“American was not built on fear. America was built on courage, on imagination and an unbeatable determination to do the job at hand.” – President Harry S. Truman
It is easy to see why Truma chose to name itself after U.S. President Harry S. Truman when the company was founded in 1949 in Germany. As noted on the company’s website, Truman was a critical factor in helping Germany to become an industrialized nation after World War II, and thus Truma’s founder Philipp Kreis named his company after the president, launching a brand that 65 years later is successful internationally and still family owned.
While the company got its start with a gas lamp that the founder assembled in his own living room, Truma is now a supplier of heaters, air conditioners, hot water generators and more for the RV industry.
Gerhard Hundsberger, Truma North America president and CEO, says a lot of work went into launching the brand in North America in 2013.
“Truma is a really big player in the European market with a tremendous market share – in some areas 90%, especially on the heating side,” he says. “Our entire DNA is RVing.
“Post financial crisis in 2008, 2009, the European RV market suffered tremendously. And so did Truma. We lost, in some months, 50% market share revenue, and it took relatively long for the European market to recover.
“And so, we said, ‘what can we do to offset that risk?’ And we always looked at the U.S. market. [As] such a huge player in the European market, we were never really involved in the U.S. market – the largest RV market in the world. So, 2011, 2012 – [we thought] maybe it’s a good time to get into the U.S. market.
“This is when we conducted a market study,” Hundsberger continues. “We brought a consultant on board…We wanted to approach this in a very strategic way.
“We interviewed manufacturers. We interviewed dealers and, most importantly, we interviewed more than 800 end users. And we asked them: What could Truma bring to the table? What would you as an end consumer like to see from a European quality supplier? What could we bring better to the table than what is already existing on the appliance side? Water heaters, furnaces, air conditioners.
“And so that gave us a huge insight and optimism that we could be very successful in North America.”
The first product brought to the North American market was the AquaGo – a water heating system that keeps temperature consistent, gives a continuous supply of hot water and an “easy drain lever” to aid in winterization, among other features.
One of the first employees brought on board from the get-go was Mark Howlett, now the COO.
“Mark came on board, other people came on board and really started rolling out our approach to North America,” Hundsberger says.
“I remember the first meetings with manufacturers and the expectations were, ‘we appreciate you coming to the North American market. Can you offer something less expensive than we buy today?’” he says with a laugh.
“That was a little bit eye-opening for us. Obviously, we did not come to the market to undercut existing suppliers. We knew that our systems would be more expensive. We wanted to create a premium brand…[and] we really built that story about Truma being a premium supplier.”
As for establishing Truma’s North American presence in Elkhart, Indiana, Hundsberger says it just made sense.
“It was kind of natural for us to come to Elkhart, not only because our future potential customers would be here, but we also felt like the heart of the RV industry is here,” he says.
The company’s current headquarters in Elkhart opened in 2019.
“We have 10,000 square feet of office space and approximately 40,000 square feet of warehouse,” Howlett says. “Our building I think stands out a little bit in Elkhart. We did have some struggles with trying to convince our builders to use some more European styling, and we have geothermal heating and cooling for the office area, which was not a known or a commonly used system in the Elkhart area.”
The facility was designed to be as state of the art as possible and a welcoming place for people to come to work.
“We are able to bring in customers immediately into our facility. We have two service bays. We have seven bays in total. We also invested heavily into a climate chamber, which allows us to do heating and cooling tests of RVs for our customers. That is a differentiator for us,” Howlett says.
“Standing behind that, we have 70 years of technology knowledge not only of our products, but how products should be installed,” Howlett adds. “We want to give the best overall customer experience possible for the consumers, and therefore we work very closely with their OEM partners to ensure that the vehicles are designed to optimize the heating and the cooling systems.”
Truma employs approximately 50 people in Elkhart and another 20 in Canada and around the U.S. who support the company as mobile service techs. There is also a brick-and-mortar office in Florida.
“I would say our passion is really to create solutions for maximum comfort in caravaning and outdoors,” Hundsberger says. “We develop the best-in-class systems which are highly reliable. We strive to be simply better in everything we do here in North America.”
The manufacturers or the dealers that buy Truma’s products are their customers, but the president and CEO points out that it’s the end consumer who will hopefully use the products for the next 10 years or longer.
“So, our end consumer is the center of our DNA – the center of everything we do here in North America,” he says.
The company focuses on three main values: adaptability, connectedness and courage, Hundsberger says.
“What we mean by adaptability is being open-minded and prepared for new or future circumstances; being able to adapt quickly to changes in the business environment that guarantees long-term success,” he says.
By connectedness, Hundsberger shares that globally, Truma has more than a thousand employees.
“We discuss ideas and solutions on a global basis as customer requirements are similar in all global markets,” he says. “If we can connect those dots with systems on a worldwide basis, adopt them a little bit to certain requirements and certain countries, but overall the way systems work and the basic DNA of our systems are always the same.”
Connectedness also refers to how the company communicates within the organization and with its customers.
And lastly, courage means Truma’s team members are willing to take certain calculated risks, Hundsberger says.
“And of course, coming to North America was definitely a brave decision,” he adds.
As for the future of Truma, Hundsberger says the company has built a foundation and reputation in North America that the team should be proud of. And hearing positive feedback from customers at recent shows such as the Hershey RV Show is proof of that success.
“We’re going to continue to build on this great story. We are still relatively small, but we have ambitious goals,” he says. “Why can’t we not become a similar supplier to the North American market like we are in the European market? We want to make millions of customers happy with ‘simply better’ Truma systems. That is my vision.”
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When RV PRO asked Gerhard Hundsberger and Mark Howlett which Truma product has been its most well received, the answer was undoubtedly the Truma Combi – a combination of a gas furnace and water heater for medium-size vehicles.
“For premium vehicles in the premium market it is the go-to product,” Howlett says. “We design our products [to be] long lasting and low maintenance, low service, and we have a very low warranty rate as well.”
Another product Howlett noted is the Aventa rooftop air conditioner.
“One of the great features of that product is its ability to use less energy and as more OEMs and consumers want to run off lithium batteries, our ability to run longer with the product has been a differentiator and a product that more and more both consumers and OEMs are moving towards. It fits within the expectations of the customer being able to boondock longer by having a system that allows them to use less energy,” Howlett says.