ASA Electronics knows that to remain relevant they have to adapt to new technology. Since its humble beginnings in 1977, ASA Electronics has evolved and changed to become, and remain, a leading supplier of electronics to the RV industry, and pioneered the way for many technological advances available on RVs today. What began as a company dealing primarily in entertainment technology, ASA has moved into the safety and observation space while remaining true to its roots.
ASA Electronics was founded in 1977 by Tom Irions, along with his business partner Kelly Rose. They began as Midwest regional distributors of mobile audio/visual products for Audiovox before branching out on their own, opening up in Elkhart, Indiana. ASA Electronics was the response to the request Irions often heard from his clients at Audiovox: They needed tougher electronics. Consumergrade TVs and stereos weren’t surviving trips in vehicles designed to travel crosscountry. There had to be a solution, and Irions was ready to provide it with ASA Electronics.
“We’ve always been an electronics company. They made a shift from van conversions to RVs. They were forced to make a change. We’re constantly needing to change, so a big leap to the RV industry was necessary when van conversions started tanking,” says Jim Hess, vice president RV division for ASA Electronics.
In 1991, ASA Electronics developed the first-ever 13-inch DC-powered television for mobile use. OEMs were able to install this in RVs without any additional modifications or adapters – the first of its kind and unlike the traditional AC-powered models. ASA has continued creating advances for the industry throughout the years, becoming a mainstay with OEMs and in units throughout the country and expanded business into China. ASA has invested in an office in China where they employ 24 people.
“We started the office over in China because typically when you do business in China you work with a broker who’s only going to give you information when he has to. By investing in employees oversees we have more of a heads-up of any headwinds coming our way. This way we have a network of people that have our best interest in mind instead of a brokerage,” Hess says.
Irions is still actively involved in the company, often coming into work, Hess says.
Innovation for Today
The company has expanded to serve other industries, five in total, including the commercial vehicle industry, marine industry, agricultural industry and the trailering industry. Hess says the RV industry makes up about 40% of the company’s total business.
“Eighty percent of all RVs are built in this area. It’s easier to serve an industry where the network is already built. The rest of the industries we serve are a lot more spread out and it takes longer to build networks,” Hess says.
That being said, ASA Electronics serves big players in other industries, such as Pepsi, John Deere and Case New Holland (CNH Industrial), to name a few. They even have a contract with UPS where every brown truck in the country uses ASA’s Voyager wired cameras.
In the RV industry, ASA Electronics works primarily with OEMs, but also does some aftermarket work with NTP-STAG, Meyer Distributing and dealerships. While some of ASA’s products can be added after the fact to upgrade systems, most products need to be installed at the OEM level, or at least prepped for them at the OEM level.
“For instance, with the iNCommand system a customer could not add it aftermarket,” says Rachel West, marketing director for ASA Electronics. “Now, with the iNCommand prep system, the OEMs will install the wiring necessary for a customer to add the system aftermarket. They can just order a kit at that point. If you don’t have the prep system, the amount of time and money it would take likely wouldn’t be worth it.”
The new iNCommand prep system allows the customer to upgrade to a full iNCommand system afterwards through aftermarket avenues or components like a 7-inch touch screen for the system.
“iNCommand has been imitated a few times with [other systems]. It’s been imitated, which is the highest form of flattery,” West says.
There’s crossover of products between the five industries, Hess says, adding that many products that work well on a boat work well in an RV, too.
“Each product is individually designed for the industry they’re in. We design marine-grade speakers that can stand up to sea salt spray on the outside of the boat. They stand up to road salt spray, too, which stands up on the outside of an RV,” Hess says.
Innovation for Tomorrow
While the Voyager brand is one of the oldest brands at ASA Electronics, the company has continued to improve upon it, making it relevant with each new adaptation. The newest innovation to the Voyager brand is the Voyager 270 system, born out of the wired version in the commercial truck space.
“We’ve been in the wired and wireless camera portion of things in the RV industry for quite some time. We took a wired 360-degree system from the commercial space and made it wireless, creating the Voyager 270 system. If you’re hauling a travel trailer or fifth wheel you don’t need a camera to see in front of you; you need to see around the side of the unit and the back of it. You need a bird’s-eye view,” Hess says. “Up until now, people were lucky to have a rear camera on their RV. When backing up and into a space, they just had to wing it. The best they could do was a rear camera that gave sight directly behind you, but as soon as you start to angle it gets distorted.”
The Voyager 270’s technology includes an auto calibrating system with a camera on each side and one on the back.
“The magic happens when calibration takes place and the side cameras meet the back camera to provide a 360-degree view,” Hess says.
The installation and calibration must be done at the manufacturing level where the use of calibration mats is possible and everything can be dialed in.
“Anything that’s safety related is important that it’s installed properly,” Hess says. “Going forward, we’re hoping to create a sense of normalcy and culture of safety and technology in the RV industry,” West says. “A lot of consumers are getting used to seeing these types of products built-in to their vehicles in the automotive industry. I think retail consumers are going to start expecting it in their recreational vehicles, too.”
Part of safety means rigorous testing, something ASA takes very seriously. Many of their processes are ISO 9000 certified. They have created their own engineering lab for testing in Elkhart.
“We created our own standard for testing for RVs, because a standard didn’t really exist. We design and test everything in Elkhart,” Hess says. “We test with vibration chambers. We test with salt spray, for extreme heat, cold, humidity and an electrical test for voltage spikes and voltage dumps. It’s an upfront investment, but we have very few returns and some of the lowest warranty claims.”
Hess says looking to the future he sees ASA moving toward safety products.
“We will still be in the entertainment category, but I see our main focus being on stuff not as easily duplicated and the safety space, such as control systems and monitoring,” he says.