For more than three-quarters of a century, home and mobile products have been developed, manufactured, and offered on two continents by this multifaceted company.
By Jim Brightly, F358406
With the word “domestic” as its genesis, Dometic’s name was born in a brainstorming session at Electrolux (at the time, a Swedish corporation) in the 1960s. Originally set up as a U.S. domestic corporation, Dometic was a division of the European corporation until it was split off in 2001.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Actually, the foundation for the company that is called Dometic today was laid in 1922 when two Swedish students, Carl Munters and Baltzar von Platen, invented the first absorption refrigerator. Electrolux was established in 1925 and began developing expertise and experience in absorption refrigeration technology and its many application areas. Would you believe it only took a decade for a million absorption refrigerators to be sold? And this was before television advertising, and almost before radio.
Through the 1930s refrigerators began to be regarded as standard items in modern middle-class households (although icemen were still delivering ice and fighting off the kids during summer vacation well into the 1950s). The “people’s refrigerator,” in various sizes and models, was a huge success, and sales volumes set new records every year. In the ’40s World War II put refrigeration development on hold.
Throughout the Fabulous Fifties, increased competition caused cooling improvements, resulting in absorption refrigeration being able to operate on 30 percent less energy. Competition from compressor refrigeration technology kept getting tougher, and the first RV refrigerator was introduced. As RV sales grew, so did the demand for absorption refrigerators. In the 1960s Electrolux established Dometic Sales Corporation as a subsidiary in the United States. The company immediately began marketing equipment and refrigerators for RVs under the Dometic brand name.
As Dometic moved into the 1970s, the product line for RVs and boats was expanded. RV refrigerators were now equipped with 12/120/230-volt armatures that would permit their operation with a car battery, a 120–230-volt source, or LP gas. Piezoelectric ignition was introduced on most models. The term “self-contained” took on a whole new meaning.
Except for a couple of burps in the economy due to oil crises in the 1970s, both that decade and the 1980s continued to see a strong and burgeoning demand for RV refrigerators. It was about this time that Dometic introduced the first electronic refrigerator that automatically selected the most appropriate method of operation “” LP gas, 12-volt DC, or 120-volt AC.
Also during the ’80s, Dometic and Electrolux began expanding their product lines through acquisition. First came Duo-Therm Corporation in 1985, which produced RV air-conditioning and heating equipment. Second was Origoverken in 1986, a European corporation that produced cookers and ovens for pleasure boats. A&E Systems Inc., at the time the largest U.S. manufacturer of awnings for recreation vehicles, came along in 1988.
The 1990s saw more product development and some diversification from RV-focused products. Medical refrigeration systems were further developed for the safe storage and transportation of blood, as were water purification systems and even vibration-free wine cellars for the European markets.
Following acquisition in Germany of Seitz, a company that manufactured windows and doors for recreation vehicles in 2000, Electrolux sold most of its Leisure Products product line to the venture-capital company EQT in 2001 “” and the Dometic Group was created.
Over the years, Dometic has successfully broadened the original product lineup with several new complementary products. The group has expanded through in-house growth as well as a number of strategic corporate acquisitions, including SeaLand and Taylor Made Environmental.
A list of products sheltered under the Dometic umbrella is almost like a list of who’s who in RV products: A&E Systems (awnings), Dometic (refrigerators, microwave ovens, safes, and vacuum systems), Duo-Therm (air conditioners, heat pumps, solar panels, and climate control centers), SeaLand (toilets and sanitation systems), and Seitz (windows).
A&E Systems has continued to grow along with the RV market and now has several manufacturing locations spread around the United States, including one in LaGrange, Indiana. A&E Systems-brand awnings range from bag awnings to 24-foot lateral-arm power awnings, window awnings, patio rooms, mats, shades, and other accessories. Model names include LA03 Power Awning, WeatherPro Power Awning, Two Step, Sunchaser, Horizon, Catalina, and SlideTopper slideout covers. By locating its plants near RV “hot spots,” A&E can quickly supply its dealers with up-to-date sizes and colors of awnings as ordered. Awnings, because of their overall size and the wide variety of sizes and colors that may be needed, are difficult to store on-site; therefore, A&E can deliver a specific awning within a few days after it’s ordered. It’s not uncommon for some deliveries to occur within 24 hours.
Dometic-brand refrigerators range from single-door, 2-cubic-foot models to 14-cubic-foot auto-defrost models with an ice dispenser in the door (just like residential models). Model names include Americana, Royale, New Dimensions, and SideWise. Seven different Dometic microwave models range from small countertop units to large over-the-range ovens that include convection. Several motorhome manufacturers include the Dometic brand vacuum system on their option lists (with 30 feet of hose) to ease cleaning chores in the motorhome.
Duo-Therm-brand air conditioners and heat pumps offer a complete line of systems for seemingly any need. In the Duo-Therm catalog you’ll find rooftop A/Cs and heat pumps with up to 15,000-Btu output. You’ll also find low-profile models, high-efficiency models, and basement air conditioners and heat pumps with outputs of up to 26,000 Btus. Through Duo-Therm, Dometic assists original-equipment manufacturers with cooling planning and engineering designs and allows them to utilize its environmental chamber to test the efficiency of their units. According to Brad Sargent, Dometic vice president of marketing, “We feel we go above and beyond the typical supplier’s role to ensure the OEMs get what they need and what the consumer wants.”
SeaLand, the leading U.S. manufacturer of sanitation systems for the pleasure boat industry, has proven to be an excellent enhancement for Dometic’s RV markets as well. With more than 40 years of experience, SeaLand offers a full line of sanitation systems from electronic flush (with “flush-and-forget” technology) to pedal flush and vacuum technology.
Seitz-brand windows provide a variety of thermo-insulated windows, which prevent condensation and pooling water along the windowsill, and rooftop-mounted powered skylights and hatches.
Taylor Made Environmental, now Dometic Environmental, is a company that produces HVAC systems for the marine industry, in addition to specialty refrigeration for the marine and trucking industries.
What’s in Dometic’s future? “Each year we strive to introduce new and exciting changes to our product line,” noted Mr. Sargent. “At the [2004 National RV Trade Show in Louisville, Kentucky], for example, we introduced the first RV refrigerator with true auto defrost and ice through the door “” another industry first for absorption refrigerators.
“Dometic is in a constant state of growth,” he added. “We manufacture our products in 11 countries and offer them to a global market. Our customers look to us to lead the industry in research, design, and innovation. It’s a position we don’t take lightly.”
Dometic Corporation, P.O. Box 490, Elkhart, IN 46515; (800) 544-4881; fax: (574) 293-9686; www.dometicusa.com.