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‘Future is Bright,’ Airstream’s Wheeler Reports

May 21, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Airstream's Bob Wheeler

Airstream Inc.’s senior management presented a solid picture of business growth over the past year for the Jackson Center, Ohio-based division of Thor Industries Inc. during last week’s 2013 National Dealer Meeting in Reno, Nev. The company reported positive trends in terms of sales, inventories, retail turns, production hikes, dealer body growth, international sales and first-time buyer ratios along with a key new model debut on tap for later this year of the company’s highly publicized, high-end Land Yacht travel trailer.

First shown to dealers as a concept vehicle at last winter’s Louisville Show, the 28-foot Land Yacht, retailing for “just north of $140,000,” will go into production in August with most of the same interior touches originally developed by Airstream in conjunction with Italian yacht designer Mauro Micheli, best known for his work with Riva Yachts and Italian cabinet maker Technoform S.p.A.

“We’re very pleased with the results of the meeting – both the dealer council, which is more of a roundtable dialogue about a broad range of issues, and the general dealer meeting, which is an overall presentation of what’s happened in the last 12 months and what we expect to have in the next 12,” reported Airstream President and CEO Bob Wheeler of the May 15-17 event at Reno’s Peppermill Casino & Resort.

“We were very grateful to have our special guests – Phil Ingrassia from the Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA) and Craig Kirby from the Recreation vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) – and to hear their perspectives about the industry,” Wheeler told RVBUSINESS.com after the meeting. “All in all, I think our dealers got a lot out of it. We received many compliments about the quality of the meeting and the takeaways that the dealers had from what we presented. It was a great chance to reconnect with our dealers and to talk about different issues and maintain those partnerships that are so essential to our success.”

The meeting also included remarks from Bob Martin, president and COO of Elkhart-based Thor Industries Inc., plus presentations by Airstream’s Justin Humphreys, vice president of sales; Bruce Bannister, vice president of product development and engineering; Mollie Hansen, vice president of marketing; and Tim Garner, general manager of Touring Coaches.

Other highlights included:

• Airstream’s total dealer count is back to 78 globally – 68 in North America — for its travel trailer and Interstate Class B “Touring Coach” lines combined compared to a peak of about 90 in 2004-2006 and a recessionary low of about 50.

• Airstream’s retail turns today substantially exceed industry OEM averages, according to information provided to the company by floorplan lender GE Capital Solutions and presented at the meeting.

• Field inventories currently stand at fewer than 1,000 units, whereas, back in the benchmark years of 2006 and 2007, Airstream had almost 1,400 pieces in dealers’ showrooms. Given the current retail climate, however, Wheeler views that as a good thing. “Today, we’re under 1,000 (units) with greater velocity, greater turns, and we’re satisfied with that,” he said.

• In 2006, Wheeler noted, 18% of Airstream’s buyers were new to RVing. Today, nearly 50% of their buyers are first-time buyers.

• Corporate employment rosters today are at close to 335 workers versus 425 at the company’s modern peak and 160 in the pit of the global downturn. Airstream is currently in the process of hiring 50 to 60 people to keep pace with growing demand. “We can build more with 335 than we could with more than 400 previously because of process efficiencies that we’ve put in place,” said Wheeler. “I don’t expect to get back to 425 because we don’t need to. We can build a lot more with fewer people.”

• Among those employees, Airstream has experienced less than 1% turnover with 30% of its workers logging 20 years experience or greater.

Airstream Land Yacht

According to Airstream management, the company has been on somewhat of a roll lately when looking at 2012’s pace of business versus 2011 as well as the first quarter of 2013. “We’ve had a fantastic run,” Wheeler told the crowd on Thursday (May 16) morning. “Overall, wholesale sales were up 21%, as were retails. So, on a year-over-year basis, it’s just been phenomenal for us. We’ve been rebuilding our dealer base very slowly and selectively. We lost a lot of really good dealers, so we’ve been very carefully and selectively adding the right dealers in the right markets.

“I think we’re approaching the (pre-recessionary) dealer count, and we’re very happy to see most of those faces here today,” said Wheeler. “By acclimating to the new normal, we’ve been able to survive and thrive and position ourselves for future growth. Today, we’re a leaner and more nimble company than we were before the recession. And, internally, we’ve made a lot quality and process improvements. We’ve really streamlined our operations to support the growth that we’ve seen and that we expect to see in the future.”

Airstream, Thor’s first acquisition back in 1980 when the late Wade Thompson and current Chairman Peter Orthwein first formed the company, also continues to expand into foreign markets like China, South Korea and Australia.

“So, why does it matter to you folks in North America?,” Wheeler asked the dealers. “Our strength globally helps make us a stronger company. It helps us offset downturns in the economy and production here in the U.S. and also helps with seasonal fluctuations. The more we can maintain our work force, the more we can maintain steady production across the year. So, we’re very proud of the fact that this little brand called Airstream from near Dayton, Ohio, has power in Beijing, Shanghai, Seoul and Sydney. It’s a global brand and we’re just starting now to take advantage of that.”

“The future is very bright,” said Wheeler. “I’m so happy to be able to stand up here and say that the best years of this company are ahead of it, and that creates a tremendous sense of optimism among everyone who works at Airstream. I hope you get that same sense here today.”

In addition to honoring 25-year Airstream sales exec Tom Parnell upon his retirement, the following travel trailer sales volume leaders (in order) were recognized in Reno: Colonial Airstream, Lakewood, N.J.; Airstream Adventures Northwest, Covington, Wash.; Airstream Adventures Northwest, Gladstone, Ore., Airstream Los Angeles, San Gabriel, Calif.; Windish RV Center, Lakewood, Colo.; Toscano Recreation, Los Bano, Calif.; Camper Clinic II, Buda, Texas; Bates RV, Dover, Fla.; George M Sutton RV, Eugene, Ore.; Airstream Adventures Northwest, Nampa, Idaho.
 Touring Coach (Interstate Class B) sales leaders were Colonial Airstream; Camper Clinic II; Bates RV; Dave Arbogast RV, Troy, Ohio; Vogt Motor Home Center, Fort Worth, Texas; Schumacher European, Scottsdale, Ariz.; Airstream Adventures Northwest; Crain RV Supercenter, Little Rock, Ark.; Airstream of Chicago, Joliet, Ill.; Wagon Trail RV, Las Vegas. (There was a tie for 4th and a 4-way tie for 7th).

The “Top Service Dealerships” were Colonial Airstream and Woodland Travel Center, Grand Rapids, Mich., and the “Top Parts Dealer” was Out of Doors Mart in Colfax, N.C.

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Airstream Expanding International Dealer Base

April 15, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Two weeks ago in China, a country with almost no commercial campgrounds and limited cross-country highways, Shane Ott opened a third Airstream RV dealership. The Beijing dealer, Xing Liu, sold two RVs on opening weekend, according to a report in the Montana Standard.

“I think, maybe in some cases, these ultra-wealthy people are parking the RV on their property just to make their equally wealthy neighbors jealous,” said Ott, who previously worked for Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA) and now directs international business development for Airstream Inc.

In recent years, China has been on a tear to build modern infrastructure from subways to railroads to highways.

“They may not have many miles of highways, but the ones they have are brand new,” he said.

In the first three months of this year, he has been racking up the frequent-flyer miles, trying to start RV dealerships mainly in China, Europe and Australia. In the past two years, Ott has flown to China seven times and logged an around-the-globe jaunt lasting 17 days. At the end of April, he jets off to Frankfurt, Germany; Naples, Italy; and Paris.

China is virtually commercial campground-free now, but that is changing, Ott said, and his company based in Jackson Center, Ohio, wants a cut of this future business. The mostly pull-behind trailers known for their shiny exteriors sell for an average retail price of $70,000.

Ott said sales have risen 16% since August, the start of Airstream’s fiscal year, over the same period for its previous fiscal year.

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Airstream’s Wheeler Named Go RVing Co-Chair

April 3, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Airstream's Bob Wheeler

Bob Wheeler, Airstream Inc. president and CEO, has been selected to serve as co-chairman of the Go RVing Coalition, the RV industry’s national advertising and market expansion initiative. According to a press release, Wheeler joins RV dealer Tom Stinnett of Tom Stinnett Derby City RV as co-chair of the industrywide coalition, replacing Bob Olson, who retired from Winnebago Industries Inc. in 2012.

The officers of Go RVing, Inc. – Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) President Richard Coon and Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA) President Phil Ingrassia – released a joint statement praising  Wheeler as an excellent choice to serve as co-chairman: “Bob is a proven industry leader who understands the importance of branding and strategic promotion. He brings valuable experience, insight and influence to the Go RVing Coalition, and partnered with Tom, they will make a strong team to help guide Go RVing forward as we seek to build on the growth of the past few years.”

Wheeler, 46, began his professional career as a manufacturing engineer at General Motors Co. He became president and CEO of Airstream in 2005 after serving in several other positions with Thor Industries Inc., Airstream’s parent company.

“The Go RVing program plays a vital role in our industry’s effort to raise consumer awareness about the benefits of RVing and the RV lifestyle,” said Wheeler. “I’m honored to work with the talented members of the Go RVing Coalition, who have for years helped position RVs as a fun and affordable way to build lasting memories. As we look to furthering industry growth and expansion, I’m excited to be part of the team’s move towards more creative, impactful and innovative campaign executions.”

Stinnett, who has been involved in Go RVing since it began in 1994 and has served as a co-chair since 2004, will continue to play a leadership role as a key consensus-builder among dealers and manufacturers. “With his experience with Thor and Airstream, and his passion for the RV lifestyle, Bob Wheeler will be a great addition as Go RVing co-chair,” Stinnett said. “I look forward to working with him as the 2013 ad campaign gets underway.”

Wheeler is a resident of Sidney, Ohio, where he lives with his wife, Kelly, and their three boys, Grant, Harvey and Finn.

The Go RVing campaign is widely credited for boosting the image and popularity of RV travel and helping to maintain RV awareness and demand through the recent economic downturn.  The Go RVing Coalition consists of RV manufacturers, component suppliers, dealers and campgrounds that work to provide the public and media with information about the benefits of RV travel and to foster satisfaction with the RV experience through its Committee on Excellence.  For more information, visit www.GoRVing.com.

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Airstream’s No. 1 on About.com RV Award List

March 28, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Airstream Inc. was named as the winner of the 2013 Readers’ Choice Award by About.com in the RV or camper category.

According to About.com’s website, the Jackson Center, Ohio-based trailer and motorhome builder rated as the readers’ top choice followed by Keystone RV Co. and Forest River Inc. Runners-up included Leisure Travel Vans, a division of Triple E RV Ltd., and Cruiser RV LLC.

Starting in mid-January, About.com began accepting reader nominations for hundreds of award categories. Based on those nominations, About.com experts chose up to five finalists per award category for readers to vote on.

To view other winners in the camping category click here.

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Airstream Applying ‘Designer Touch’ in Trailers

February 20, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Airstream Land Yacht concept interior

Editor’s Note: The following is a story published by the Wall Street Journal on Airstream Inc.’s Land Yacht prototype, designed by Mauro Micheli, and the use of luxury, cutting-edge appointments in the travel trailer segment.

Mauro Micheli has earned international renown over the last two decades as a designer of multimillion-dollar superyachts. His elegant designs for the Italian Riva line have reinvigorated a brand that has catered to celebrities such as George Clooney and Sean Connery.

One of his latest projects applies his spare, modernist aesthetic and taste for luxurious materials to a more prosaic pleasure craft: the camper trailer.

The U.S. recreational vehicle industry is bouncing back after being hammered by the recession, in part due to a bump in demand for live-aboard vehicles with high-design interiors.

As in many industries, it’s the luxury end of the RV world that is driving the recovery, industry executives and analysts say. But beyond the rarefied realm of six- and seven-figure bus-like motor coaches, the high-design strategy has also begun to infiltrate the market for more moderately priced tow-along trailers. Micheli’s design for the posh, 28-foot “Land Yacht” trailer, unveiled at the end of 2012, was commissioned by Airstream, one of the oldest names in the RV business, which is aggressively repositioning its line of signature aluminum trailers to appeal to affluent, style-conscious adventurers.

The Land Yacht’s floors are covered in contrasting bands of teak and white wood, an understated pattern seen in some Riva yachts. Expanses of blond-wood cabinetry, with a bare minimum of hardware and accented by dots of LED lighting, create a spare, elegant look.

Many interior elements can be elegantly hidden away: The sink and stove can be covered by a folding counter, a two-way mirror hides the television and a table in the front of the trailer rests on a telescoping pedestal that drops down to allow for more seating or sleeping space.

Bruce Bannister, Airstream’s vice president for product development, says the Land Yacht concept grew out of discussions with dealers about a new, top-of-the line model. “References to yachts kept coming up,” he says.

Airstream won’t say if it is ready to build the new Land Yacht. But in 2011, the company started showing a prototype design for a model called the Sterling, the latest in a series of Airstreams with interiors designed by Sausalito, Calif., industrial designer and architect Christopher C. Deam, a design-industry luminary who has worked with companies such as furniture maker Herman Miller and retailers Design Within Reach and Target.

The Sterling went into production last year with bright aluminum walls on the inside (traditional Airstreams have floor-to-ceiling paneling), stainless-steel appliances and brightly colored flooring in either “Arctic Dijon” green or “obsidian violet.” Big windows in the front offer a wide view of the outdoors, a feature seen in Deam’s house designs.

To read the entire article and view photos click here.

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Ohio Auto Dealer is Hooking Up With Airstream

February 6, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Columbus, Ohio-based Haydocy Automotive is hooking up with Airstream Inc., according to a report by Columbus Business First. The company plans to open Haydocy Airstream and RV Center next to its Buick and GMC dealership by April.

“We built our Oldsmobile dealership in 2000. A month later, (General Motors) announced they were phasing it out,” owner Chris Haydocy said. “We’ve sat with an empty showroom for years.”

The 15,000-square-foot building, and the five acres it sits on, will become a dealership for Jackson Center-based Airstream’s travel trailers and touring coaches. Haydocy said the fit is ideal given a natural overlap with GMC buyers. He said Holman Motors in Batavia, Ohio, has proven that, rating as one of the top dealerships in the state for both RVs and GMC trucks.

Also, there’s room in the Columbus market for a dealership. According to 2012 sales data from Statistical Surveys Inc., only three of the top 20 dealers in the state are in Central Ohio – Specialty Auto Sales in Lancaster, RCD Sales Co. in Hebron and Tom Raper Inc. in London – and none of those cracked the top 10.

“Columbus is a starved market,” Haydocy said. “People in Franklin County buy, so there’s a huge pent-up demand for sales, service, parts.”

Airstream’s line of travel trailers and touring coaches runs from $35,000 to $139,000.

Haydocy said the investment will be several million dollars between the improvements and inventory. He expects to add 20 jobs and is taking applications.

Columbus Business First reported that the new dealership has been in the works for more than two years.

“We had to wait for the right timing and frankly, that was Oct. 8, 2012,” he said, referring to the opening date for the nearby Hollywood Casino Columbus. “There wasn’t a compelling reason to come to the West side before that.”

Haydocy said there is a natural fit with the casino since both RV dealerships and casinos are destination draws, pulling visitors from other counties and states.

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Airstream Reporting All-Time Sales Mark in 2012

January 17, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Airstream Inc. announced that 2012 was the best year for sales in the company’s 81-year history, according to a news release.

Airstream, which manufactures travel trailers and Class B motorhomes, saw sales climb 16% year-over-year, outperforming the RV industry which reports approximately 11% growth for the same period.

Airstream’s travel trailer business was up 7% in 2012, while the company’s Class B motorhome sales jumped 28% over 2011.

Airstream attributed the increase to:

• An expanded product offering including Airstream’s Class B Interstate model, which appeals to luxury buyers along with the traditional RV customer.

• An expanded dealer network, which includes 17 new retailers – 12 for the B-Van business and seven new travel trailer retailers.

• Prominent marketing partnerships in 2012 targeting younger consumers, which exposed Airstream to a group of first-time RVers.

“We are pleased to report 2012 was Airstream’s most successful year, and not only are we still in business after 81 years, we’re doing better than ever,” said Airstream CEO and President Bob Wheeler. “We anticipate a very active 2013 in both North America and abroad as Airstream continues its expansion into new global markets.”

Airstream recently unveiled the Land Yacht Concept Trailer at the National RV Show in Louisville and will announce a decision on production in the months ahead. The company is forecasting 15% growth in its business for 2013.

 

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Airstream Inc. Expanding International Footprint

January 16, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Airstream Inc. announced it has appointed new dealers in China, South Korea and Australia as part of the company’s global expansion strategy.

According to a press release, Airstream will manufacture and assemble the trailers at the company’s factory in Jackson Center, Ohio, but redesign the units to “fit the unique specifications of each country.” Once completed, the units will be shipped abroad to independent dealers in each market.

Airstream said its three new dealers in China, located in Beijing, Shanghai and Xiamen, will service a “burgeoning population of consumers that are discovering the RV lifestyle.” As China continues to grow its campground infrastructure, Airstream expects to be a brand in demand by both traditional RVers and collectors because of its iconic American design.

Airstream’s retail expansion into South Korea and Australia allows the brand to “tap into existing RV markets and reach outdoor adventure enthusiasts looking for a well-built RV that represents the highest of quality and design.”

Airstream is already established in the UK, continental Europe and Japan, and is evaluating interest from other markets including South America, South Africa and Russia.

Airstream President and CEO Bob Wheeler

“The addition of these five dealers to Airstream’s global network is a key part of the company’s long-term strategy that we anticipate will generate a new group of passionate Airstreamers abroad,” said Airstream CEO and President Bob Wheeler. “Advancing Airstream’s international business with the right partners is the key to our success in foreign markets, and through the highly selective process I feel we have found great representatives in these new countries.”

In China, Airstream will operate under the name Flying Cloud by Airstream Inc., USA, and produce units no larger than 23 feet and 2.5 meters wide in accordance with regulations set by China’s department of transportation. By early 2013, each dealer across China, South Korea and Australia will have product inventory available including the Sport, Flying Cloud and International models.

Additional information on the new dealers includes:

Shanghai, China: Ameritrade Trading Ltd. will represent Airstream in Shanghai. The dealership owner has a deep fondness for the brand, so much so that he named his son Wally after Airstream founder Wally Byam. As former president of the Harley Owners Group in Shanghai, the dealer has a unique understanding of how to market American products to the Chinese.

Beijing, China: LanDE currently has a network of Jaguar/Land Rover dealerships and has an outstanding reputation for attention to detail and customer service in the luxury automobile sector. The Beijing retailer brings a blend of successful business background with knowledge and passion for Airstream and the lifestyle it represents.

Xiamen, China: Smart Hero, based in the picturesque city of Xiamen, has a diversified portfolio of unique dealership businesses. They are the authorized Chinese dealer of recreational products such as Cessna aircraft, John Deere utility vehicles, and Sea Ray Yachts. The addition of Airstream travel trailers to their current lineup of these well-known brands is intended to establish Smart Hero as the marquis dealer of high-end recreational products.

Bateman’s Bay, Australia: A&A Industries will operate Airstream Australia and specializes in providing recreational vehicles to high-end luxury travelers who want to experience long term travel on the open roads. Wheeler recently attended the grand opening of Airstream Australia as the brand’s official launch in the market.

Seoul, South Korea: Bluebird RV is a full-service RV dealership in Seoul that retains the experience and manpower to make Airstream a key competitor in the market. The dealership’s location provides access to more than 400 commercial campgrounds and national parks.

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Airstream’s Land Yacht Has New Look for RVs

November 28, 2012 by · 1 Comment 

Interior of Airstream's Land Yacht

Airstream Inc. is displaying its expanded product line-up of travel trailers and touring coach models during the 50th Annual National RV Trade Show underway this week in Louisville, Ky.

Airstream’s show debuts include the much-anticipated Land Yacht Concept Trailer, designed in conjunction with the design studio of Officinia Italiana Design and Technoform S.p.A., maker of fine cabinetry, according to a news release.

Airstream also unveiled a 30FB Flying Cloud Bunk floorplan which offers two permanent sleeping locations with privacy for both. To support the company’s growing Class B motorhome business, Airstream modified its popular Interstate, which now features a 9-seat option for both regular and EXT models.

“Airstream’s new products are a direct response to what we’re hearing from our customers,” said Airstream President and CEO Bob Wheeler “As we expand our product range to include different decors, sizes and amenities, we’re creating an opportunity for more people to answer the call of the open road.”

Airstream’s towable division accepted the Quality Circle Award from the National RV Dealers Association (RVDA) during this year’s show. The award is based upon dealer responses to the 19th Annual Dealer Satisfaction Index (DSI) survey, which measures dealer attitudes in key policy, product and procedure areas that dealers say are the most important elements in their business partnerships with manufacturers.

Land Yacht Concept

The Airstream Land Yacht’s contemporary look was created by Tecnoform’s engineering department in partnership with Mauro Micheli, long-time designer for Riva Yachts. Its unique floorplan has a number of carefully placed design elements that create an overall sleek and sophisticated look in the cabin. The unit, capable of sleeping up to five people, has a bedroom in the front, a bathroom amidships and a rear social space, which includes a galley that can be hidden when not in use. The Land Yacht’s powered bed lift reveals access to hidden storage.

Also, the unit features three power awnings with remote control. The ducted air system provides quiet, powerful air conditioning to meet internal climate preferences. The 28-foot Airstream Land Yacht Concept trailer is crafted with quality materials and equipment throughout, including high-luster teak and white wood inlay boat deck flooring, LED panel lighting elements, Corian solid surfaces and plush Ultraleather.

Flying Cloud Bunk

Perfect for families with children or couples that like to entertain the 30FB Flying Cloud bunk floorplan sleeps up to eight people comfortably. The new model features a front main bedroom that has a north-south walk-around queen bed, TV/Blu-Ray player and wardrobe storage. The rear bedroom includes a lower double bed and bunk overhead, something Airstream has not offered in recent years. The 8,800 lb-GVWR Flying Cloud Bunk sports a spacious social space incorporating a new full-size U dinette and a full-size sofa. Its kitchen features a gas oven, microwave and an 8 cubic-foot refrigerator. Additionally, the Flying Cloud Bunk contains generous tank capacities.

Interstate EXT

Airstream’s Class B motorhome lineup includes a 9-seat floorplan option for both regular and EXT models. The new floorplan option is in response to customers wanting more seating positions without losing the standard amenities. The Interstate is built on the Mercedes Benz Sprinter Chassis and is powered by a 3.0-liter V6 turbo diesel engine.

 

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Airstream to Sell Interstate in Canadian Market

November 21, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

Airstream Interstate Class B

Jackson Center Ohio-based Airstream Inc. announced that its Interstate Class B motorhome model will be available in Canada beginning in the spring 2013. The Airstream Interstate, built on the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter chassis, claimed the spot of No. 1 selling B-van model in the U.S. for 2011 and through September 2012 according to Statistical Surveys Inc.

The Interstate boasts over 50 best-in-class features that distinguish it in the marketplace, according to a press release. As a result, the Interstate has experienced tremendous growth in the US market, commanding 17% market share through the first nine months of 2012. Interstate sales are up 72% year-over-year in the United States, leading Airstream to discuss opportunities for expansion in Canada.

“The Interstate offers a unique blend of luxury, design and performance that we are confident will do well in the Canadian marketplace,” said Airstream President and CEO Bob Wheeler. “We see tremendous possibility in this region and look forward to a very active spring, when our Canadian customers can hit the open road in the Interstate for the first time.”

Airstream plans to meet with potential Canadian dealers at the 50th annual National RV Trade Show in Louisville, Ky., Nov. 27-29. At the show, the company will also debut a new nine-seat option for the Interstate, at the request of many dealers.

“As a result of our success in the United States, we have had several inquiries from both dealer and retail customers from Canada,” said Airstream General Manager Tim Garner. “We believe the combination of best in class product with progressive dealer programs will drive similar success in Canada and we look forward to discussing these opportunities with Canadian dealers in Louisville.”

For more information and dealership locations in Canada visit www.airstream.com .

 

 

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