machining; manual and robotic welding; electronic component assembly; motorhome chassis assembly; machining of raw castings for hubs, disc rotors and brake drums; and brake actuation system manufacture and assembly.

Funder, who has been with AL-KO for 43 years, has seen many pivotal changes for the business in that time. In fact, he was a member of an AL-KO crew that designed the first electric braking system for caravans in Australia.

ESC-Gemini

"We’ve taken some very big leaps," he said. "In the formative days, manufacturing our own trailer couplings was a big financial investment. And we once had zero market share in the trailer springs market."

He recalls the days AL-KO was involved with hydraulics in the marine industry, and says that developing a disc brake calliper got the company a foot in the door of the high-end caravan market.

Other watershed moments include the advent of ESC, motorhome chassis assembly, and the development of two iQ7 power-assisted braking models, the iQ7 Outback and iQ7 Outback XTREME, for caravans with disc brakes in dusty conditions.

"AL-KO ESC has given caravanners a high level of safety and security when they are towing," Funder said. "If and when the caravan is out of control, they have added confidence that ESC will intervene to bring it back into line."

AL-KO-ESC-presentation

The Enduro independent trailing arm suspension systems (Outback and Cross Country) are rugged and specifically designed for AL-KO’s key applications. "We’ve also worked on a lot of things, including the heat dissipation of our shock absorbers," Funder said. "And our coil springs are locally produced; they’re of better quality than those from overseas and we’ve just had to swallow the cost implications."

The simple philosophy behind the introduction of the new and improved AL-KO Off-Road Coupling, according to Funder, was the need for a self-aligning offroad hitch suitable for a 50mm standard towball.

"We listened to consumer feedback on our first version and, as a result, the revised model is much more user-friendly," he said. "Consequently, industry acceptance of this latest coupling is quite strong."   

I Qxtreme -AL-KO-set -up -on -van

A Victorian Manufacturing Hall of Fame inductee, AL-KO invests heavily in the latest state-of-the art tools to ensure it’s able to adapt to changing consumer needs utilising 3D modelling, finite element analysis and coordinate measuring technology in addition to robotics and CNC machinery.

You can win the Ultimate Tough Towing Kit (including a set of clearview mirrors), valued at $6,811. Enter HERE.

The full feature appeared in Caravan World #563. Subscribe today for the latest caravan reviews and news every month!