Editor’s Note: The Goshen (Ind.) News published this summary of products made by Northern Indiana-based RV firms that were shown at the 48th Annual National RV Trade Show.
New and improved were the two popular words at the recent Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) trade show in Louisville, Ky.
Elkhart County companies involved in making recreational vehicles used the show to promote their products to dealers. Here are a few of the new offerings that were at the show.
Newmar Corp. of Nappanee unveiled its Ventana LE.
The Ventana LE will retail for $30,000 less than the company’s Ventana motorhome.
“Yet, we haven’t sacrificed eye appeal or popular features to hit this price point. When customers see the Ventana LE for the first time, the value will be obvious. We anticipate market share growth for our dealers and Newmar with this exciting product introduction,” said Pat Terveer, director of sales.
The Ventana LE features an aluminum-framed sidewall and roof construction on 16-inch centers. The motorhome is powered by a Cummins ISB 340 horsepower engine on a Freightliner chassis. The motorhome comes in 36-foot and 38-foot lengths.
Dometic presented 17 new products at the show, including:
- QuietZone Ducted AC that the company says increases airflow by 26% while decreasing noise and vibration.
- AlumaRoom, a snap-in-place patio room that features flexible windows and water funnels.
- Breathe Easy Air Purification that the company says can reduce volatile organic compounds by 57% and formaldehyde levels by 41% within a six-hour period.
- 9500E Power Lateral Arm Awning, a rafterless, remote-controlled awning with a wind sensor and pitch adjustment and other features.
- The LW3000 Plus portable digital inverter/gasoline generator. The company stated the unit can run for up to 10 hours.
- The SlideTopper cover that automatically rolls out to cover a slideout.
In addition, the company has added the Better Homes & Gardens mattress collection from Serta to its product lineup.
Starcraft of Topeka introduced the AR-ONE travel trailer and the Travel Star Expandable Sport 187TB lightweight travel trailer.
The company said the AR-ONE is an entry-level trailer with three floorplans in 14-, 15- and 16-foot lengths.
The trailers are designed to be towed by most minivans and SUVs and crossover vehicles.
The Travel Star has three tented bunks, laminated roof and sidewalls, microwave oven and large kitchen window.
Another introduction was the 12RT Camping Trailer. It features a sofa, porta-potti and has a 5-by-8 foot cargo deck.
Jayco Inc. of Middlebury introduced 8- and 10-foot Jay Series Sport camping trailers. The trailers come in two floorplans and feature E-Z Lube axles, reversible dinette cushions, an ice box and 10-gallon freshwater system.
Jayco also introduced the Skylark travel trailer with the 21FB floorplan. Upgrades include a fiberglass skin and roof, new graphics, black extrusion and baggage doors and aluminum split rims.
The Eagle 330RLTX travel trailer has been added to the Eagle lineup. The trailer features dual hide-a-beds in opposing slideouts, a side aisle leading to a bedroom and a large bathroom in the front of the unit.
Shasta, based in Middlebury, redesigned all its products that were shown at the RV show.
Shasta’s Revere travel trailer family features a one-piece seamless, fully walkable rubber roof and aluminum exterior skin. The trailers are built on structural steel I-beam frames that include an integrated A-frame.
The Revere trailers have seven-foot interior ceilings and a 5/8-inch tongue-and-groove plywood floor.
The Revere also comes in the LE line, which has a lower price.
Shasta’s new ultra-light lineup carries the Freeport name. The trailer has welded aluminum framing with R-9 insulation and a vapor barrier and heated/enclosed underbelly.
The Class C lineup is labeled Cynara.
The Class C’s feature fiberglass roofs and 2-inch laminated, vacuum-bonded sidewalls with aluminum frames.
Thetford Corp. colleagues and industry friends gathered Nov. 30 at Thetford’s exhibit during RVIA’s 48th Annual National RV Trade Show to pay tribute to Armin L. Luzi, Thetford’s general manager of marketing who is retiring at the end of 2010 after 25 years with the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based firm. “Armin has been instrumental in the RV industry for the past 25 years, and we invited the industry to help us celebrate his retirement,” said Thetford President Mike Harris, shown here on the left with Luzi as well as Thetford’s Doug Schnell and RVP’s Steve Gokie. During Luzi’s tenure, Thetford grew from a small firm into a leading international supplier of sanitation and refrigeration products for the recreational vehicle, marine and heavy-duty truck industries, Thetford subsidiaries today include Norcold, a manufacturer of gas-absorption refrigerators and freezers; Tecma, a producer of china toilets and waste-transfer systems based in Italy; and Spinflo, an English unit that makes cooking and heating appliances and accessories. “We appreciate all that Armin has accomplished for Thetford during more than 25 years of dedicated service,” added Kevin Phillips, vice president, sales & marketing. “We join the rest of the RV industry in wishing him all the best in retirement.”
National wholesale and retail lender Ally Financial Inc. made its presence known at the 48th Annual National RV Trade Show, Nov. 30-Dec. 2 in Louisville, Ky., with stand-alone booths and desks within the displays of Thor Industries Inc. with whom Ally established a “preferred lender” relationship earlier this year.
“We wanted to be in Louisville to support the industry. If you are going to be a major participant in it, there are obligations to support the industry event,” stated Tim Russi, Ally’s executive vice president for North American Operations, who was joined at the show by more than 20 associates from the Detroit-based lender.
“With the announcement that we are getting into wholesale financing — and knowing the season that we are about ready to get involved in from an RV perspective — we want to make sure the dealers have us on their minds,” said Russi.
Indeed, Ally has its sights set on becoming a major factor – a national-scale RV industry lender – along with GE Capital and Bank of America. And that’s pretty big news, considering Ally Financial extended $22.3 billion in U.S. auto consumer financing for the first nine months of 2010, making it likely the No. 1 ranked provider of new car financing in the U.S. in 2010.
“We want to be part of the upswing of this industry,” Russi, a former Bank of America executive who oversees Ally’s automotive and RV lending services in the U.S. and Canada, told RVBUSINESS.com. “Some lenders have left the market while others in it are potentially retracting, and there are not many providers in the industry. So, we think the time is right to enter the market.”
In a way, Russi points out, Ally has been in automotive financing as GMAC for a long time. Formerly the captive finance company of 90-year-old General Motors Corp., Ally became an independent financial services company in 2006 and a bank holding company in 2008, launching Ally Bank in May of 2009. Ally’s parent company changed from GMAC Inc. to Ally Financial Inc. in May, followed by the rebranding of its automotive finance business in July.
In 2009, meanwhile, President Obama named Ally Financial as preferred financial provider for Chrysler Group LLC. “We have preferred provider relationships with GM, Chrysler, Saab, Fiat, Suzuki and Thor,” said Russi. “And we’re looking to expand our relationship with other OEMS as well, which is an important concept as we diversify our book of business from what was historically almost 100% GM. As a bank, what you’d like to see is a diversified business.”
Ally Financial offers a variety of auto-financing products, indirect retail financing for new and used vehicles and RVs, auto leasing as well as wholesale financing and remarketing services.
Leading the RV industry lending team are some familiar faces, including the bulk of the former Thor Credit staff. Industry veteran Ed Arienti runs the retail sales force for the RV sector as director of recreational finance sales and teams with Rich Morrin, commercial operators leader, for RV dealer wholesale financing.
Also key is Mark Manzo, who, as vice president of alliance sales, manages OEM relationships, including that between Ally and Thor.
Ally’s RV industry entry started with an April announcement by then-GMAC Financial Services that it would provide RV consumer financing, working with Thor Industries Inc. as a preferred retail lending provider.
Then, on Nov. 23, right before the Louisville Show, Ally announced that it would diversify into wholesale financing, focusing from the outset on Thor’s dealer network.
“We benchmarked current options and needs in the industry and will offer a very competitive wholesale financing product for RV dealers,” Russi stated. “Our program is tailored to the recreation vehicle business with attractive terms and flexible credit lines that will accommodate the seasonal fluctuations in RV inventory. We view our retail and wholesale financing, along with remarketing tools, as a full-service offering for dealers.”
Qualified dealers may obtain wholesale financing from Ally Financial for all or a portion of their inventory, reported Ally, which currently extends retail financing through dealers in about 40 states and plans to expand its RV retail financing nationwide by the end of the year.
“The way we like to create a relationship is a full spectrum relationship credit offering through the dealer,” Russi emphasizes. “Everything centers around the dealer. The more we do with them, the better our value proposition is.”
So, is the Thor relationship exclusive to Thor dealers?
“We are not exclusively Thor,” said Russi, “but because of our relationship with them we obviously are going to focus on their dealer network needs first. That’s our entry point into the industry. Keep in mind that Thor dealers — and I think they number 1,200 — represent about 75% of the RV space. We think by focusing there, we are going to build relationships with the majority of the industry.”
When a Thor dealer has multiple brands and sells non-Thor brands, he noted, Ally will still provide retail or wholesale financing for the products of those other branded companies.
Is Ally in it for the long haul?
“We wouldn’t have entered it to exit it,” added Russi. “We’ve got plenty of auto business. We are not going to run out of capacity. We’d like it (the RV segment) to be substantial. We’d like to systematically grow our book.”
The fact that Ally has a dedicated RV sales staff based in Orange County, Calif., is also a testament to Ally’s commitment, adds Russi. “But we also intend to leverage our entire structure into the space,” adds Russi. “If we don’t have someone conveniently located from an RV sales perspective, we will leverage the existing sales force, which is a national sales force of about 200.”
While attendance was up a moderate 4.5% at this year’s Louisville Show, North American recreational vehicle manufacturers generally reported an upbeat atmosphere and – in some cases – robust sales at the 48th Annual National RV Trade Show, Nov. 30 – Dec. 2 at the Kentucky Exposition Center (KEC) on the south side of Louisville, Ky.
The wares and services of more than 300 manufacturers, suppliers and distributors were displayed across more than 766,000 square feet of show space in the KEC during the industry’s key annual trade-only event, sponsored by the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA).
Now back in his Millersburg, Ind., office, Ed Kinney, vice president of sales for Carriage Inc., says results of the three-day show were decidedly positive and a good omen for 2011. “It was a record show for Carriage,” said Kinney. “Compared to last year, sales have probably tripled.”
Carriage debuted a revamp of its high-end Royals International at Louisville, along with a new “entry level” Cabo line and a new Cameo model — all of which, Kinney predicts, will translate into increased market share in 2011 for Carriage, which currently produces 25 units a week. “We intend to steadily increase production until we are building 37 units a week by the end of August,” he told RVBUSINESS.com.
On the other hand, some felt that show traffic in the KEC corridors was a little thin at times. “From a numbers standpoint, the Louisville Show maybe didn’t have the impact that some have had in the past,” said Sid Johnson, director of marketing for Jayco Inc., Middlebury, Ind.
“Attendance seemed down from last year,” he added. “It seemed to be slower, but it may have been a function of space. Last year’s show was compressed from past years. This year it was more spread out than normal. Yet, I thought it was a very good show.”
Indeed, Johnson said all three of the company’s divisions, Entegra Coach, Jayco and Starcraft, were “pleasantly surprised” by the number of new dealers they were able to sign. And Johnson, for his part, thought that Louisville 2010 was clearly better than last year and was in the “upper half” and perhaps “upper third” of the national RV shows at which he has worked in his esteemed 36-year industry career.
“The overall and almost overwhelming positive aspect of it was the very refreshing enthusiasm and confidence that was evident from almost every dealer for the coming year,” Johnson added. “We were pleased with the whole thing.”
“The show went well for us,” noted Bob Wheeler, president of Jackson Center, Ohio-based Airstream Inc. “Traffic was down a bit, but purchases per attendee were up. We had a separate meeting for dealers and were able to present them with an overview of our products, our business plan and marketing efforts (for 2011). We received very positive feedback.”
According to Wheeler, the launch at the show of Airstream’s new Eddie Bauer co-branded 25-foot travel trailer generated a lot of positive feedback. “There was lots of excitement and strong initial orders,” said Wheeler. “They really seemed to get the collaboration and added functionality of the unit.”
Clearly one of the show’s busier displays was that of EverGreen Recreational Vehicles LLC, which unveiled a distinctive new 24-foot, wood-free Element travel trailer and also hosted an appearance by Terry Bradshaw, a former NFL quarterback, current Fox sports analyst and a new minority owner of Evergreen.
“It’s (the Element) different, unique and drew a lot of traffic,” said Doug Lantz, president and CEO of the Middlebury, Ind., towable manufacturer. “Being as it’s one of the lightest weight full-size trailers (at Louisville), it definitely got people’s attention.”
Motorhome specialist Tiffin Motor Homes Inc. had a solid show, according to Bob Tiffin, president of Red Bay, Ala., -based manufacturer.
“We had a great show, and took a lot of orders,” said Tiffin. “The dealers we had there were all happy with what was going on and they were complaining that we didn’t have hardly enough inventory. You know, they didn’t have enough motorhomes to sell, so they put their money where their mouths were and ordered a lot of units — 240 units altogether.”
That’s pretty decent, most would agree, in an era in which motorhome sales certainly aren’t at their peak. “Well, I can’t speak for the rest of the industry,” said Tiffin. “But we’ve (Tiffin) had a good year so far, and it looks like next year may be even better. So, our plans are to keep running 11 or 12 units a day and keep moving forward.”
Although Tiffin sees a moderate shift to smaller coaches, the company’s best seller at Louisville was a 40-foot Phaeton retailing in the $190,000-$230,000 range.
Bob Olson, chairman, president and CEO of Winnebago Industries Inc., came away with a positive take on the show. “I think it was an improvement over last year,” said Olson, second vice chairman of RVIA and co-chair of the Go RVing Coalition. “Last year, everyone really had a lot of uncertainty as to what the future held in store. I sensed a real feeling of optimism (this year) from dealers, other manufacturers and suppliers. I thought it was a very positive show.
“Having said that, we really don’t gauge success or failure of the show by what we get for orders,” said Olson, whose Forest City, Iowa, company drew a lot of attention with a modernistic redesign of its top-of-the line Winnebago Tour/Itasca Ellipse.
“We don’t go there with the attitude of ‘this is going to be what we have to have in orders to get to the spring market.’ It was a good show. You have to consider the economic times that we’re in. Going forward, we think that we’ll continue to get orders from the dealers that were at the show because it gave them an opportunity to see a lot of our product lineup. And from what we were able to see, they were very excited about it, especially Tuesday (opening day). It was nonstop traffic from the time we opened until we closed.”
Thor’s Goshen, Ind.-based Keystone RV Co. Inc., reports seeing strong traffic all three days of the show and “high dealer enthusiasm.”
“Dealers seemed to be very optimistic about their Keystone business and the industry in general, and very enthusiastic,” said Keystone President Bob Martin. “We could see it in their eyes. Keystone’s focus at this year’s show was to make each of our brands even stronger. So, we did not launch a new product line but chose instead to concentrate on our existing lines.
Traffic, likewise, was “steady” at the expansive Dutchmen Manufacturing Inc. display at which dealers were introduced to an array of new models. “Our new products were very well received,” noted Steve Paul, vice president of sales and marketing for the Goshen, Ind.-based Thor division, which debuted an ‘upper-end’ Voltage toy hauler, a redesigned Aerolite Superslide series, an entry-level Aspen Trail towable line and affordable Rubicon toy hauler.
Speaking for both the motorized and towable sides of his company, Pete Liegl, president and CEO of Forest River Inc., based in Elkhart, Ind., had good things to say about the 2010 Louisville Show and the year ahead.
On a scale of “1” to “10,” in fact, he gave it an 8.5, noting that dealer interest was consistent with that of this fall’s Hershey Show and Elkhart County Open House.
“We did very well,” said Liegl. “Obviously, no matter what we do we could do better, but we had a good show. Dealers were enthusiastic about the product we have, and that includes the new Shasta plus Prime Time and our existing Coachmen and Forest River products. Beyond that, I think the whole show was good for everybody, and I think it’s an indication that everybody thinks it’s going to be a good year next year, too.”
“Next year will be better than this year as a generalization,” said Liegl, who expects his company to post about $2.4 billion in 2010 revenues. “If I had to guess, as far as the total number of units sold next year versus this year, I’m anticipating a minimum increase of 5% for the total industry. But I can guarantee you one thing: I’m not going to settle for 5%. All in all, though, I’ve got to say that this year’s been a very acceptable year for everybody in the RV business. And next year I think is going to be more of the same thing – a little better than this year.”