Luxury Coaches & Conversions Shine in Tampa

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January 22, 2016 by   Comments Off on Luxury Coaches & Conversions Shine in Tampa

Prevost had a prominent indoor exhibit in Tampa

Prevost had a prominent indoor exhibit in Tampa

Perhaps there’s no better sign of the industry’s continued resurgence than the ongoing revival of the ultra-high end market for luxury motorcoaches and bus conversions. By the same token, there’s probably no more suitable place to gauge the health of the high-end coach market than last week’s Florida RV SuperShow, the nation’s premier retail venue for companies building $1 million to $2.7 million motorcoaches.

In fact, Tampa’s about the only consumer showcase that Newell Coach Corp. attends these days in an era when the market for million-dollar-plus coaches has diminished somewhat, according to Pat Dwyer, executive vice president of sales for the venerable Miami, Okla., manufacturer.

“Well, one of the other things that’s changed a lot in the last 10 years or so is we used to come to motorhome shows and sell a lot of motorhomes,” said Dwyer, who was showing a 45-foot, $2 million tag axle custom coach equipped with a 600-hp Cummins ISX engine, four flat floorslides and a high-end ZF suspension system. “But this is really the only show we go to anymore because people don’t buy our product at shows. Where we’re successful is spending time in areas where our customers gather in motorhome communities.”

While Newell itself is fiscally healthy, said Dwyer, it’s never fully recovered the kind of volume it once enjoyed in its niche – custom coaches built on the company’s proprietary chassis that compete with Prevost bus conversions.

“Oh no, we’re not anywhere close to those kinds of numbers,” said Dwyer, whose father-in-law, Karl Blade, is a majority owner of Newell. “We went into the recession with about 12 competitors and 10% market share and we’ve come out of the recession with about four competitors left and about a 25% market share. We looked at those numbers, and the total market in the million dollar motorhomes at that (prerecessionary) time was about 300 units, and now we’re looking at somewhere closer to 50 total sales.”

Prevost Car Director of Marketing Michael Power, whose Quebec-based firm specializes in passenger coaches and shells for custom coaches, again manned a highly visible indoor display this year at the Tampa Show surrounded by several of the company’s front-line converters.

Power is enthused about the high-end coach market, having experienced growth over the past three years with expectations of continuing that trend into 2017. “We’ve seen more demand for the product and that’s been very good for us,” Power said. “We have five main converters that are dealing with the customer base and their outlook on the market is also positive. We’re getting more orders and a longer order book so that’s very good for us. Overall, the outlook is positive.”

As far as trends, Power said Prevost has been incorporating more collision avoidance systems, energy management systems and, at times, “more rigorous” innovations that customers might request. “We’re talking about a vehicle that sells for over $2 million,” said Power, “so you can ask for pretty much whatever you want in that vehicle.”

Frank Konigseder Jr.

Frank Konigseder Jr.

By the same token, Liberty Coach Inc. Managing Partner Frank Konigseder Jr., who runs day-to-day operations for the North Chicago-based Prevost bus converter with his brother Kurt, is expecting 2016 business to build on a brisk 2015 fourth quarter. Liberty, which operates a retail sales location in Stuart, Fla., and sells used coaches through a unit called The Motorhome Exchange, completes about 14 new Prevost bus conversions a year with MSRP’s between $2.4 and $2.7 million.

“So 2016, based on what we’re seeing in our Internet traffic, phone calls, and traffic at the dealership in Stuart has been very upbeat,” said Konigseder, whose company is preparing to launch a “revolutionary” new house battery management system in conjunction with Holland, Mich.-based Volta Power Systems.

Bob Phebus, vice president, sales and marketing, for privately held Marathon Coach, said the Coburg, Ore.-based Prevost converter is building 20 coaches a year — quite a step up from the three or four per year it was producing during the Great Recession.

Marathon conversion at Tampa

Marathon conversion at Tampa

“Every year it gets a little bit better from the turndown we went through. At the peak, back before the recession, we were building 50 buses a year. For two years during the recession we only built ‘sold’ units so we were only building three or four per year because nobody was building anything and we had a lot of inventory on the ground,” Phebus said, adding that the company’s five-year plan is to build a maximum of 36 coaches annually. “That’s kind of our sweet spot. When we get beyond 36 we have to have too many people employed and it actually doesn’t work out as well for us financially. We’re adding three coaches per year in the production slots to try and keep on schedule.”

Founded by C.M. Fore in 1967, Foretravel Motorcoach is celebrating its 50th anniversary with the 2017 model year of the redesigned ih-45, its flagship coach that was on display at the SuperShow. The coach features a new front end and electric entry door, new basement layout for maximized storage, lower radiator for an enhanced floorplan, standard Vorad collision warning system and expanded iPad integration.

In addition, Foretravel continues to produce the Realm in an exclusive partnership with online retailer Motor Home Specialist, while its commercial division builds mobile command centers and medical offices.

Drew Pierce, Foretravel’s vice president of operations, said the company is “excited about where we are and where we’re going” and expects to build 24 to 30 Realm and ih-45 units this year.

“As a matter of fact, the ‘17 ih-45 model, which obviously is the first one that we have available, the first four are already sold — customers names are on it. It’s probably going to be the middle of summer before I have one available for stock. But that’s a good problem to have,” Pierce said. “We’re excited about what this year is going to bring with this new model, and the Realm coach has really taken off over the last six months.”

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